Monday, May 02, 2011

How would YOU implement the RTE?

Here's an exchange that started in Facebook.
If YOU were in charge of implementing RTE in a district / block, exactly WHAT would you do? Could I have step by step suggestions please. That's because all of us have by now said all that is wrong with RTE implementation, but this is not equal to knowing what to do. I come across many district and block functionaries who are seriously looking for suggestions (they also welcome critique, but find that it doesn't help them decide what to do - at best they only see they're doing something wrong).

It would be a great contribution. I promise I'll share the suggestions with at least 10 'serious' functionaries who have asked for support and will try to impact 300 to 3000 schools each. As they start implementing, we'll create a facebook page where they can record their progress and impact. But could we have specific suggestions please, maybe even a framework or a detailed note?

One response I received was from Anjela Taneja:
Gave this some thought overnight. Basically, one immediate suggestion is to put this question onto a website (read you blog atleast) so you can get a larger pool of responses. Personally, I added the question onto the RTE India page I moderate as well. However, a more user friendly interface of responding would help instead of trying to type everything on FB. In response to the actual question, I see two sets of responses- universal recommendations (only a few), but a lot of questions related to specific geographies. The solutions need to emerge from the local problems, so it would help to know where the functionaries in question are actually stuck and atleast what states one is talking about.

In response, here are some details.
As for geographies... Specific ones include: the block of Fatehpur, near Kanpur; the training coordinator of Bareilly; an informal govt school teachers' collective (who want things to impove) in Varanasi; in terms of states, Bihar and Gujarat to start with.

Some of the comments received:

Naaz Khair
Where there is a will there is a way! Government is running the central schools par excellence. If it wants it can change things for its other set of schools as well. The RTE Act itself is very explicit in terms of who is supposed to do what i.e. the duties that need to be performed so that educational rights of children are upheld. The RTE Act almost reads like a program and contains step by step measures to taken at different levels to ensure its implementation. This forum, along-side raising its voice whenever RTE violations took place, has also been proposing possible solutions. It is more than time now for the people in the system to make decisions given the resources in hand.

Janmejoy Patel
Yes, it is basically a question of how serious the govts are regarding implementation of RTE. Do they have required amount of political will or commitment? Are they willing to allocate adequate funds & invest in education? Once these factors are settled, there is no private school good enough to rival our schools in quality. But will the politicos do so on their own? No hope since none of them has any stake involved. Unless forced to.

Anjela Taneja there are two levels of issues here- what should be done to improve the policy and practice, and another is what can a government official do immediately within the constraints of the system

Subir Shukla
‎@Janmejoy If you take a look at the amounts released, you will find that the country as a whole is not really able to use more than 70% of the funds made available... 
     There's a need to understand the nature of social 'filters' involved. Things such as buildings, textbooks - concrete things that can be touched, inaugurated or 'released' and credit taken for - tend to get done. But a child's right to learn is a lot more than that, and needs a new set of relationships and processes in order to be attained. It's common to have 'disco bhajans' (i.e. allowing a western 'pollution' of a cultural aspect) but more difficult to implement the notion that a child does not need to be beaten in order to learn (in fact, while teachers are responsible, many parents also insist that their children be kept in discipline through corporal punishment; similarly, look at the response to CCE...). It's like trying to ban spitting or dowry (for which a law exists...). 
     Similarly, the notion that you do not need to memorize or be given explanation - instead you should learn through activity, exploration and projects (which is what the RTE provides for) - is not the easiest to implement even for those who are seriously trying, including in the NGO sector, including in the organizations that are seen as the 'teerth sthal' of education. Another crisis - and this is a professional, considered opinion of a curriculum/textbook/materials developer after closely examining materials from all over the country for 20 years - is that the NGO 'products' in terms of curricula / materials / pedagogy / teacher development are also fairly weak when it comes to the kind of quality desired, the constructivism to be implemented, the kind of equity-oriented and diversity based classroom that is now needed. Indeed the textbooks of several states would rate much higher. 
     @Naaz, steps about how to make 'special training' or create a differential classroom which must necessarily result, are not really spelt out in RTE documents. (This is just an example, and there are several more such aspects, esp about how to help those in the system realize that post-RTE, it is THEY who are the 'beneficiaries' and children / parents / community are the REASON for the system to exist.) 
     I'm afraid the real import of many of the RTE provisions have not really been understood and a whole lot of "why aren't you doing your job" kind of comments are being passed around. While these will help in situations such as getting children admitted, other aspects such as getting discrimination (subtle and overt) to reduce, community to be empowered, teachers to be enabled to create vibrant and equity-oriented classrooms, in 1500000+ schools, (including private schools), are something else altogether. 'Protesting' or 'raising' voice may curb something negative, but doesn't necessarily make something positive (e.g. teaching better) happen. I've written about 'preventive power' vs 'generative power' elsewhere in this blog.
     The perspective changes when you're someone who has to actually deliver the RTE, and I haven't found much in the various fora that is dramatically helpful, or not known or not being tried out. A lot of the suggestions are very vague (ideas such as 'involve the community', 'empower the teacher' are outcomes of steps, which themselves are not always spelt out, or examples given of a very preliminary level..). Many of the issues (such as teacher attendance and accountability) are larger governance issues and need a larger strategy, some of which is indeed being thought about at different levels. I still believe that people thinking and working on these issues have a great deal to contribute - both within the government set up and outside. Hence my request for the kind of engagement that foregrounds concrete actions.

Now, waiting for YOUR responses!