Right to Education - Free for Children, Compulsory for the State

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Almost a decade after the idea of "Right to Education" was mooted bySupreme court (Unni Krishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993) the BJP led NDA government had brought a constitutional amendment in 2002 making education a fundamental right. A new article (21-A) was inserted in Part III of the constitution. But a "suitable legislation" was needed to give effect and make this fundamental right a reality. After a long wait of seven years, right to education bill is finally passed by both houses of the parliament. "Now it is a constitutional right for the child. It is the obligation and compulsion of state governments and the central government to provide that education." The very idea behind making education a fundamental right is that, if anyone is deprived of this right, concerned party can sue the government under Article 32 (for violation of fundamental right by govt.) and can get justice directly from supreme court (Article 32 - Right to constitutional remedies -  is available only in the case of Fundamental rights).

Though Education is a concurrent subject (meaning providing education is the responsibility of both central and state govts), "this legislation is intended not to interfere with the state government's attempts to provide elementary education. More over, there is a provision to provide elementary education, as far as possible, in the mother tongue of the child. The law would ensure that the child got free, compulsory and quality education by qualified teachers.[The Hindu]"

What does the legislation say?
The legislation clearly spells out,
  • Duties of appropriate government, local authorities and parents.
  • Responsibilities of teachers and schools.
  • The procedure to be followed in setting up curriculum and evaluation.
  • How to protect child's right.
  • Power of governments to make rules.
Section 21 of the bill makes it obligatory for the school to constitute a "School Management Committee" consisting of the elected representatives of the local authority, parents or guardians of children admitted in such school and teachers. The committee will be responsible for preparing a 'School development plan' that would be the basis for plans and grants to be made by the appropriate Government or local authority. Also, the legislation speaks about monitoring of child's right to education and redressal of grievances. The bill has even taken care of giving child a right to be transfer to other schools in appropriate circumstances.

What are the main Features of the bill?
  1. Free and compulsory education to all children of India in the 6 to 14 age group;
  2. No child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until completion of elementary education;
  3. A child who completes elementary education (upto class 8) shall be awarded a certificate;
  4. Calls for a fixed student-teacher ratio;
  5. Will apply to all of India except Jammu and Kashmir;
  6. Provides for 25 percent reservation for economically disadvantaged communities in admission to Class One in all private schools;
  7. School teachers will need adequate professional degree within five years or else will lose job;
  8. School infrastructure (where there is problem) to be improved in three years, else recognition cancelled;
  9. Financial burden will be shared between state and central government.[source]
Also, No school can collect capitation fee and subject children or their parents to any form of screening. In case a school collects the capitation fee, it can be fined upto 10 times the amount. And, if tests or interviews are conducted, a school can be fined Rs.25,000 for the first violation and Rs. 50,000 for every subsequent violation.

What are the issues raised by critics?
Disabled Rights Group (DRG), an organisation working for the differently-abled people, alleged that the current form of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill 2008 had left out children with disabilities while defining the "disadvantaged" group. But, If one looks at the legislation "in it's entirety", its conspicuous that state govt has "obligations" to include differently abled children. That is what HRD Minister Kapil Sibal said in the parliament. "When we frame the model rules for the implementation of the legislation, we will ensure that children suffering from disabilities must be included among the disadvantaged children," the minister said. "This would be the first time in India that disabled children would be integrated in the school system." More over, the minister said there was another legislation of the 1990s that spoke of equal opportunities and this "is being amended to include certain differently abled categories in that legislation". More over, no government can take a risk of ignoring differently-abled cildren. So this concern will be addressed adequately.

Another major concern has been on financial requirement of the gigantic task. The minister's team is going to work with 13th Finance commission before completion of its term in October this year. Since the  implementation of Right to Education is a concurrent subject and also a fundamental right, the 13th finance commission will be compelled to recommend necessary grants-in-aid for this task. More over, government will be under immense pressure to provide funds since Right to education is now a fundamental right.

Also, concern related to teacher's training, quality of teaching, school infrastructure etc have been adequately addressed in the legislation itself.

The way forward
The Supreme court had observed that, "Right to education is implicit in and flows from the right to life guaranteed by Article 21. That the right to education has been treated as one of transcendental importance in the life of an individual [and] has been recognized not only in this country since thousands of years, but all over the world. without education being provided to citizens of this country, the objectives set forth in the Preamble to the Constitution cannot be achieved. The Constitution would fail."

This bill alone cannot make India a great knowledge center - the vision set by our forefathers - but this will certainly be the first step towards achieving that objective. The minister and his government and also the citizen have a huge responsibility to move forward and make progress in secondary and higher education also. The recent report submitted by Prof. Yashpal Committe is another visionary document and if implemented, we may see some fundamental change in the higher education system. Mr.Sibal is keen on implementing Prof. Yashpal report which is definitely a good news. He has taken a big step towards making India a knowledge hub. Only time can tell us if this big step can one day change the lives around.

Read More:
  1. Right To Education bill to make India a knowledge hub.
  2. Parliament passes landmark education bill. - The Hindu
  3. Draft of Right to Education Bill.
  4. Right to education law to benefit disabled children too.
  5. NGO opposes Education Bill in current form.
  6. Supreme Court's landmark judgment on Right to Education.
  7. Education In India - wiki.

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This work by Manjunath Singe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License. The views and opinions expressed in this work are strictly those of the author and do not represent his employer's views in anyway.