The Right to Education: Education is one of the most valuable tools that mankind has to be able to make drastic changes within and to the world around. As the world has progressed, it has become evidently clear that knowledge is a very powerful possession. As an extension of this education becomes a very important tool in fostering children to create a pathway to a better and sustainable future for the planet. Education has evolved to become multi-dimensional, in the sense that it has a social, economic, and cultural aspect to it as well. It becomes socially relevant as it ensures the nourishment of an individual’s personality. Economically, it enables people to be self-sufficient and live their life without falling at anyone’s feet. Lastly, it is culturally important because it aids in the entrenchment of education as the way to build a global culture of human rights.
This issue came to the very forefront after the Second World War, a very harsh and volatile period for the world. Naturally, discussions of the importance and essentiality of education in recreating the global world after a violent period came to light very quickly. Many years have passed and the right to education has become a very basic human right. But the importance of education is far more relevant in developing countries. In such places, education serves to better the state in many aspects. It allows the population to be gradually alleviated from poverty, aid democracy, increase awareness about human rights and prevents exploitation of children. Ultimately it allows to reduce the barriers between classes and a much more uniform progression to be shared among the people of a state. Education has been and continues to remain one of the most worthwhile financial investments a state can do to alleviate human capital and help in the betterment of the state.
The Right to Education in India
For India, the right to education is ever more important considering the sheer enormity of our population and our status as a developing nation. As such, for the country to develop, education of the masses was and continues to be a very difficult but important, necessary and rewarding endeavour.
The RTE act in India came about almost sixty-three years after independence. The Act guarantees to provide every Indian child in the age group of 6-14 a most basic and fundamental right to education. The bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on 20 July 2009 containing a few minor changes compared to the draft bill. On the 4th of August in the same year, the bill was passed by the Lok Sabha. Soon after presidential assent was given and the law became active on the 3rd of September 2009 as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act). The Act was amended again in 2010 and became enforceable throughout India excluding the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Positive Aspects of the RTE ACT
Broadly speaking, the act aims to provide free, compulsory, and most importantly quality education to children. There is also a focus on the social responsibility upheld by teachers and a simplification in the admissions process in most schools. Children who have dropped out or have never attended any educational avenues could now be helped and given the gift of education. It is also not reductive as it does not only enforce the enrolment alone. Instead, there is the importance given to the physical conditions of the school and its surroundings, qualification of teachers, the ratio of students to teachers to name a few.
The Act forces state governments to make sure that every child in the age group of 6-14 years under their jurisdiction receives at least eight years of education in a school that is able to meet the minimum standards. Children admitted like so, will be allowed to complete their elementary education even after 14 years of age as well. Authorities are also obligated to identify dropouts or other children who have never been to school and allocate them to age-appropriate classes after providing special training to make sure they do not fall behind. Free education does not mean the exemption of the tuition fees alone. The act goes further in ensuring that children do not have to pay for other costs such as books or uniforms. This is a nice addition as it incentivizes even more children from many communities to attend school on a regular basis.
It is also a well-known fact that schools have become increasingly bureaucratized, and as a side effect of that, there is an unnecessary and bothersome insistence on documentation. And children have turned away on the grounds that the admission cycle is over in most schools. Children coming from lesser fortunate communities may not necessarily be able to provide said documentation. They may also not be able to adhere strictly to the timetable of admission cycles of schools. Section 14 of the Act prevents denial of admission on the grounds of any inability by the child to produce their documentation. Furthermore, the Act prohibits children from being held back in any class, expulsion from the school, or be forced to pass any board examination until they are able to complete their elementary education. Children with disabilities will also not be exempted from these special provisions.
Every private school is required by the Act to ensure that 25 percent of the children enrolling for their incoming class are from weaker sections and disadvantaged communities. This quota cannot be left empty. The teacher-student ratio is fixed at 1:30 for each school and has to be complied with. This ensures that the teacher is able to give equal importance to all students in a given class. The financial weight of such an elaborate scheme covering such a massive population have been agreed to be split by the central and state governments in a 55:45 ratio.
These are a few key aspects of what is a very elaborate effort by the Indian government in bringing about a change in the country by reducing illiteracy and providing education to the masses.
Problems and Challenges
All of the aforementioned points sound really appealing and nice on paper. The actual implementation is actually far from easy and even after more than ten years, there is much more to be seen in terms of changes brought about by the act. There are many reasons for this.
Lack of Funds
The first thing that immediately comes up is the glaring deficit of funds in order to implement every aspect of this Act as efficiently as possible. Despite the state and central governments coordinating it is not a small amount that is required to educate such a large population. Many state governments initially came out and said that they would require additional funds in order to implement the Act. The Orissa government then also made a demand that the state should be allocated into a special category. The state governments are not at all wrong in claiming a lack of funds as each demographic is different and will require different levels of funding. The same ratio of 55:45 might not be practical everywhere, nor in the long run.
The Act aims for schools to keep up a minimum standard of infrastructure for students. Basically, making sure that with free education there is no lack of necessary student amenities such as availability of drinking water, clean kitchens for midday meals, number of classrooms and their capacities, playgrounds and finally separate toilets for boys and girls. The underlying reality is that most schools still do not meet such basic requirements and come up short in many aspects. A survey conducted by the National University of Education Planning and Administration revealed that roughly half of the elementary schools in the country do not have separate toilets for girls.
Furthermore, a report from The District Information Systems for Education Report 2008-9, showcased that of the 1.29 million schools that they covered, a shocking 60 percent did not have electricity. More and more surveys or inquiries into this issue would only reveal the very sad reality that is the infrastructural deficit of a majority of Indian schools. This is also a consequence of the lack of funds on the both the state and central government’s side. Better decision-making and better allocation of funds can potentially fix this problem.
Shortage of Qualified Teachers
A much less evident problem is the lack of qualified teachers in most schools across India. It is predominant in the government schools in rural areas, but private schools are also susceptible to the same problem. Even where there are qualified teachers, the average teacher-student ratio is much higher than the prescribed 1:30 in the Act. This disappointing shortage of teachers is very detrimental to the cause of educating such a big population.
What is very much needed is the presence of regulatory bodies, similar to bar councils for lawyers, for school teachers and administrators. It would enforce strict adherence to certain prescribed qualifications that the teachers must meet. A sense of accountability is also bought in as necessary actions can be taken against teachers or administrators, without involving the school.
No Detention Policy
The policy of not detaining students in a class as prescribed by the Act is one that has proved to be a loophole. What this means is that, there is no insistence on a formal examination that a student must write and pass before being promoted to the next class. The measure was taken to reduce the chances of a student dropping out of school in case they were detained. A direct offshoot of this is that it fails to examine a students knowledge base. Students also do not have the drive to learn and compete. This policy overall promotes carelessness and a laid-back attitude amongst teachers as well. Simply because there is no possibility of detention, there is no definite need for them to ensure their students gain as much knowledge.
The right to education is a fundamental human right and there is no denying that it enables the upliftment of many communities across the globe. While the RTE ACT is the right step towards that direction, changes as a result of this act remain yet to be felt or seen in India. The problems that are mentioned above are only a few and there are more issues that come up when it comes to actual practice and implementation. The Act must now focus on better funding and improving the quality of education at a deeper level.