There are many — too many — people, especially in politics and the academy, who believe the country’s 250 million cheerful and innocent children — especially in government schools — are lab rats on whom over-the-top education theories can be tested and crazy experiments conducted with impunity. These people know precious little about education except for bits and pieces they may have picked up from eclectic reading lists. But they know enough to ensure that their own progeny are safely enrolled in one of the country’s Top 25,000 English-medium schools affiliated with the CBSE, CISCE and/or foreign examination boards with strong academic traditions.
The remainder of the country’s 1.50 million primary-secondary schools — especially 1.20 million government schools which grudgingly host first-generation learners of the country’s 180 million poor households — are open laboratories for the country’s overweening politicians and compromised academics to conduct experiments in rewriting history, denying English language learning, imposing shabby textbooks authored by faux intellectuals and for infiltrating kith and kin with suspect credentials as teachers.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 — reportedly drafted by legal eagle and former Union minister for human resource development in the Congress-led UPA-II government, Kapil Sibal, and piloted through Parliament by him — which became law on April 1, 2010, is a good example of reckless social engineering and experimentation which has blighted the lives of millions of children in bottom-of-pyramid households countrywide. Eight years after it became law, it’s plain that the RTE Act, dressed up as liberal, pro-poor and modernist legislation, has severely depressed learning outcomes in primary/elementary (class I-VIII) education. It also threatens to severely damage the country’s private schools — especially affordably priced budget private schools — promoted by ‘edupreneurs’ to provide half-decent (including English language) education to millions of children obliged to flee dysfunctional state government primaries.
On the eve of the eighth anniversary of the RTE Act, to mark which a massive Shiksha Bachao Andolan (Save Education Movement) rally has been convened in Delhi on April 7 by NISA (National Independent Schools Alliance), our cover story details why the pernicious RTE Act needs to be scrapped.
And in her first special report feature for EW, special correspondent Sruthy Susan Ullas highlights how excessive political interference and whittling away of its autonomy has severely damaged Bangalore University which in the 1970s was among the most respected varsities of peninsular India. I regret that our first summer issue is a downer. But these stories need to be told to prompt overdue reforms.