How participative is the Right to Education?
The School Management Committee was a revolutionary step making community participation imperative in all government schools. But is it working? Questions asked by the worried parents at the National Convention of SMCs in Delhi. Six reasons why ‘community participation’ is not working
Sujata Bahot Delhi
It has been five years since the Right to Education act was enforced in 2010, after a long struggle for recognising elementary education as the fundamental right of every child. The act was to address gaping inequalities in the quality of education in India, and bring economically and socially marginalised communities at par with the privileged. Out of the various facets of the act, the provision of School Management Committee (SMC) has been an extremely interesting feature. This provision makes the local community around the school an important stakeholder in its functioning. 11 of the 15 members of the committee must be parents or guardians of children studying in the school, out of which 50 % of members shall be women. Thus, the SMC gives parents the right and duty to be involved in what happens in the school, ask questions, demand accountability, give suggestions, and not merely be bystanders as they see their child go and come back from school every day. This also changes things for uneducated parents who would often feel alienated from their child’s education process. The Ward members and Head Master of school comprise the rest of the 4 members who are to organise frequent meetings and discussions to hear concerns and suggestions of the local community. So far so good- while activists and parents alike have whole-heartedly welcomed the idea, and while SMCs have been registered on paper in most districts, there remains considerable gap in the reality of their participation and ownership in the committee. The power of decision making has not yet trickled down, and reproduction of old structures of rule are visible.
The two day national convention of School Management Committees on 30th Nov and 1st Dec brought parents, teachers, headmasters and politicians from the villages and towns of 19 states in India including Jharkhand, Karnataka, Orissa, Telangana, Assam, Rajasthan etc. While quality of education continued to be the most pressing problem for parents, 6 worrying patterns were recurrently raised about the reality of SMCs in the nooks of India:
- Many of the SMC members in villages and towns are not aware that they are members. The formality is often only on paper and while names of parents are registered, they are too often not aware of their rights and duties, and sometimes of them being members itself.
- There is no democratic process of electing SMC members in most schools. Most members are nominated by the school principal and other teaching staff in a vague process.
- There are far too many cases when the schools follows the banal process of getting signatures of SMC members without conducting any meetings or discussions.
- Even in the schools where SMC meetings do take place, the discussion is limited to infrastructural work like repair. There is no discussion on the quality of education
- There is no grievances redressal mechanism for the complaints of the members. Parents raising their voices feel helpless when the school turns a deaf ear and there is no option of getting their voice heard.
- The SMC system does not provide room to address issues of inclusion and exclusion concerning marginalised communities such as Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribes and Other Backward Castes.
These concerns resonated beyond the particular realities of the hundreds of schools spread across many states represented in the colloquium. Additional concerns were raised about schools with no boundaries, schools with no separate or functional toilets for girls, lack of clarity in school development plan and schools with extremely skewed teacher-to-student ratio with one teacher managing more than a hundred children. Suggestions were offered on developing mutual trust between the school and SMC members. If this is to happen, proper training programs for SMC members is a must, so they can be educated about their rights and duties.