Continuing commentary on the RTE Act and SC judgment

I worried that the round-the-clock coverage of Agni V would detract from the much needed focus on the RTE Act, but today’s papers provide some reassurance on this score.  The Hindu features an insightful op-ed by Professor Krishna Kumar, a former Director of the NCERT.  After endorsing the approach of the majority judgment, Kumar focuses on the perspective of teachers:
“For well over a century, India has treated its teachers like messengers
who need not know or understand the message themselves. They occupy the
lowest rung in the ladder of authority and status in the system of
education. The younger the age-group they teach, the lower their own
status and salary. That is why the nursery teacher has no status at all,
and no university-level training course, which might explain why certain practices are good and others are bad, exists for nursery professionals.
Primary level teaching is similarly regarded as a drill devoid of
intellectual effort. Delhi University stood alone when it started
offering a four-year course called Bachelor of Elementary Education
(B.El.Ed.) in the 1990s. Though this course has produced outstanding
teachers, the Delhi government still denies them the status of trained
graduate teachers. In its recent verdict, the Supreme Court
characterised education “as a process involving many actors,” starting
the list with “the one who provides education,” namely, the teacher. The
list then goes on to include the owners of institutions, parents, the
child, society, and the state. This clarity of analysis runs through the
entire verdict which should become a compulsory reading for
administrators and teachers alike if RTE is to reach its ambitious
goals.”
Kumar addresses the concerns raised by owners of unaided educational institutions and concludes as follows: 
“Indeed, this may provide to private schools an opportunity to set their
own priorities in order. Over the last few decades, a culture of
extravagance has engulfed many of India’s elite private schools. Many
private schools now uninhibitedly flaunt their five-star luxuries,
ranging from expensive furniture and marble floors to air conditioning
and CCTVs. When you visit one of these schools, you wonder whether you
are in a hotel. Their plea for sympathy over the inadequacy of state
subsidy for 25 per cent free seats is a bit cloying.

It will be nice if they shift their anxiety to the challenges that RTE
throws at everyone concerned with children’s education — teachers,
trainers, parents, state and society. For teachers, the critical issue
is to absorb the new curricular and pedagogic perspective which focuses
on learning in place of marks. RTE asks for continuous and comprehensive
evaluation, and a ban on corporal punishment and private tuition. These
are tall demands and our systemic preparation to meet them has barely
begun. Search for short cuts has ominously surfaced in matters like the
selection of distance education for teacher training and dependence on
NGOs for monitoring. The state and the university system cannot any more
neglect the task of regulating teacher training institutes, most of
which are now in the private sector.”
The need for concerted action by a host of actors has been emphasised by other commentators.  Writing in the Hindustan Times a few days ago, Vaibhav Purandhare emphasised what parents will have to do on their part: 
“But it is not these questions of logistics that will hold up the Act;
answers to them can be found, after consultation with all groups
involved (Mumbai, in fact, has an excellent model of egalitarian
education in the form of many Jesuit institutions). It is the
attitudinal approach that’s the key to ensuring integration, and this
approach begins, develops and ends at home.
Young parents have been brought up in an environment in which the
idea is to compete stiffly, get ahead of others and emphasise the
distance travelled from others in terms of social, educational and
economic status to the extent possible. Having itself exploited the
benefits of free, state-sponsored education, this class abuses Nehruvian
socialism which, in the first place, gave their families a toehold in
society and helped them create the groundwork for all the success ahead.
Will this class, which gives its children iPads and all the new toys to
hit the market, also tell them that those who do not have iPads are
equals and must be treated as equals? Will parents tell their kids that
we ourselves, too, were, not too long ago, in the same situation that
the poor are in today? Will Mumbai’s even older privileged classes, who
are loath to share their elite clubs and gymkhanas with the rest of
society, not resist this invasion of their world? And will we, having
moved as a society from the deification of poverty to the other extreme
of vilification, not commit the crime of patronising the kids who will
come to our schools in an attempt to show ourselves as civilised?
Worrying as the prospect is, here is also an opportunity for a
genuine social revolution. What we could do not do in the 65 years since
Independence, we could do in just a few years if parents approach this
revolution in schooling correctly. We could take a leap from feudalism
to democracy, from an essentially unequal society to a genuinely
transformative one, and we can bridge the gap between Bharat and India
Shining. Such an opportunity to wipe out inequality, at least to some
extent, does not present itself to all generations.”

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