On Campus

‘Just literacy and numeracy is not quality education’

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on November 24, 2017 Published on January 12, 2014

“Education is too important to be left to bureaucrats and government alone. The involvement of communities, families and NGOs is needed.”

While the passing of the Right to Education Act (RTE), which endeavours to secure the rights of children by providing them free and compulsory education between the ages of 6 and 14 years, marked a watershed moment for the Indian polity, the Act’s flawed implementation and ineffectiveness begs for redress. According to the panellists at a discussion organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy in Chennai on Wednesday, mobilising public opinion, citizenry pressure, and adequate political will are key to improving the quality of education and implementation of the RTE Act.

The discussion on ‘Making RTE effective: Strategies, constraints and outcomes’ was chaired by Vasanthi Devi, former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, and a panel that comprised Akshay Mangla, Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School (HBS); M. P. Vijaykumar, former State project director of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA); S. S. Rajagopalan, an education activist; and Balaji Sampath, CEO of Aid India.

Vasanthi Devi set the tone by talking about the ‘elusive triangle’ – with quantity, quality and equality as its sides – as propounded by late educationist J. P. Naik.


Vasanthi felt that a nationalised schooling system was the best way to go forward, since the present “multi-track” system of private and government schools was marred by “hierarchy and exclusion’’ despite the RTE act. It had “failed” to provide quality education and had led to a complete “fragmentation of the society.” Likewise, activist Rajagopalan believed that a school in which the rich and poor children studied together, the kind he had studied in, was the most equitable system of education.

On the quality of education Vijaykumar, who had worked at SSA, said it was the “sheer lack of sensitivity and clarity in policy making and bureaucracy” that has resulted in the poor quality of education. He said that despite access to schools and high enrolment rates, students could barely read, write or do basic math. He said, “Just literacy and numeracy is not quality… And despite Section 29 of RTE’s focus of quality, there seems to be little debate around that.” He also spoke of hierarchy in the political system, which hindered the efficient implementation of schemes and Acts, and stressed instead on the importance of a sensitive bureaucracy. Corroborating this view, by providing an insight into the mechanics of the bureaucracy, HBS’ Akshay Mangla presented his research findings based on his work in Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. His thesis was that where bureaucratic actors were given freedom to innovate and “bend the rules to suit local needs”, the outcomes were far superior in comparison with others who were asked to strictly adhere to rules or policies.

“It is not about expanding the schools or infrastructure but about including the marginalised,” he said. AID India’s Balaji Sampath agreed with Mangla on some issues and emphasised that “education is too important to be left to bureaucrats and government alone. The involvement of communities, families and NGOs is needed.” He believed there was little participation or debate on important policies. If the poor were choosing costlier or ill-equipped private schools over government schools it was a choice they were making for lack of a better one.

Published on January 12, 2014
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor