Total Pageviews

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Wrong To Education, Part 4: The ASSES!

(The introduction to this series analysing RTE can be found here:

(Part 3, which is longer than the average, but divided into logical & legal analysis:
This isn't RTE. It's utterly anti-poor.
a) Let's start with a clarification: I'm not talking about the "neighbourhood schools" in the RTE, i.e. Sec.12(a). If those are set up, managed & run properly, they will indeed bring education to many who need it. There is some concern that, in the medium to long term - if one reads the Act as the 2012 judgment does - these schools will come up at the expense of existing government efforts, but if that must be the price for a uniform & reliable system, it may even be worth it. In as much as Sec. 18-19 may be applied as between government schools, we should see a net rise in allocative efficiency, however counter-intuitive it may initially appear.

b) With respect to the quotas under Sec. 12(b) & (c), in aided & unaided schools, my considered opinion is that it is a bold experiment, but it *could* be a good step. IF the quotas reliably & consistently provide access to a quality of schooling hitherto unavailable to the poorest children on account of their economic weakness, it will still be a step forward for education for the poor.

(i) The media certainly thinks so. I remember Barkha Dutt saying something to the effect that we had always argued that education-sector reservations should be on an economic basis, and now we finally have an Act that follows this. (I don't want to single out Barkha - I specifically remember her, but she was not unique here. Almost every news outlet took this line.) And, as I pointed out in #3, the Supreme Court thinks so too; whatever its flaws - & those are legion! - the 2012 judgment does proclaim this: <emphasis added>

"Earmarking of seats for children belonging to a specified category who face financial barrier in the matter of accessing education satisfies the test in Art. 14." (At Para 10)

(ii) The test in question is the test of Reasonable Classification based on Intelligible Differentia. Art. 14 guarantees equal treatment by the State (equality before the law & equal protection of the law), which has been interpreted to mean that equals must not be treated unequally, but those who are not equal may receive differential treatment. The test is whether the distinction (classification) being made is a reasonable one, made
[A] on the basis of objective ("intelligible") differentiating factors between the groups
[B] having a clear relation ("nexus") to the objective of the Act, for which any such classification is sought to be made.

c) In other words, you can treat people differently, if the basis for such differential treatment is both objective & rationally related to the purpose of making such a differentiation in the first place. With respect to RTE, the Supreme Court itself has provided this basis - financial inability to access education. As long as this judgment stands, this criterion can neither be gainsaid nor ignored.

d) RTE, in effect, ignores the "financial inability" criterion for providing quotas.
Which means that it is not only is not a step towards educating the poor, but now explicitly in violation of the Supreme Court's judgment; ironically, the very judgment that  went to illogical lengths to save quotas under the Act may have opened (another) door to the entire quota scheme being struck down!

Why do I say this? The devil, as one blogger put it, is in the details. 

(i) Note these definitions from RTE: <Emphasis added>
Sec. 2(d): Child belonging to disadvantaged groups: means a child belonging to the  Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, the socially and educationally backward class OR such other group having disadvantage owing to cultural, economical, social, geographical, linguistic, gender OR such other factor, as may be specified by the appropriate government, by notification.
Sec. 2(e): Child belonging to weaker section: means a child belonging to such parent or guardian whose annual income is lower than the minimum limit specified by the appropriate government by notification.

(ii)  Now note the crucial quota-creating provisions, in Sec.12: <Emphasis added>
Sec. 12(b): <provision of free education by aided schools for> "such proportion of children admitted therein as its annual recurring aid or grants... bears to to its annual recurring expenses..." <subject to a minimum of at least 25%>
Sec. 12(c): <quota - at least 25%, at the stage of admissions to Class I - in unaided & specified schools for> "children belonging to weaker section AND disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood..." 

(iii) What does this mean?
[A] Aided schools - Sec. 2(n)(ii) read with Sec. 12(b) - have to provide free education to (assume the minimum level) 25% of their total strength. Who are these beneficiaries? The poorest, the ones who face - as the court said - a "financial barrier to access to education", right?
Wrong. Actually, we have no idea. The Act simply does not say. All it lays down is the percentage / proportion rule. It gives NO basis for selecting these children. Since a basis is given in the following sub-section 12(c), I believe this is just an example of shoddy drafting. Note that, if this is NOT followed, the action can immediately be challenged for violating Art. 14, because the doctrine of Reasonable Classification is violated. 
Yet, even if we read in the same criteria as 12(c), it will face the same problem.

[B] Unaided & Specified schools - Sec. 2(n)(iii),(iv) read with Sec. 12(c) - have to provide free education to 25% of their intake at Class I (& continue to provide it free to such admitted students until completion/age 14). These beneficiaries are to be children belonging to the weaker section AND the disadvantaged section.
In other words, economic weakness - a "financial barrier to access to education" - is only one factor, and at least one other factor, which is caste by default, but completely at the discretion of the local/state government, must be included as well. The SC judgment, however, recognised only the former category, so unless all of the latter are linked to a financial barrier to access, they can  be struck down as violating Reasonable Classification norms. Indeed, they ought to be - it is not immediately clear why, if the point is to overcome financial barriers, any criterion other than economic weakness is necessary!

[C] The Act, however, MANDATES that they cannot be just the former. Seats must be provided to children whose parents have incomes below the minimum limit specified by the appropriate government, AND either (SC/ST) or (SEBC) or (any other factor, as may be specified by the appropriate government). Most importantly, there is no "creamy layer" provision - that is, there is nothing to say that any of those falling into the "disadvantaged section" will lose this benefit if their parents' annual income is above the minimum limit specified. Remember, if the income is above the minimum limit, they presumably face no financial barrier to access to education. If it is below the limit, they are eligible in any case!
(The Chennai High Court recently read this into the Act - Priyanka Rajkumar vs. Rajaji Vidyashram - but, as a High Court ruling, this has no impact outside Tamil Nadu.) 

Note that, since no relative weightage within the quota is provided, it is possible to provide precisely one seat for "children from weaker sections", all the rest on the basis of caste or any other factor, and still be in compliance with the Act!

e) This is exactly what has been done in practice!

I have not been able to access the actual RTE guidelines on allotment of quotas as notified by any state government in India, so this section depends entirely on analysis of such rules & guidelines made on blogs like Reality Check India and Serious Fun.
( )

To take up just the example of the KV guidelines, just two seats are shared between economically weaker sections, handicapped, or such other groups as may be specified.  This is 2 seats out of 10 reserved seats, in a class of 40: an effective quota of 5%. From what I have read in these blogs - and it's what I'd predict, so I have little reason to doubt it, but I won't report it as fact till I can read the notifications myself - most State guidelines are scarcely any better. Even Kerala, with the most progressive proposal so far, wants to allot 10% to the economically weaker & 15% to the disadvantaged section.

In other words, the child of an SC/ST/SEBC/any other group specified can have the benefit of such quota NO MATTER WHAT their parents' income. In the Rajaji Vidyashram case in Tamil Nadu, the parents' annual income was reported at 30 lakh!

f) To complete the exclusion: The "random selection" guideline
This is, literally, the final nail in the coffin. So far, we've seen that - even if it is solely as a fig leaf (to hide naked caste-related/vote bank politics) - some minimal proportion of seats must be allotted on an economic basis, right?
Schools reported a different - albeit entirely foreseeable - problem: they were receiving applications for the 25% free seats far outnumbering the number of seats, so how were they to select between such applicants? To deny any would be to risk the wrath of the authorities, for how does one reject an applicant to "free & compulsory" education?

In their wisdom, the authorities issued this guideline: seats will be allotted between eligible applicants by a process of random selection. Each school may devise a process for such allotment.

In other words, we're down to lotteries. Now, all through this post, I've been ignoring issues of corruption, fake documents, misreporting of incomes etc. - on the grounds that those are realities that any scheme in any Act must contend with, so why single out RTE for failing to address them? Now, however, we've gone a step further - RTE has become only a right to a chance at access to education. In this respect, how does one ignore the chance of a rigged lottery?

Don't answer, because the question is academic. Remember, the idea was that the criterion for selection was economic weakness. Just look how far we've come from that standard. The criterion is now a random-chance modulated possibility in which economic weakness is one factor. In other words, following precisely the Act & its guidelines, those who face - as determined by the appropriate government - a financial barrier to access to education, may never get the benefit of the quotas under Sec. 12(c).

In other words, RTE's quota system does not specifically target or benefit the poor.

g) Let's finish with a Stakeholder Analysis: How does RTE look to each actor?
<The Counterproductive Part, #4>
(i) Economically weaker section: their children - in whose name RTE is trumpeted - may never see the inside of a quality school. Gods willing, neighbourhood schools will reach them some day.
(ii) Disadvantaged section: given a certain amount of political leverage, their children may corner the benefits of the Sec. 12(c) quotas, or free seats under Sec. 12(b). For groups lacking such leverage, they may see no more benefit than the EWS.
(iii) Govt. run schools: there will be a spurt in constructing such schools, perhaps even in enrollment, but - as has always been the question - where will they find qualified teachers? Note that, if they lack these, it is precisely the poorest children (who will wind up in such schools by default) that will suffer.
(iv) Aided schools: must pray that the amount of expenditure they incur on free students will not exceed the amount they receive in aid or grant from the government. In the long run, we may see such schools choosing to become entirely independent of government aid, especially if they are minority educational institutions.
(v) Unaided schools: These schools will be squeezed. They must meet norms, or be derecognised, so they will incur expenses. They must provide seats to the children of politically favoured groups. They will be reimbursed only the cost-per-head the government incurs on such students, which is clearly less than their expenses on each such student. (One assumes that providing a quality of education higher than the neighbourhood school needs more expense than the neighbourhood schools incur.) At the same time, given regulations on fees, they cannot raise them enough on paid students to cross-subsidise the free seats.
Of course, they still have options. But all of these involve effectively minimising expenses on free seat students, which creates an atmosphere of exclusion within the school & defeats the purpose of the Act. For instance, they may put all free seats in a separate division, and treat that division in utterly stepmotherly fashion. They cannot expel or hold back those students in any case, so why spend money teaching or testing them? A more sophisticated system would be to move these students to another division after class I - perhaps on the premise of remedial teaching - and fill up those vacancies with paying students in Class II. The RTE Act may thus create two levels of entry: Class I for free students, Class II for those willing to pay - and this is only one of many forms of distortion it can induce!
They can also choose to utterly ignore RTE. It will cost Rs. 38 lakh a year. (Fine of Rs. 1 lakh + 10,000 per day). I know schools that could absorb this as a "licensing expense" & keep running.
(vi) Minority schools: will continue unaffected. Except that the pool of potential students to these schools will expand, and - with no direct control on their management etc. - they can safely raise fees in light of this higher demand. Especially if even other unaided schools raise fees, if only to pay off that Rs. 38 lakh non-compliance burden. Of course, this means that quality education will be out of the reach of even more students!
(vii) Alternate schools: the many emerging endeavours, NGO schools, etc. will all fail to receive recognition for lack of infrastructure, and have to pay fines & shut down. As they, more than any other type of school, actually provide to the poorest children, it is precisely those children that will suffer.
(viii) Teachers: are banned from earning any alternate income by the Act. They will either successfully agitate for higher incomes under the Act, which will squeeze schools (& consequently students) even further, or they will quit the profession. Prospective teachers will prefer to become tutors than join a school, exacerbating the shortage in skilled teaching staff. First neighbourhood schools, but then even aided or unaided schools will suffer, unless they can offer a salary high enough to attract these prospective teachers away from other options. Where they get this money is anyone's guess, but if it's the students, then again, access to quality teaching will be out of the reach of many.
(ix) Contractors, Officials in charge of licensing / recognition, enforcement etc.: The Act is a godsend to such players, to engage in unprecedented levels of rent-seeking or extortionist behaviour. They can say to schools - do as we say, or we won't pay you. They can also, in effect, refuse to transfer even the payments due, and say to those who would complain - if you speak up, we'll derecognise & fine you.
(x) Government (& Political parties): Will apparently announce the Act as a step towards promoting universal education. Will also no doubt play all kinds of casteist or vote-bank politics to corner the benefits of reservations under the Act for their chosen group. In this, they will be helped by a media that seems to read only the press packs, not the legislations or judgments in question.

So let me ask, one final time: HOW is this a step forwards, towards educating the poor?


Having undertaken this assessment, I've come to the conclusion that the so-called Right to Education Act is the antithesis of its name. From the point of view of every stakeholder actually looking to promote education, it's heavily counterproductive. So much so, I have a new label for it: The Anti-School, Student & Education Scheme - ASSES.

Which is the kindest term I can use for those who designed it, and also for those who promote it.

No comments:

Post a Comment