The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), which was passed by the Indian parliament on 4 August 2009, describes the modalities of the provision of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution
The present Act has its history in the drafting of the Indian constitution at the time of Independence but are more specifically to the Constitutional Amendment that included the Article 21A in the Indian constitution making Education a fundamental Right. This amendment, however, specified the need for a legislation to describe the mode of implementation of the same which necessitated the drafting of a separate Education Bill. The rough draft of the bill was composed in year 2005. It received much opposition due to its mandatory provision to provide 25% reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools. The sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education which prepared the draft Bill held this provision as a significant prerequisite for creating a democratic and egalitarian society. Indian Law commission had initially proposed 50% reservation for disadvantaged students in private schools
The bill was approved by the cabinet on 2 July 2009. Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 20 July 2009 and the Lok Sabha on 4 August 2009. It received Presidential assent and was notified as law on 3 Sept 2009 as The Children's Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The law came into effect in the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1 April 2010, the first time in the history of India a law was brought into force by a speech by the Prime Minister. In his speech, Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India stated that, "We are committed to ensuring that all children, irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education. An education that enables them to acquire the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes necessary to become responsible and active citizens of India."
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 from poor families (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). It also prohibits all unrecognized 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 Bankeducation specialist for India, Sam Carlson, has observed:
- The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrollment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents' responsibility to send the children to schools in the U.S. 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.
The Act provides for a special organization, the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights, an autonomous body set up in 2007, to monitor the implementation of the act, together with Commissions to be set up by the states.
Implementation and funding
In the Indian constitution, comes under the purview of the states, and the Act has made state and local bodies accountable for the implementation. The states have been clamouring that these bodies do not have the financial capacity to cover 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 subsidize the states.
A committee set up to study the funds requirement and funding initially estimated that Rs 171,000 crores or 1.71 trillion (US$38.2 billion) would be required in the next five years 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 Rs. 231,000crores, 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.
Advisory Council on Implementation
The Ministry of HRD set up a high-level, 14-member NAC for implementation of the bill. The members include
- Kiran Karnik, former president of NASSCOM
- Krishna Kumar, former director of the NCERT
- Mrinal Miri, former vice-chancellor of North-East Hill University
- Yogendra Yadav - social scientist
- Amita Dhanda, professor of law, NALSAR, Hyderabad;
- Venita Kaul, Ex- World Bank and Head, Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development, Ambedkar University, Delhi
- Annie Namala, an activist and head of Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion
- Aboobacker Ahmad, vice-president of Muslim Education Society, Kerala.
Status of Implementation
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
It has been pointed out that the RTE act is not new. Universal adult franchise in the act was opposed since most of the population was illiterate. Article 45 in the Constitution of India was set up as a act:
- The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
As that deadline was about to be passed many decades ago, the education minister at the time, M C Chagla, memorably said:
- Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we just set up hovels, put students there, give untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds, and say, we have complied with Article 45 and primary education is expanding... They meant that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14 - M.C. Chagla, 1964
In the 1990s, the World Bank funded a number of measures to set up schools within easy reach of rural communities. This effort was consolidated in theSarva Shiksha Abhiyan model in the 1990s. RTE takes the process further, and makes the enrollment of children in schools a state prerogative.
The act has been criticized for being hastily-drafted, not consulting many groups active in education, not considering the quality of education, infringing on the rights of private and religious minority schools to administer their system, and for excluding children under six years of age. Many of the ideas are seen as continuing the policies of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan of the last decade, and the World Bank funded District Primary Education Programme DPEP of the '90s, both of which, while having set up a number of schools in rural areas, have been criticized for being ineffective and corruption-ridden.
Quality of education
The quality of education provided by the government system remains in question. While it remains the largest provider of elementary education in the country forming 80% of all recognized schools, it suffers from shortages of teachers, infrastructural gaps and several habitations continue to lack schools altogether. There are also frequent allegations of government schools being riddled with absenteeism and mismanagement and appointments are based on political convenience. Despite the allure of free lunch-food in the government schools, many parents send their children to private schools. Average schoolteacher salaries in private rural schools in some States (about Rs. 4,000 per month) are considerably lower than that in government schools. As a result, proponents of low cost private schools, critiqued government schools as being poor value for money.
Children attending the private schools are seen to be at an advantage, thus discriminating against the weakest sections, who are forced to go to government schools. Furthermore, the system has been criticized as catering to the rural elites who are able to afford school fees in a country where large number of families live in absolute poverty. The act has been criticized as discriminatory for not addressing these issues. Well-known educationist Anil Sadagopal said of the hurriedly-drafted act:
- It is a fraud on our children. It gives neither free education nor compulsory education. In fact, it only legitimises the present multi-layered, inferior quality school education system where discrimination shall continue to prevail.
Entrepreneur Gurcharan Das noted that 54% of urban children attend private schools, and this rate is growing at 3% per year. "Even the poor children are abandoning the government schools. They are leaving because the teachers are not showing up."However, other researchers have countered the argument by citing that the evidence for higher standards of quality in private schools often disappears when other factors (like family income, parental literacy- all correlated to the parental ability to pay) are controlled for.
In order to address these quality issues, the Act also has provisions for compensating private schools for admission of children under the 25% quota which has been compared to school vouchers, whereby parents may "spend" their vouchers in any school, private or public. This measure, along with the increase in PPP (Public Private Partnership)has been viewed by some organizations such as the All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE), as the state abdicating its "constitutional obligation towards providing elementary education".
Infringement on private schools
The Society for Un-aided Private Schools, Rajasthan petitioned the Supreme Court of India claiming the act violates the constitutional right of private managements to run their institutions without governmental interference. The parties claimed that providing 25 percent reservation for children from economically weak section in government and private unaided schools is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that providing such reservation in not unconstitutional, but stated that the Act will not be applicable on unaided private minority schools, and boarding schools.
Barrier for orphans
The stringent provisions of the Act make it mandatory for all children to produce income and caste certificates, BPL cards and birth certificates. Orphan children are often unable to produce such documents, even though they are willing to do so. As a result, schools are not admitting them, as they require the documents as a condition to admission.