The elusive goal of education for all

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist
Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in their book 'An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions' have very clearly shown that while India has been leading the world in terms of GDP growth rate, its performance in social indices can only be compared with some sub Saharan African countries. At the time of Independence we were second behind Sri Lanka in South Asia with respect to social indices, today we are barely above Pakistan. Rest of the South Asian coutries, like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, etc. have moved ahead of us.

All developed countries and most developing countries have achieved 99-100% literacy rates. In India half the children don't complete their education. Half of them are engaged in child labour. Countries which have achieved 99-100% literacy rates have done so by adopting the common school system. This means all students have access to same quality of education system. In India two streams of education systems are in existence. Moneyed people send their children to private schools and poor are condemned to send their children to government schools in which the teachers don't teach. Thus education in India widens the gap between the rich and the poor. Whereas opportunities open up for the children of rich which allows them to better their lives, the children of poor are subject to exploitation. The children of rich get jobs in which salaries have skyrocketed due to implementation of sixth pay commission but children of poor compete for lowly jobs which are contractual, temporary and on daily wages, if they are not unfortunate enough to live an unemployed or underemployed. Most children of underprivileged  receive such poor quality education that they end up getting their degrees using unfair means, acquiring no skills at all, making them unemployable in the market. Except for a miniscule percentage of elite institutions the process of education in India has basically become a farce.

In India there has been a recommendation of Kothari Commission pending since 1968 to implement the common school system as well as the inherent concept of neighbourhood school. However, successive governments have conveniently chosen to ignore this recommendation and after lot of pressure by activists and other groups the Manmohan Singh government agreed to 25% reservation for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in all schools. Most states have not taken this provision seriously and children continue to be denied admission in spite of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, in place.

The only solution to the sorry state of affairs of government school system is to make it compulsory for children of all government servants and people's representatives to send their children to government schools. It is only when the children of ruling class will start attending these schools that their quality will remarkably change.

Make it compulsory for children of government employees and people's representatives to send their children to government schools

How often while eating at a road side joint or having tea at a tea stall do we realize that the hands that serve us, wash our dishes, should be holding pencils and books instead. We're talking of those Rajus or Chotus whose real name we never bother to ask. There are children working in bicycle or motorcycle repair shops. Weaving, glass, fire crackers are other areas which employ children on a massive scale. In addition a number of them also work as domestic help. It is a shame that our society allows this.

The Child Labour  (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 recognizes child labour as cognizable offense. The long title of the said Act clearly states:-“An Act to prohibit the engagement of children in all occupations and to prohibit the engagement of adolescents (14-18 yrs.) in hazardous occupations and processes and the matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” 

Dr Sandeep Pandey fasted for 7 days
to push for RTE implementation in totality
Articles 24, 21-A and 45 of the Constitution clearly do not allow child labour. The laws, in addition to the abovementioned one, which prohibit child labour include The Factories Act, 1948, The Mines Act, 1952, The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) of Children Act, 2000 and The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. However, with no dearth of laws to contain the ill the practice of child labour continues unabated.

The basic purpose of The Child Labour  (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, is to safeguard the childhood of every child in our country and to see that each and every child goes to school as per 'The Right To Education Act, 2009.' In the Amendment Bill 2012, the only exception made is for children helping their families after school hours and in vacations, in fields, home-based work (only for non-commercial purposes), forest gathering and also learning skills in schools and technical institutions as long as it is does not adversely affect child's studies, physical and mental health.
If we're using any service which involves child labour, knowingly or unknowingly, we are an accomplice. In addition we have to ask the ethical question as to what right does anyone have to snatch the childhood away from Chotus and Rajus?

If the child is denied education then we're foreclosing the options before her to improve her family's socio-economic status. Poverty is often quoted as the reason why a child works but the child is unlikely to come out of poverty if she is denied education. Most of the children working are from deprived communities of the society - dalits and Muslims. Hence denying education is a sure way of continuing their condition of poverty. Most countries whose social indices have improved have used free education and health care services to improve the lot of their people.

One reason why universalisation of primary education is not taking place in India is because private schools have been allowed to exist and become strong. Inspite of  The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act in place it is an open fact that neither is education free nor compulsory. In fact, to get a good quality education one will have to pay quite a huge amount because the quality of government schools has degraded and so called good quality education is available only in private schools.

The private schools are running in violation of government norms. They do not have proper infrastructure, they pay only meagre salaries to their teachers, who may not even be qualified to teach and charge heavy fees in one name or another. However, in collusion with education department officials they are allowed to run as commercial ventures. It is quite clear that the important task of education cannot be left to private institutions.

Yet, the trend in the government is to privatise the education sector. The government is shifting its responsibility of providing good quality education to children to the private schools. The RTE Act has provision for 25% reservation for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in all schools. Now such children constitute about 75% of the child population. So, the question is why only 25% reservation? Moreover, the number of private schools is not enough to accommodate all children of weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. Private schools have no incentive to run in remote areas and especially in areas where weaker sections and disadvantaged groups live. A private organisation exists to make profit. If it cannot even generate its running expenses from the fees paid by students why will it run?

Private schools are not admitting children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups under the 25% reservation provision. The most they are willing to do is to run a separate school using the same premises as for the fee paying children will different staff. They feel that teaching children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups along with those of rich will dilute the quality of education as the former students will bring down the average performance of the class and the learning process will slow down. However, the RTE Act clearly says the children of rich and those belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups have to study together.

Since the private schools, where the quality of education is good but they are fewer in numbers, and government schools, which can accommodate all children but where quality of education is lacking, can combine to meet the requirements of all children. The private schools should be nationalised, just like banks were nationalised by Indira Gandhi, and a common school system should be introduced in the country. This will ensure same quality of education in every school. A single Board will manage all schools and ensure that the children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups are not falling behind.

Every child will go to the neighbourhood school and it'll become the responsibility of school to ensure that no child in its neighbourhood is out of school. Since all schools will be of same quality it will not be the case where private schools will have to bear the major load of children and government schools will have very thin attendance. The population of children will be evenly distributed. The exploitation of teachers by private schools and that of students by government schools will end.

Untill the private schools are nationalised it should be made compulsory for everybody drawing salary from the government and all people representatives from the Panchayat members to the Prime Minister to send their children to government schools. If this is implemented the situation of government schools will undergo drastic transformation overnight. There doesn't appear to be any other way in which these schools can be made to function properly. This is a necessary and sufficient condition for ensuring that the government schools provide good quality teaching to children.

Nationalisation of schools necessary for common school system

It is a peculiar situation in which the education department officials are now investing their time and energy in getting children admitted to private schools instead of trying to ensure that their schools function better. It is a mockery of the RTE Act that BSAs of all districts in UP put together have been able to issue orders for admission of 2817 children as of 5 June, 2015 in different private schools. With so few students availing the advantage of  25% reservation for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in all schools how does the education department ever hope to provide quality education to all children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups? Slightly more aware among the weaker sections and disadvantaged groups will get advantage of the provision of reservation for their children, but again the poorest and voiceless among them will be left out. Hence it is necessary that government nationalises all private schools and implements the common school system. The academic activities may be left to private parties but the administration must be taken over by the state so that it can get children admitted according to national law or policy.

If the government is serious about providing quality education to all children then it has no alternative but to nationalise all private schools and implement the common school system and the inherent neighbourhood concept like other nations which have achieved 99-100% literacy rates have done.

Admission of 31 children to CMS, Lucknow, becomes a litmus test for RTE Act

The Lucknow Basic Shiksha Adhikari has ordered the local City Montessori School to admit 15 children at the Primary level and 16 children at the Pre-Primary level. Of these, 23 children belong to Scheduled Caste category, 6 to Other Backward Classes and 2 to general category with their family's annual income below Rs. One lakh. The OBC and general category children are all from Muslim community. Hence all children belong to deprived sections of society.

CMS has decided to move the court instead of admitting the children. CMS, which figures in Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest school, with 20 branches and about 47,000 students, is citing the reason of lack of space for denying admission to these 31 children and raises a question that when there was a government school and a few private schools closer to children's home why was an order passed to admit these children to CMS? CMS is also claiming as inadequate the amount of Rs. 450 per child per month for compensating the cost of education of one child which the government will provide. It estimates that it will cost about Rs. 2,200 to educate per child per month. It is a shame the CMS, which gives 40% concession to children of influential people, is giving the excuse of insufficient compensation for denying admission to children of poor. What is the motive of the manager Jagdish Gandhi of CMS, who is also a former MLA, in offering concession in fees to children of influential sections of society? CMS is willing to educate children of these elite at a lesser fees but is not interested in educating the children of poor.

The court has asked BSA to respond to issues raised by CMS. However, there is no stay on admission of children to CMS. Inspite of this CMS is not admitting the students. The BSA has issued orders on 13 April, 11 May and first week of July following up on the original order of 6 April, directing CMS to admit the 31 children. However, CMS in open defiance of the government and administration refuses to budge. The CMS is guilty of violation of a national Act.  

The U.P. government had implemented the 25%  reservation provision for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups under the RTE Act last year also. Only four children could be admitted then in Lucknow. This year a Municipality Ward has been defined as neighbourhood. According to RTE Act, the children will get advantage of admission in a neighbourhood school. The government school being referred to by CMS near the children's home is not in the same Ward in which they live whereas the Indira Nagar branch of CMS is. If 40 or more students are enrolled in Class I in the government school then a child can claim admission in any of private schools in neighbourhood. 52 children are already admitted to the government school now. In this Ward about 50 children are admitted under the 25% reservation provision of RTE Act to other private schools. In Lucknow 318 admissions have taken place against 467 ordered by BSA. Overall 2,817 admissions have taken place in UP against 3061 ordered. There are some other schools also who are not admitting children from underprivileged background but CMS is the only one which has gone to the court to oppose admission of children from underprivileged background.

Otherwise CMS works quite closely with the any government in power. Recently Shri Shri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living camp was organised for UP IAS officers at CMS. The manager of the school, Jagdish Gandhi, who offers concession in fees to the children of the influential refuses to admit the children of poor under the RTE Act's provision. In response to what he'll do about it the UP Basic Education Minister Ram Govind Chaudhary says that he'll make the quality of government schools so good that people will withdraw their children from private schools and get them admitted to government schools! It is not clear when and how the Education Minister of UP will improve the quality of government schools?

Jagdish Gandhi delivers spiritual sermons preaching people to uphold high moral values.  Being a follower of Bahai religion he talks about universal togetherness and global peace. Does he want to unite only the rich of the world? Where are the poor in his scheme of things? His insensitivity against the poor has come out openly in the case of 31 children who are seeking admission in his school under a national law.

CMS organises 30 international events each year at the cost of crores of rupees. Its students and teachers go to foreign countries to participate in various events. In one of the programmes that Jagdish Gandhi organises he invites chief justices, serving and retired, from all over the world. However, by denying admission to 31 children Jagdish Gandhi is violating a national law. It now remains to be seen whether the judges invited to the annual event held at CMS will become the guests of a man who is guilty of violation of a national law.

An important grassroots transformation is taking place in rural India, especially among the poor. It is not uncommon now to see reports in newspapers about children of daily wage workers making it to IIT. The poor in rural India is now awakened and wants his/her child to be get good education because he knows that only this will free his family from the vicious cycle of poverty and exploitation. As soon as the poor has enough money with him and can afford to send their children to private schools they do so. Awakened rural guardians also aspire to send their talented children to Navodaya Vidyalayas, which have acquired a reputation of quality.
Why is Jagdish Gandhi afraid of admitting 31 poor children?

The effect of Jagdish Gandhi's irrational behaviour is that other schools of Lucknow have also started turing down the admissions. Delhi Public School branch of Sector 19, Indira Nagar admitted Aditya Kanaujia but later turned him down because he went to the press. Aditya's father Vinod, who irons clothes for living, on his own initiative single handedly managed to obtain the admission of his son by directly writing to the District Magistrate expressing his desire to educate his son at DPS. BSA office helped him in getting his application form filled and submitted. Universal Public School in Madiyaon has turned down the admission of two students as they couldn't buy uniform and books for themselves. Hence a cascading effect can already be seen. Other rich schools have started behaving been as adamantly as CMS.

If CMS is successful is not admitting these 31 children then it'll receive very few applications next year also as people will expect that their children would not be admitted easily. On the other hand if children are admitted then every branch of CMS will receive hundreds of applications. This is what worries Jagdish Gandhi. That is why he is opposing the admissions tooth and nail.

It is people like Jagdish Gandhi who have become an obstacle in the education of poor children. Whereas countries like Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have adult literacy rates of above 90% and young female of age group 15-24 years literacy rate of more than 96%, comparitively India's literacy rate is merely 63% and young female literacy rate 74%.

Jagdish Gandhi caters to education of the rich children. He runs his education empire like a private company and as a business strategy offers 40% discount in fees to influential people like IAS officers, advocates, MPs, MLAs, judges and most importantly journalists, 20% discount to second line offcials like Circle Officers, no discount at all to the parents who feel the pinch of his high fee structure the most and wants to keep the section which can't afford education at his institution out of his premises. He can't imagine that children of poor will enter to the extent of 25% in his school and spoil his business. This is what he is afraid of.

But if people like Jagdish Gandhi are not willing to follow a national law then government should take over the administrative part of his school and properly implement the Section 12 of the RTE Act. If this powerful school falls in line then other schools will follow suit. The owners may run the education programme of his schools but should not have any say in its administration. This will be the first step towards common school system. This is also what Jagdish Gandhi fears. If 31 children are admitted to his school then the government's education department will get a foot inside the CMS door. Right now he is running the pre-primary section of his school without any recongnition. Once governemt officials start visiting his schools then he would not be able to violate government's laws and rules.

But for the time being the 25% reservation provision for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups must be implemented. So far the governments have not shown the political will to do so. In addition to the government apathy, if the CMS refuses to admit the children then other private schools will also not take this Act seriously. Thus many children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups will be denied the opportunity to get good education. CMS itself will have over 10,000 children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups studying in its various branches if the RTE Act is implemented in its spirit.

When CMS admits 31 students it'll not just be doing favour to these 31 children but it'll open the door for thousands of children to avail an opportunity to obtain life transforming education.

Dr Sandeep Pandey, Magsaysay Awardee and CNS Columnist