Misplaced obsession with RTE in policy discourse

These days, every discussion on education policy in India, invariably revolves only around RTE. It appears as if "Education Policy is RTE and RTE is Education Policy". It has also been demonised to the extent that it is now being made responsible for everything wrong with our public education and its policy.

This obsession with RTE is incorrect. One, RTE is only a small part of education policy. It is NOT the education policy. Two, in case of public schools, RTE is NOT the reason for poor quality. Quality was poor and was declining much before RTE.  Nothing in RTE prevents governments from taking steps required to improve public education.

Just think about it. What in RTE is stopping governments from addressing several constraints in public education? What in RTE is stopping governments from improving teacher training programmes? What in RTE is stopping governments from strengthening SMCs? What in RTE is stopping governments from improving academic mentorship to teachers? What in RTE is stopping governments from filling up teacher posts? What in RTE is stopping governments from streamlining teacher recruitment? What in RTE is stopping governments from providing career counselling to students? What in RTE is stopping governments from streamlining fund flows? What in RTE is stopping governments from pursuing "outcome" oriented approach?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing in RTE prevents governments from taking steps to address these constraints in public education. Instead of focusing on getting these done, we are unnecessarily being diverted by single point agenda of RTE.

The real negative effect of RTE on public schools may thus not be due to the specifics of the RTE. The negative effect of RTE may be due to the fact that it has given rise to a huge new section of activists with a restricted outlook on education policy. By equating education policy to RTE, they are successfully diverting attention from the actual things that are to be done.

In summary, RTE is not the education policy. RTE is neither the cause for existing problems in public education nor does it stop governments from doing what's to be done to improve public education. RTE is also NOT the remedy. It only aims to ensure certain basic framework. The real solutions lie outside. Let's focus on getting these done and not be diverted by single point agenda of RTE.

PS1: RTE isn't the source for Right to Education. Article 21A, added to the Constitution through 86th Constitutional Amendment, 2002 is the source for education as a fundamental right. RTE merely provides a framework to enable Article 21A. So, the roots of RTE are in 2002, not in 2010.

PS2: RTE doesn't exclude only Christian Missionary Schools and Madarasas, leaving out Hindu religious schools. It also excludes Vedic Patashalas.

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