The Right to Education Act, 2009 fulfilled the national aspiration long nurtured since the British period. Almost 100 years ago, Maharaja of Baroda introduced free education for children in the age group 6-12 in his province. Inspired with Baroda experiment, G K Gokhale tried to force the British government to accept the principle of free and compulsory primary education. Gandhi and others tried with the Wardha Scheme of Basic Education. They failed but the RTE Act 2009 fulfilled their long cherished dreams.
The Right to Education Act, 2009
When the ‘Free and compulsory education’ was made a ‘fundamental right’ under article 21A of the constitution in December 2002 through the 86th Amendment it was a very important step and conclusion of a long journey that started from the Charter Act 1813, to the Macaulay’s Minute (1835), to Wood Despatch (1854), to Elementary Education Act (1870), to Maharaja Baroda’s compulsory Education (1906), to Gopal Krishna Gokhale’s Bill (1911), to Hartog Committee(1929), to Mahatma Gandhi’s Basic Education (1937) and after independence through the Article 45, NPE 1968 and 1986, DPEP (1991), and SSA (2001). The passage of the RTE Act, 2009 was fulfillment of a long cherished dream of so many freedom fighters and the Constitution makers.
When the colonial British left in 1947, India inherited an educational system that had not only limited reach but was also characterized by striking gender and regional disparities. Only one out of three children was going to the primary school. Clearly, providing elementary education to all children was a big challenge at that time and this sentiment was reflected in the Constitution. The Article 45 of the newly framed Constitution stated that “the State shall endeavor to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution, free and compulsory education to all children until they complete the age of 14 years”.
However, it took the parliament another seven years to pass the ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009’ in August 2009, and it came into force in April 2010. Based on this Act, a subordinate legislation, the Model Rules, was framed by the centre to provide guidelines to states for implementing the Act. The RTE Act, 2009 means that the directive principle got turned into a fundamental right. Thus, every child in this age group, 6 – 14, has a right to full time elementary education in a formal school which satisfies certain essential norms and standards. However, the RTE Act offered only partial fulfillment because children up to 6 years of age are left out. But note the phrase ‘free and compulsory’ in the title of the RTE Act.
Here ‘free’ means that no child shall be burdened with any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. And, ‘compulsory education’ means obligation to provide free elementary education by ensuring admission, attendance and completion rests with the government.
The following salient features provide the basis of implementation of the RTE Act, 2009.
- Every child in the age group of 6-14 has the right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school, till the completion of elementary education.
- The act prohibits donation, capitation fee, screening test/interview of child or parents, physical punishment or mental harassment, private tuition by teachers, and running schools without recognition.
- The Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates unaided and non-minority schools to keep aside 25% seats for underprivileged children of society through a random selection process. Government will fund education of these children. No seats in this quota can be left vacant. These children will be treated on par with all the other children in the school and subsidized by the State at the rate of average per learner costs in the government schools (unless the per learner costs in the private school are lower). All private schools will have to apply for recognition, failing which they will be penalized as per the laid down norms. If implemented enthusiastically, this can have a far reaching impact in improving the education system of the country by inclusiveness. It allows parents to send their kids to schools of better quality. The only constraint is the distance between the school and home, rather than financial capacity. It puts students from the economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups among the relatively privileged children of rather sound financial background. This mix up goes a long way towards inclusive education making all children more pro-social and accommodative, without affecting their academic outcomes. Finally, it enables children from poor families access quality education.
- No child can be held back, expelled and required to pass the board examination till the completion of elementary education. [This is now set to change through The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017.] The first time enrolled child is to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
- The Act lays down the norms and standards of Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs), buildings and infrastructure, school working days, teacher working hours. Schools that do not fulfill these standards will not be allowed to function. Specification of the PTR ensures that there is no averaging at the State or District or Block level, preventing urban-rural imbalance in teacher postings.
- The Act provides appointment of appropriately trained teachers. Norms and standards of teacher qualification and training are clearly laid down in the Act.
- The Act prohibits deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
- There is provision for establishment of commissions to supervise the implementation of the act. All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School management Committees with 75% of parents and guardians as members.
- The Act specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate Governments, local authority in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.
- The Act provides for development of curriculum in consonance with the values enshrined in the Constitution, for the all- round development of the child, building on the child’s knowledge, potentiality and talent and making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety through a system of child friendly and child centered learning.
Monitoring the RTE Act, 2009 is the Task of NCPCR
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been mandated to monitor the implementation of this historic Right. A special Division within NCPCR will undertake this huge and important task in the coming months and years. The NCPCR shall have the power of a civil court. A special toll free helpline to register complaints will be set up by NCPCR for this purpose.
NCPCR invites all civil society groups, students, teachers, administrators, artists, writers, government personnel, legislators, members of the judiciary and all other stakeholders to join hands and work together to build a movement to ensure that every child of this country is in school and enabled to get at least 8 years of quality education.
RTE Act should help end Child Labour and Child Marriages
Approximately 22 crore children fall under the age group 6-14. Out of which 4.1% i.e. 90 lakhs children either dropped out from school or never attend any educational institution. These children can be easily counted among child labours. Now ensured by the RTE Act, these poor children will have the chance of getting elementary education.
As per the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986, amended in 2016 (“CLPR Act”), a “Child” is defined as any person below the age of 14. The CLPR Act prohibits employment of a Child in any employment including as a domestic help. It is a cognizable criminal offence to employ a Child for any work.
UNICEF estimates that due to its high population India has the highest number (though small in percentage terms) of labours in the world under the 14 years of age. The ILO estimates that agriculture employs the largest employer of child labour in the world, around 60%. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates this to be still higher, at 70%. However, child labour is observed in almost all segments of the informal sectors of the Indian economy.
Another important issue is that of child marriages because there is strong evidence of the positive effect of education on delaying girls’ marriages. India has the highest number of child brides in the world. As per the NFHS 2015-16 survey, around 27% girls in India are married before attaining the age of 18 – ie, almost every one out of four marriages involves a girl child. The situation is worst in the rural areas where 31.5% girls below 18 get married as compared with urban areas where the number is 17.5%. Further, nearly 8% girls between 15-19 were already mothers or pregnant at the time of survey. The WHO reports indicate that a child bride is more than doubly prone to health issues than a grown up woman.
Although the newer finding of NFHS shows an improvement over what it discovered in 2005-06, 47% girls marrying before 18, the rate of 27% is still alarming. As the Education Act’s provisions get implemented more properly, lesser number of girls would get dumped into premature martial relations.
Thus, the RTE Act, 2009 has enough important features that, if implemented in the right spirit, have the potential to transform India by educating its younger generation.
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