'RTE Act doesn’t define outcome of learning'

Laksha Vir Sehgal grew up in Kapurthala where he went to school and later became a teacher at the local Sainik School. He became principal at a school in Chandigarh where he spent eight years.

Besides teaching Physics, in which he holds a Masters degree from Punjab University in Patiala, Sehgal is also trained in preparing schoolchildren for the NCC. He is also a basketball coach.

For the last 13 years he has been the principal at Bal Bharati School, guiding it across the many changes that school education has seen in the past decade.

He is also a member of various CBSE committees including the committee of courses in science and the curriculum committee.

Tell us about the school and what values are integral to it?

The school has won the international school award twice and our focus is on leadership among children. We have been trying to provide students the opportunities for them to develop their strengths based on their abilities. The school has various clubs that boost this. There are some unusual clubs like, heritage, astronomy and robotics. We also teach them to be sensitive to the needs of society. They have to realise their responsibility towards society.

The nursery admission season is in full swing. Has the school faced any hiccups?

The system is not foolproof but we focus on transparency. There are way too many people applying than we have seats. We focus on the criteria for admission passed by the management committee. Parents should be able to understand the criteria. Transparency is important.

Age limit is an issue. We feel that children in the age group of three to four years should go to nursery so that there is uniformity of age in higher education. Upper age limit is not fixed. Thus, anyone from three to five years can join nursery. This is a wider gap that can be an issue in higher classes. The RTE speaks of age-appropriate class. Therefore, three to four years is for nursery, four to five is for pre-primary, and five to six if for Class I.

We feel that age of admission should be between 3.5 and 4.5 years, which is how it was before the RTE came into effect. The new lower age limit is a result of certain petitions in court. I personally believe that formal schooling should start when he/she is mentally and physically fit for it. No matter how stress-free the school tries to keep its environment, there are some pressures like adhering to time-limit or homework. So age limit for admission to nursery should be increased but upper age limit should also be fixed. I was part of the delegation that met the advisory board that was headed by the Education Minster and they said the government will decide on the issue of age limit after the admissions are over.

Did your school face any problems in deciding criteria for admission?

The Directorate of Education started the admission process on January 1, 2013. The last date for schools to submit their admission criteria was December 31, 2012. The directorate did not have any time to check the admission criteria of all schools and get back to them. So with this sort of a system, everything happens in the last minute.

Before the RTE came into effect we conducted admissions through a draw of lots and four times the number of candidates to the number of seats were short-listed. The lottery was conducted in public and the parents were also satisfied with the system. Now, when we sent our criteria to the Directorate of Education on December 24, 2012, and the Directorate called us back on December 30. We made changes in the sub-categories in the sibling criteria in the last minute. This criteria has been valid for three years and all parents whose children have been studying at the school were suddenly introduced to a new criteria which lead to confusion. The main thing is that the working and functioning of the government schools should be improved. Chandigarh has excellent government schools and parents prefer sending their children to government schools rather than private ones.

Also, for the last eight years, no land has been allotted for new schools while pressure on existing facilities is increasing. In my school, the number of registrations has gone up by 1,000 in a single year.

The RTE also makes certain demands on schools. By March 31, more than 2,000 schools in the city may not qualify for recognition under the RTE as they may not have facilities as required under the Act. If these schools are closed, what happens to the lakhs of students who will get displaced? We have to be practical. For recognition, there is also the rule that schools must pay the salary and perks in accordance with government rules. When these schools charge a bare minimum of Rs 300 from its students, how will they pay such amounts? When compared with government schools, these schools are doing a reasonable good service in terms of teaching and learning.

All schools may not have the same necessary standards. There can be different categories of schools and they can have different criteria for recognition.

There is also the question of achieving 100 per cent enrollment through RTE. Would you say we are anywhere close to that?

Surveys have shown that enrollment has increased in the last three years but do we want enrolment or quality education. RTE is good but it is mostly an input-oriented Act. Nothing is specified about the output. Learning outcomes need to be defined. Schooling up to Class VIII is not the aim, there should be defined parameters to ascertain the child's performance after he/she completes Class VIII.

What about the fact that no student is failed till Class VIII?

If a child has not achieved certain learning outcomes, both the child and the school have failed. Children will come out of the school system by the millions as not qualified. This way, the accountability of the teacher is also being diluted.

The school should be allowed to retain a child till they meet the learning requirement. We also have to provide an "Elementary School Certificate" to those students who complete education till Class VIII, irrespective of how they have done. It is a measure of "completion of school" and not passing or failing. There has to be some sort of screening.

After Class VIII, these students are introduced to CCE, which is performance oriented and stresses on quality. How do they cope?

The CCE is a step in the right direction but it needs explanation and teacher training. Also, it should now stabilise — every now and then new changes are being made.

The main problem is teacher training. The CBSE has been conducting workshops with parents and the CBSE chairman has directly met parents, but their focus is on awareness. Teachers are aware of CCE and its requirements. But they do not know what activities need to be conducted in class. Inter-curricular approach is missing. If four teachers decide to develop student projects together, they cannot do this as they have not been trained for it. A pool of resources needs to be created for it. Earlier universities were provided funding by the UGC for training school teachers. That has not happened in the past 12 years.

Even parents have not fully understood the CCE. The workshops they attend explain to them the process but not the concept. They are told how much weightage formative assessment will carry, but they need to be told what formative assessment means. How will they support their child in his/her learning activities without understanding these things?

— As told to Naveed Iqbal

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.