Millennium Post

Education is a right, not a mere privilege

The fateful day in the August of 2009 laid the foundation of a fundamental right that envisages a very important growth by means of education. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India, making India one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010. 

The root of this Act lies  in the drafting of the Indian constitution at the time of Independence, but it is explicitly structured in the Constitutional Amendment of 2002 that included the Article 21A in the Indian constitution making Education a fundamental Right. This amendment specifies the need for a legislation to describe the mode of implementation of the same which necessitated the drafting of a separate Education Bill.  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.

The RTE has several interesting provisions, beginning with the right of children to free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighbourhood school. What sort of neighbourhood do we assume is implied here, there is a host of children living under flyovers, braving every single day the realities of the city. Losing their childhood to an impatient traffic, rapacious anti-social elements, poverty, deprivation,  the weather, etc. these children live one day at a time. Education is not a one-day matter. How can a school be erected in an unorganised and often illigal settlement, which, as a matter of fact is a ‘neighbourhood’ too.

The RTE also specifies the duties and responsibilities of appropriate Governments, local authority and parents in providing free and compulsory education, and sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the central and state governments. This provision explicitly makes RTE a business of local authority. So how far is the local authority efficient in this respect?
It lays down the norms and standards relating inter alia to pupil teacher ratios, buildings and infrastructure, school-working days, teacher-working hours. How is this ensured? The infrastructure required here is a simple one with a building, decent seating arrangements, a supply of clean drinking water, few timely hours of electricity.

After 67 years of independence, with some remarkable developments that highlight India on the world map, this requirement of  infrastructure is by no means too much to ask for. But why is acquiring  just this an accomplishment?

The RTE provides for rational deployment of teachers by ensuring that the specified pupil teacher ratio is maintained for each school, rather than just as an average for the state or district or block, thus ensuring that there is no urban-rural imbalance in teacher postings. It also provides for prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief. This is an excellent provision. Even though it does not tally with reality.

It provides for appointment of appropriately trained teachers, i.e. teachers with the requisite entry and academic qualifications. The definition of ‘appropriately trained teachers’ is holding an  ‘academic qualification’, which is presumably a fair knowledge of the subject the teacher teaches. But whether poor or not, children are not storage machines in which to load information by any ‘appropriately trained teachers’.

They are delicate subjects to be dealt with very sensitively. Even though it prohibits physical punishment and mental harassment, school teachers in general are not disposed to caring for a child psychologically, especially if the child is not a very bright one academically. As for the public school teachers, their primary concern seems to be keeping their job secure. The System is responsible for their problem too. And even after this  problem is addressed, teaching children, particularly of age group 6-14, is not as simple as teaching maths and science and language. They are individuals to mold that is crucial age and not merely dependent population to be left to the perils of the state to hone their survival skills.

The purpose of the Act is to ensure  development of curriculum in consonance with the values enshrined in the Constitution, and which would ensure 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-centred learning. With this goal in mind, it ought to be emphasised that all the policies and provisions of the RTE Act are just a means to achieve an end. And this end will be achieved by executing the provisions correctly. The debate regarding the no-detention clause loses its significance if the provisions of the act are executed sincerely.

The ensuring of this right thus becomes the responsibility of everyone involved at every level, not only of the HRD ministry. Scrapping the no-detention clause will not gurantee education; at most it will cause greater drop-outs as the parents of poor children might feel that it is better to work and earn some money than to waste time after an education which does not even lead a child to the next class. The deprived masses in general need to be sensitised regarding the value of an education for education to prevail at all levels. This is the essence of the Right to Education.

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