RTE: Some Recent Churnings

Finally, the ills of Right to Education Act (#RTE) are coming out to light. Apart from the outcome based failures that have been discussed threadbare by even the Govt of India, the sectarian nature of #RTE (it applies only to Hindu run schools) is finally trickling down into public domain. The efforts of one anonymous twitter handle in this respect must be acknowledged: @realitycheckind (RCI). In a literal David vs Goliath, RCI has fought a long, and often lonely, battle to bring the ills of #RTE to public attention. Yours truly got educated from his tweets on this topic since 2012.

In a recent article, Education policy maker Meeta Sengupta (@meetasengupta on Twitter) wrote an article in LiveMint, where she discusses three major problems with #RTE factually. I say factually because the article doesn't bring out the whole truth in that issue - and in that sense, the article hides some and reveals some. I am also at odds with the overall direction of solutions that Ms. Sengupta advocates: that of more government interference in administrative issues of private schools. Here, we will see some of the issues and possible implications.

Let me be upfront: it is the first non-RW article that even discusses the sectarian nature of #RTE - and hence, as such, deserves to be read and spread. But, it has its typical socialist skullduggery. I had two problems with the article:

The first problem is the way it treated the sectarian nature of #RTE application.

The article is legally precise when it says #RTE itself is not sectarian, and it derives its sectarian nature from the Articles 29/30 of the Indian constitution. However, what the author doesn't reveal (or doesn't know - improbable, but not impossible) is that the Indian constitution did not provide for such discrimination. In TMA Pai vs Ors (2002), a 11 member bench of the Supreme Court of India held that all religions in India held the same rights and duties to run educational institutions in India. The court rightly interpreted the protections provided in Articles 29 and 30, as protections to minorities and not as privileges.

Come 2004, the UPA-1 government did a Shah-Bano on this judgement. The hard and long fought victory of Hindus for educational parity with minorities was overturned with an amendment to the Article 15 of the constitution - as it applies to Articles 29 and 30. In the anti-RTE circles, this is often mentioned to simply, as the 93rd Constitutional Amendment. What 93rdCA did, was to restore "pre TMA-Pai case" status quo of privileges to minorities over Hindus in Edu sector. It made Hindus second class citizens when it came to their rights to run education institutions (by exempting minority institutions from government oversight). This is the whole story behind what Ms. Sengupta glibly mentions as:

"And this glitch comes into play because of something outside the RTE Act. The Constitution's Articles 29 and 30, which give minorities rights to provide education for their own, have been amended to become a noose around the RTE Act".

It is important emphasize that it was not a glitch. It was a well planned coup to nullify a SC judgement - leading to continued treatment of the majority as second class citizens. That the article glosses these political details over, needs to be pointed out.

The second problem with the article is where the author opines on ways to deal with issues within #RTE. This part of the article reads quite bipolar, to be frank. The author is clearly split between her dream of socialist education control, and the realities that beset that dream. Even while describing problems inherent to #RTE that are forcing budget schools to be shut down en masse, the author makes an emotional plea to deflect blame from #RTE itself. In my opinion, this is not very different from "this is not true Islam" type of statements issued after every terrorist attack.

Many of the issues the author points out are severable from #RTE. For example, why do we need to deal with a flea ridden behemoth (#RTE) when I can simply make Transfer Certificates illegal in a simple executive order?

More worrying is her call for a middle ground (or in other words jugaad) to resolve a fundamental issue of "equality before law". Ms. Sengupta needs to be reminded that few things in a secular republic are as fundamental as equality before law - and there can't be a middle ground; any middle ground, in this aspect. Further, while the author pleads for finding a middle ground - she herself offers no middle ground option. She doesn't offer one, because there can't be one. Either people are equal, or they are not. One can't be partially pregnant.

Last but not least is the way the author demarcates roles and responsibilities of the State and the School Admin, when it comes to running a school. 

I quote "The government has a responsibility to govern the administration of all schools to ensure quality education is being delivered to all. This does not need to impinge upon the content of teaching, while it does call to account the process of teaching and learning and its outcomes". 

This is outright scary. The government has to regulate - not govern - school administrations. Can the author point out the last time that a large scale government intervention was successful in India? What is more appalling, is that the author asks for a Government hand in governing administration using its corrupt and inefficient executive arm (IAS), when she has provided several data points that prove that the government can't even run its own schools properly. The bipolar nature of author's views are never starker.

In all the lamenting, the simple and effective solutions that can be really implemented somehow escapes the author. #RTE and government take over of public properties is made necessary because the government chokes the supply side. Profiteering in schools is rampant because the government (both legislative members and the executive) holds substantial amounts of discretion over who gets to run a school (I bribe to start a school, and I profiteer to compensate). The solution to these maladies is not more government and legislation, but less government. Instead of a "Right to Education", what we needed was a "Right to Educate". Instead of shutting down schools - we needed to open up the sector and enable a million schools to bloom. Market competition, and response to customer demand would rationalize fees dynamically and effectively than a centralized bureaucracy can. Market competition would also ensure high quality goods (in this case, education) at affordable rates. Right now, Edu sector is being run as a oligarchical cabal. We need market forces to come into play. Most importantly, this will also ensure that vested interests can't make policy changes that tilt the playing field.

In summary: for socialist liberals in India, #RTE has ceased to be a large scale social experiment for socialists, and become an article of faith that must be protected at all costs - even at the cost of children's future.

It is our duty to make sure the children's future take precedence, and not some utopian liberal dream.

-SBM

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