India on 1 April 2010 gave the right to all its children to have access to elementary education, becoming one amongst a handful of countries in the world that legally guarantee free and compulsory education to millions of deprived children. Citing his own example, prime minister Manmohan Singh dedicated the landmark measure to the nation, saying “I am what I am because of education” and added that education is the key to progress. “Today our government comes before you to pledge all our children elementary education. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act enacted by parliament in August, 2009 comes into force today (1 April 2010),” the prime minister said in his early morning address. “The fundamental right to education as incorporated in our constitution through Article 21 (A) has also become operative from today”, he further added.
The Act promises 10 broad objectives including free and compulsory education to all children in the 6 to 14 age group. This means millions of children will now get education at least up to class 8. Currently, in India, nearly 200 million children in the 6 to 14 age group are in schools, but a sizable number, of nearly 8.1 million, do not receive formal education.
Other than free and compulsory education, the Act speaks of quality education; focuses on social responsibility like reservation in private schools; and, outlines the obligation of teachers and de-bureaucratisation of admissions. Lack of educational access was seen as a major impediment to growth and development of the county in its march towards modernity and progress that measures upto global standards.
Calling upon all stakeholders to join the national effort with full determination, the prime minister said, “our government in partnership with state governments will ensure that financial constraints do not have an adverse impact in the implementation of right to education act.” He said quality of education depends on the ability of teachers and urged teachers to become partners in the effort even as he underlined the need to ‘improve the working condition of our teachers’. He said teachers must teach with dignity and help students give full expression to their talent and creativity. Parents and guardians too have a critical role to play in school management responsibilities.
Human Resource Development minister, Kapil Sibal, who powered the Act, said ‘both private and government schools have to implement the Act’ and those violating would be punished under law. Leading Indian scientist and educator, Yash Pal said the Act is ‘great and marvellous’ but it should have ‘come 50 years back’.
However, the Act faces many challenges in its implementation, chief among them being the huge shortage of funds, untrained teachers and inadequate infrastructure across the country. Among the countries that have guaranteed the maximum number of years of compulsory education include Chile, Germany, Netherlands, Britain, France, Canada, Brazil and Mauritius. According to ‘Save the Children’, an NGO, the average students-to-teacher ratio in a classroom at present stands at 50:1, and as the Act envisages that this ratio should be 30:1, which implies that at least 12 lakh more trained teachers will be required within six months of notification of the Act.
Salient Features of RTE Act, 2009
■ Free and compulsory education to all children of India in the 6 to 14 age group;
■ No child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until completion of elementary education (up to class 8);
■ A child who completes elementary education (upto Class 8) shall be awarded a certificate;
■ Calls for a fixed student-teacher ratio;
■ Will apply to all of India except J&K;
■ Provides for 25 per cent reservation for economically disadvantaged communities in all private and minority schools. The reservation to start with Class 1 beginning 2011;
■ Mandates improvement in quality of education;
■ School teachers will need adequate professional degree within five years or else will lose their jobs;
■ School infrastructure requires to be improved in three years, or else recognition will be cancelled;
■ Financial burden will be shared between state and central government on the basis of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All).
Areas of Concern
■ This Act does not have provision to punish parents who do not send their children to schools. Thus the government has a ready excuse to allude that despite the proactive Act parents/guardians are not sending their wards to school.
■ The Act doesn’t clearly state if the Union or state governments would reimburse the fees. The Uttar Pradesh Government’s refusal to share the burden is an ominous pointer.
Inputs from Prime Minister’s speech and the RTE Act 2009