Free and Compulsory primary education
The Indian Constitution is a social document and the supreme law of the land. The founding fathers of the Constitution have incorporated a well designed constitutional manifesto under Part-IV of the Constitution to achieve socio-economic Justice. The Directive Principles of State Policy are principles of good governance.
Education is the primary vehicle for human, economic and social development, profiting both the individual and society. The Supreme Court in Mohini Jain[i] and Unnikrishnan[ii] cases recognized the right to education is an implied fundamental right. According to the court, the education has proximate relationship with life, protection of environment, eradication of untouchability, and other related rights. The National Commission on review of the working of the Constitution has also endorsed the similar view. As a result the parliament inserted Article 21-A to the Constitution by the 86th Constitutional amendment in 2002. This amendment also introduced new fundamental duty on parents to provide education to their children under Article 51-A to take affirmative action to full-fill the Constitutional mandate, the Parliament passed the Right to Education Act, 2009 with effect from April 1st 2010. The Act deals with various facets like appointment of teachers, standards, curriculum, infrastructure, community participation and responsibility of the State to provide primary education etc.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted on 4 August 2009, which describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21a of the Indian Constitution. India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the Act came into force on 1 April 2010.
The Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools. It requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). Kids are admitted in to private schools based on economic status or caste based reservations. It also prohibits all unrecognised schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.
The RTE Act requires surveys that will monitor all neighbourhoods, identify children requiring education, and set up facilities for providing it. The World Bank education specialist for India, Sam Carlson, has observed: “The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrolment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents’ responsibility to send the children to schools in the US and other countries.”
The Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age is laid down under a separate legislation – the Persons with Disabilities Act. A number of other provisions regarding improvement of school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and faculty are made in the Act.
Education in the Indian constitution is a concurrent issue and both centre and states can legislate on the issue. The Act lays down specific responsibilities for the centre, state and local bodies for its implementation. The states have been clamouring that they lack financial capacity to deliver education of appropriate standard in all the schools needed for universal education. Thus it was clear that the central government (which collects most of the revenue) will be required to subsidise the states.
A committee set up to study the funds requirement and funding initially estimated that INR 1710 billion or 1.71 trillion (US$38.2 billion) across five years was required to implement the Act, and in April 2010 the central government agreed to sharing the funding for implementing the law in the ratio of 65 to 35 between the centre and the states, and a ratio of 90 to 10 for the north-eastern states. However, in mid 2010, this figure was upgraded to INR 2310 billion, and the center agreed to raise its share to 68%. There is some confusion on this, with other media reports stating that the centre’s share of the implementation expenses would now be 70%. At that rate, most states may not need to increase their education budgets substantially.
A critical development in 2011 has been the decision taken in principle to extend the right to education till Class X (age 16) and into the preschool age range. The CABE committee is in the process of looking into the implications of making these changes.
Evaluation of right to education
A report on the status of implementation of the Act was released by the Ministry of Human Resource Development on the one year anniversary of the Act. The report admits that 8.1 million children in the age group six-14 remain out of school and there’s a shortage of 508,000 teachers country-wide. A shadow report by the RTE Forum representing the leading education networks in the country, however, challenging the findings pointing out that several key legal commitments are falling behind the schedule. The Supreme Court of India has also intervened to demand implementation of the Act in the Northeast. It has also provided the legal basis for ensuring pay parity between teachers in government and government aided schools. Haryana Government has assigned the duties and responsibilities to Block Elementary Education Officers–cum–Block Resource Coordinators (BEEOs-cum-BRCs) for effective implementation and continuous monitoring of implementation of Right to Education Act in the State.