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Right to Education: Success Or Failure?

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India was struggling with a high illiteracy rate in 2002 when the government inserted the Right to Education (RTE) Act in the constitution. The act, which proposed free and compulsory education to every child between six to fourteen years of age, was put to action in 2009. It remains the most significant milestone in the Indian education sector but has it delivered its promises during the course of the decade! 
There is no doubt that the RTE Act has significantly enhanced enrolments in primary schools and has also succeeded in increasing awareness in society regarding education. As a direct outcome of the RTE Act enrolment rates in schools were more than 97% in 2018. The act also improved employment opportunities for teachers in the country, with the number of teachers working in government and government-aided schools increasing substantially over the last decade. Apart from the early success, the implementation of the RTE Act has been negligent and it has failed to transform the Indian education system. The act focused more on quantity and in the process compromised significantly on the quality of education. According to ASER the standard of education in 2018 was sub-par &, in a few cases, was even less than the standards achieved in 2008. The same report states that as of 2018, more than 50% of the children in class 5 could only read text meant for the students of class 2. Moreover, the lack of qualified teachers in the education system was also disappointing. The teacher-student ratio in primary schools was merely 75% of the ratio mandated by the Act as of 2018. The RTE Act came with the promise of uplifting the youth in the country by providing free education irrespective of gender. However, a decade after its implementation, the percentage of girls to total students enrolled has not changed significantly.  

In 2014, five years after the implementation of the RTE Act, India ranked highest in the global illiteracy rate, accounting for almost 37% of the total illiterate population. Failure of the RTE Act can be rooted in India’s negligence to invest in the education sector. Although the country’s education budget increased from INR 276 billion in FY 2014-15 to INR 993 billion in FY 2020-21, it remains as low as 3.4% of the total GDP (Gross Domestic Production). In 1966, forty-five years before the implementation of the RTE Act, the National Education Commission of India recommended that 6% of GDP needs to be invested in the education sector for the upliftment of literacy rate in the country. Unless we plan to ramp up our education budget in the coming years the RTE act will fail to deliver its proposition.

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