An altogether new experience awaits nearly 100 million school children enrolled at elementary levels in Government-run schools throughout the country. The mandatory mid-day meal scheme for schools is going to be linked to children’s Aadhaar cards from the new academic year, beginning next month. Thus, quite a few school children may go without food at lunchtime, until they at least present the proof of having applied for their Aadhaar or unique identification number. Though this is going to be the story about a well-laid down entitlement for children in schools in the wake of a Central Government notification issued on March 3, the less said about the inadequacies in implementation of another norm for schoolchildren vis-à-vis their textbooks, the better.
The Right to Education (RTE) ACT 2009 provides for distribution of free textbooks to school-going children at the primary or elementary level at the beginning of the academic session in the first week of April. Yet, this never happens. Delhi too conspicuously lags behind and hovers below the national average with respect to the availability of free books for children in state-run schools.
As per the figures from DISE, or District Information System for Education, as many as 27% of Government-run elementary schools in the country did not receive books at all in the year 2013-14. And Delhi turned out to be the second worst affected state in this regard as 49.33% schools did not get any textbooks in the year 2013-14. Only Kerala, where 70.72% schools did not get textbooks, was worse than the national capital. Chandigarh was slightly better off than Delhi, with only 43.76% of schools left without the books through the same year.
According to Delhi Government’s Education Department and Municipal Corporation, schools books were being distributed to kids until last September in the academic year 2016-17, which is now about to come to an end. A majority of children of the capital’s schools did not get textbooks in July 2016 when schools reopened after the summer break. The book distribution system, despite a clear provision for this in the RTE Act, is so erratic in Delhi that children’s books come in installments or batches, with the result that some children may get books while others are left to wait.
The Right to Education Act 2009 provides for distribution of free textbooks to school-going children at the primary or elementary level at the beginning of the academic session in the first week of April. Yet, this never happens. Delhi too conspicuously lags behind and hovers below the national average with respect to the availability of free books for children in state-run schools.
Besides this, there have been problems in printing and binding of books. The inside pages of these books may well go blank or their printing may be disappointingly bad, faint and faded, leaving children to struggle to read them. Child rights activist, Ravi Prakash, spearheads a ‘book on time campaign’. He points out that half the academic year often goes without books for poor children whose parents may not have cash to purchase books from the market. The reason behind the delay in delivery of books is “simply officials’ apathy”, he adds.
Now, this dearth and paucity of textbooks in schools is going to be compounded with the denial of food to children after 30 June in view of the latest move of the Government. Mostly quite poor children study in Government schools and the mid-day meal was introduced to improve their attendance and reduce dropout rates, among other aims. Yet, the Government has decided to restrict mid-day meal to only those who can produce Aadhaar cards or applications for Aadhaar. This may turn poor children once again away from school and absenteeism may well rise again.
The mid-day meal scheme had come before the RTE Act came into force and, thus, the former should not have been subjected to restrictions. More so since compulsory and universal education introduced through RTE is going to be affected by the latest Aadhaar move by the Government. This couple with delayed delivery of shabby text books to schools has only added to the woes of poor school children.
Abid Shah is an independent researcher and journalist based in Delhi