Amitav Virmani, Country Director of ARK India, recently chaired a press conference in Delhi to mark the third anniversary of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE).
The high level panel, "RTE at Three" Making Learning the Priority" attracted journalists from a range of publications and news channels and focused attention on some of the shortcomings of the RTE, particularly its lack of focus on learning outcomes. "We, representatives of civil society organizations committed to children's right to quality education, call upon the Centre and State Governments to view RTE's enforcement through a lens of learning outcomes, and make it a fundamental goal to ensure that all children in India reach well specified learning goals over the next five years," stated a press release distributed in conjunction with the event.
The 2009 RTE law requres that a quarter of all places in private schools must be set aside for children from disadvantaged families, with the government paying the school fees. RTE has had limited success, as most of the school places go unclaimed as many parents are unaware of the Act or cannot afford additional expenses such as uniforms and text books.
ARK's ENABLE programme is an education voucher scheme currently being piloted in the poorest areas of Delhi to encourage families to claim their entitlement to free private school places. ARK uses picture guides to inform parents about the Act and the quality of schools available. Our corruption proof vouchers cover tuition fees, uniforms, textbooks and lunch for the full five years of primary school, ensuring that even children from Delhi's poorest families have the support they need to go to school.
Alongside, we also run ASPIRE, an English-language programme. Our approach to phonics-based English teaching is now being used in schools across nine Indian states. We trained over 430 teachers and reached 18,500 children through partnerships with two state governments and the Bharti Foundation, one of India's largest education foundations.
The topic of enouraging alternative approaches to education in India was also covered in a recent article written by ARK's Head of Strategic Development, Susannah Hares for the Stanford Social Innovation Review: "Education in India: A bold new experiment." You can read it here.