Right To Education: Ensuring Education As A Fundamental Right To Its Citizens

The HRD Ministry is set to amend the Act in order to remove the no-detention policy in the coming academic year after multiple committee recommendations from state governments

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With the 86th amendment to Article 21-A (2002) of the Constitution of India, free and compulsory education of all children in the age group of six to fourteen years became a Fundamental Right from a directive principle. Subsequently, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, moved India completely to a rights-based framework for education. The shift signified that state and central governments were now legally obligated to provide satisfactory and equitable elementary education to all.

The Act was heralded as a new dawn for elementary education in India with its promise of access to “free” and “compulsory” education, with several regulations on teacher quality, teacher-student ratio, curricula, child protection and formation of school management committees, with special focus on rights of marginalised, disadvantaged children and girl child education. The Act, over nearly a decade of implementation, has made considerable strides in increasing gross enrollment ratio and has led to a decline in school dropouts, courtesy its no-detention policy and mandate of an elementary school in every neighborhood.

However, various aspects of this legislated right have received flak from the state governments, civil society, and education non-profits. One of the most debated among the provisions is the no-detention policy which in spirit tries to secure the child’s right to education and reduce drop-outs, as well as ensure the mental and social wellness of the child. However, several states are of the opinion that it has led to a severe decline in educational outcomes of children and quality of teaching along with higher rates of failure in 9th and 10th standard after the provision ends. The HRD Ministry is set to amend the Act in order to remove the no-detention policy in the coming academic year after multiple committee recommendations from state governments. The amendment which is intended to increase learning outcomes might not solely yield results unless backed with teacher support and monitoring.   Removing this provision which secured a stress-free environment for children through continuous and comprehensive evaluation places the onus of failure or success back on the child and the teacher. It would be worth observing what support structures are brought in place to maintain the school’s accountability so that scores of children who are lagging behind in learning outcomes do not fall victim to retention and subsequently drop out leading to dilution of the right itself.

The other highly debated provision of the Act is the section 12(1)(c) that mandates all private unaided schools to reserve 25% of their seats for economically and socially disadvantaged families at the entry level (Nursery to Grade 1). State governments are given the flexibility to define criteria for being disadvantaged along with guidelines and are supposed to reimburse the schools through funds received based on the per-child cost they report to the Central government. In spirit, this provision of the RTE tries to lay the foundations of a more inclusive society. It envisions to provide young children opportunities to interact and foster friendship across lines of caste, class, and religion and bridge the access to quality education gap among advantaged and disadvantaged families. However, according to the ‘State of The Nation’ report from IIM Ahmedabad, out of the 20 Lakh seats that annually fall under the provision, only 5 to 6 Lakh seats are filled every year. Indus Action - an NGO working on implementing this clause across India - obtained a copy of the responses to questions posed in the Parliament to the MHRD and the results are shocking, 20 States/UTs have not notified theirs per child costs to the government. Due to this violation, in the past academic year, only 2 out of the 15 states received reimbursement in full from the center. The provision has been violated in several states where private school lobbies have advocated against delayed reimbursements and regulations made on their admission process. Even if a parent jumps the hoops of documentation and application processes the actual integration of these families into specifically high-income schools is something the government and advocates of the policy need to closely watch-out for.

While at an ideological level the provisions under RTE have helped the nation make strides by ensuring education as a fundamental right to its citizens and by providing ways to include the marginalised and disadvantaged access to quality education, the next decade of its implementation must move beyond the glorification of enrollment to ensure that quality education is accessible to all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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