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Learning to read at schools, but where are the textbooks?
Kerala and Delhi are worst performers in textbook distribution. Every child must get textbooks under RTE Act. http://bit.ly/1C71lLz #HaqBantaHai
In August last year, the Times of India reported from Varanasi, that none of the students of class I, II and III had school text books. The whole of July had gone by without anything being taught in schools and the students spent most of their time playing. Varanasi is just as an example; the situation across the country is equally disappointing.
According to the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, every child in a primary school should receive textbooks on time i.e. at the beginning of the academic year. But the reality is far from what the Act stipulates. In fact, most children do not receive school books at all. The ones who do, do not necessarily get all the books and rarely do they get these at the beginning of the academic year.
The annual RTE Forum survey for 2014-15 in 457 schools across 10 states1 showed that textbooks were not available in 50% of the surveyed schools.
The numbers are dismal. In 2010, several networks and civil society organizations -- including Oxfam India -- from all over India came together to form an umbrella platform‘ Right to Education (RTE) Forum’ to demand effective implementation of the RTE Act.
A 2013-14 District Information System for Education (DISE) data showed that around 27% of government primary schools did not receive books at all in the academic year. The worst performers in textbook distribution are Kerala (70.72%), Delhi (49.33%) and Chandigarh (43.76%).
Looking at the learning assessment survey through the lens of these numbers, sheds some light on why children in government schools lag behind their grade-appropriate learning. It is hard to imagine that a child without text books would be able to achieve any level of learning. There are also other factors at play, but the non-availability of text books is most critical and hinders quality.
There are many systemic issues that affect distribution of textbooks on time. A 2014 NCERT report cites late issuance and inadequate supply of textbooks, delayed admission of students and lack of transport facilities as some reasons for the delay.
The RTE Forum’s national stocktaking draft report, 2015, suggests the need for a coordinated effort to improve the distribution of textbooks in all schools. The states of Delhi, Arunachal Pradesh, Haryana and West Bengal reported the most delays in distribution of books. The report noted that, ‘textbooks are the basic tool for learning for students, without which no quality education can be provided’.
The worst impact of the lack of availability of books is on poor children and first generation learners who are mostly not aware of this entitlement or lack the confidence to demand it. Children belonging to poor families do not have access to books at home and hence are at a disadvantage when compared to a child accessing books as part of their social environment.
For first generation learners, the school is where they see books for the first time. In this scenario, receiving textbooks late, puts them at a disadvantage and impacts their learning capability.
The RTE Act is a beacon of hope for nearly 20 crore (200 million) children enrolled in primary schools, but if textbooks do not reach them on time, it will impact the quality of education and would result in large scale drop out of children from schools.
Oxfam India has been demanding quality education for all children as a right. In this regard, let’s find out whether all children in nearby government schools received free textbooks. If not, let’s write to the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (SCPCR) and jointly take forward this issue. After all, it’s every child’s right! #HaqBantaHai.
1Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal
Written by: Ravi Prakash, Programme Coordinator- Education, Oxfam India
Illustration credit: Ram Babu, Lucknow
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