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“RTE: much remains to be done”

Special Correspondent

Photo: R. Ragu

Generating awareness:National Commission for Protection of Child Rights chairperson Shanta Sinha speaks on the RTE Act in Chennai on Friday. —

CHENNAI: Most complaints with regard to the implementation of the Right of Children for Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act have been to do with collection of fees, violation of the no detention policy and screening tests being held to admit students, according to Shantha Sinha, chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Speaking at a seminar on ‘Realisation of RTE Act' here on Friday, she said each State responded differently to the provisions of the Act. The Commission found it easier to question government schools as they were anyway available for public scrutiny, compared to private schools.

The Act states that children who are out of school need to be enrolled in the age-appropriate class, with special bridge courses to ready them for the particular class.

Awareness campaign

Observing that a lot needed to be done in India with regard to implementation of the Act, which is over a year old now, Ms. Sinha said that there has to be a campaign to raise awareness of the Act. The School Education Departments in every State should issue a monthly circular on the provisions of the Act and follow up. “We need honesty in estimation of out of school children. About 80 lakh children are said to be out of school, but that is a gross underestimation,” she said.

Calling for a genuine alliance between teachers and parents of students from underprivileged backgrounds, Ms. Sinha said: “These parents are last in the social hierarchy and teachers are last in the education department hierarchy. They should come together,” she said, adding that civil society and the government were equal partners.

Highlighting the role of Labour Department in collaborating with the School Education Department, she said the NCPCR was working on bringing an amendment to the Child Labour Act. “It must be strong and include all forms of child labour in its definition.”

S. Muthukumaran, former vice-chancellor, Bharathidasan University said it was important to reflect on the extent to which the provisions of the Act have been implemented and whether there is, at least, a plan of action.

“We must also see if there is any perceived need for amendment to the Act. In my opinion, the distinction between academics and administration has not been considered deeply in the Act,” he said.

Academics like him would not particularly emphasise on age-appropriate admission for drop outs, but would recommend that such children be admitted to class appropriate to their abilities, he added. “Academic issues should be left to academicians,” he said, pointing to certain contemporary issues in Tamil Nadu, as a result of “politicising” education.

Absence of grievance redressal

Senior educationist S.S. Rajagopalan said the Act did not mention a grievance redressal mechanism. Emphasising the need to strengthen the State school system he said: “The government school system has the best of teachers but why have people lost faith in the system?”

Observing that most people looked at children with an “adult's perspective”, he said, corporal punishment and labour at schools were often reasons for children to drop out. The even was organised by Hand in Hand, a non-governmental organisation.

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