26 JULY 2018
Detention no cure
The amendment to the Right to Education Act will only undermine its intent
The legislation to amend the Right to Education Act to give States the power to detain students who fail an examination in Class 5 or 8 is a negative measure. Although many States want such a change, the amendment passed by the Lok Sabha goes against the view of many educationists, who argue that it would weaken one of the progressive features of the RTE Act, which is to guarantee the continued presence of the child in school during the formative learning phase. The proposed change will allow State Boards to declare a student failed and detain her on the basis of an examination, although Section 30(1) of the RTE Act holds out the assurance that no child shall be required to face any Board examination till completion of elementary education. There are genuine concerns on learning outcomes produced by India’s schooling system. But these are determined not only by a student’s effort but also by the number and quality of teachers, processes for continuous assessment and, crucially, active engagement of parents and the community in encouraging excellence. It is the lack of attention to some of these determinants that has created what Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar calls a “broken” school education system. Detaining already disadvantaged children can only break it further, and render the RTE Act a dead letter.
The case to replace the no-detention provision with one that reintroduces examinations in grades 3, 5 and 8 was made by a sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education set up to review the provision, but its assumptions were faulty. For one, it concluded that the crucial guarantee could be implemented only under ideal conditions, and these were not available, while the pioneering RTE Act wanted to extend it to all grades within its purview. Yet, theprovision is central to the objects of the law, since it seeks to check dropouts and enable all children to attend school in order to derive benefits that go beyond rote-learning. In fact, in 2016 the NITI Aayog found, based on a study in Punjab, that bringing back detention in elementary schooling would increase the dropout rate, impacting the poor and Dalits the most as they depended on government institutions. Besides, the proposed ‘cure’ may make another problem worse:when parents are unable to ensure regular attendance of children due to social circumstances, it is inconceivable that detaining them for non-performance will act as an incentive to attend school regularly. The move to introduce examinations as filters has not been fully thought through, and may be a hasty response to demands from State governments which want to be seen as acting firmly in favour of quality. Tinkering with the RTE Act without sufficient thought will erode a major constitutional achievement.
The resolution of the CAATSA stand-off will let India and U.S. address other bilateral issues
The U.S. Congress’s report allowing the introduction of a presidential waiver of its controversial Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) will be greeted with a sense of relief in both New Delhi and Washington. The two governments have been working hard to avert a stand-off over the issue. The matter was particularly heated with India making it clear it would go ahead with the S-400 Triumf missile system deal with Russia regardless of the U.S. law and the threat of sanctions. CAATSA, signed reluctantly by President Donald Trump last August would have forced his administration to impose sanctions on any country carrying out significant defence and energy trade with sanctioned entities in Russia, Iran and North Korea. Mr. Trump had objected, arguing that the law took away his powers to decide on such matters. Indian delegations led by the Foreign Secretary had made a three-fold case for the waiver: that no weapons India bought would be used against the U.S.; that the U.S., which wants to partner with India in the Indo-Pacific, would hamper India’s military abilities by applying the sanctions or denying the country crucial technology; and that India has significantly reduced its dependence on Russian military hardware while increasing defence purchases from the U.S., and it would be unfair if the U.S. rewarded the effort with punitive measures. After months of testimony, including a final push for waiver for countries like India, Indonesia and Vietnam by U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis a few days ago, the Congressional committee has relented. The Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference, which reconciles House and Senate versions, has accepted the need for waivers. The “modified waiver authority”, or amendment to Section 231 of CAATSA proposed by Congress, allows the President to waive sanctions in certain circumstances, for six months at a time, as long as he certifies that it is in the U.S.’s national security interests and does not “endanger” ongoing operations.
While the resolution of CAATSA-related sanctions is welcome, it isn’t the only irritant in the U.S.-India relationship that needs the attention of the External Affairs and Defence Ministers at the ‘2+2 dialogue’ with their American counterparts scheduled for September. The sanctions proposed by the Trump administration for energy trade with Iran still loom, as do possible punitive measures at the World Trade Organisation over tariffs and counter-tariffs the two countries have imposed on each other. New Delhi will also be aware that the waivers are contingent on Mr. Trump’s continued support to Indian defence requirements. Given the capricious and unpredictable policy swings Mr. Trump has shown, it will be prudent for New Delhi not to presume that the problems over CAATSA have fully blown over.