Education, a Fundamental Right – Right to Education Act

The right of children to free and compulsory education act (RTE) was passed by the Indian Parliament on August 27, 2009 and came into effect on April 1, 2010.  As per the act, every child from the age 6 to 14 years has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education. The act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Organizations such as UNICEF and UNESCO believe the act will address the problem of nearly 8 million children in India between the ages of 6-14 years, majority of who are girls, being out of school. They also believe that it will help eradicate child labor by keeping children in school. However, Dr. Anil Sadgopal, University of Delhi, says the act is a significant dilution of a Supreme Court judgment which mandated fundamental right to education to all children up to 14 years, including pre-primary education below the age of 6. Mr. Ramamurthy, founder of Sikshana, fears that the act will enable the mushrooming of grey market schools that will take a major portion of the government funding, bringing an end to state-run government schools in rural areas.

In this article and the next, we will cover the act as written and opinions of experts including Mr. Ramamurthy.

Responsibility of the government and parents:

The appropriate central or state government and local authority are responsible for ensuring quality education, providing infrastructure, and monitoring admission, attendance and completion of elementary education. If no school exists within a neighborhood, they are responsible for establishing one within 3 years from the commencement of this act.

It is the duty of every parent or guardian to admit his or her child to an elementary school in the neighborhood.

Provision for children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups:

Unaided schools not receiving any form of aid or grants from the government and “specified category” schools such as Kendriya Vidyalaya, Navodaya, and Sainik School shall admit at least 25% of the children in class 1 from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. They shall provide free and compulsory elementary education to these children till completion of class 8. Disadvantaged groups include scheduled caste, scheduled tribe, and socially and educationally backward classes.

Aided schools receiving grants from the government to meet part or whole of their expenses shall do the same for an equivalent proportion of children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups.

No capitation fee and screening procedure for admission:

The act states that no school or person shall collect any capitation fee that may prevent the child from pursuing and completing elementary education. Children and their parents or guardians shall not be subjected to a screening procedure to gain admission to the school. Children cannot be denied admission or discriminated based on caste, creed, social class or gender. Children cannot be denied admission on the basis of lack of age proof. A child already admitted cannot be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education.

Additional training for out of school children being admitted:

If for any reason, a child above 6 years has not yet been admitted in any school and not completed elementary education, the child shall be admitted to a class appropriate to his or her age. The child has a right to receive special training within permissible time limits to be on par with the other students in his or her class. Such a child is entitled to completing elementary education even after 14 years of age.

Right of transfer to another school:

If the child’s current school does not have the facilities for completing elementary education, or if the child is required to move to another school for any reason, he or she has the right to transfer to a government school or a government-aided school to complete elementary education. Lack of a transfer certificate cannot be grounds for delaying or denying admission to such a child.

School curriculum:

The curriculum and evaluation procedure shall be determined by an academic authority specified by the government. The authority shall take into consideration several factors: all round development of the child, development of physical and mental abilities to the fullest extent, learning through discovery and exploration in a child friendly manner without an environment of fear and trauma, medium of instruction in the child’s mother tongue as far as possible, and comprehensive and continuous evaluation of the child’s learning levels.

No child is required to pass public education until the completion of elementary education. After completing elementary education, the child will be awarded a certificate.

Teacher responsibilities:

Teachers are appointed if they meet the qualifications set by the academic authority. Under circumstances where there is shortage of teaching staff, the teachers are given a period of 5 years to be trained to meet the minimum qualification requirements.

Teachers are required to be punctual in attending school, complete curriculum within the specified period, hold parent-teacher meetings to track progress of the child, assess the learning ability of each child, and give additional instructions, if necessary, to children requiring more attention. To meet the pupil-teacher ratio, teachers can only teach in one school without taking up any non-education related work excluding disaster relief, election or census related duties. Teachers cannot hold private tuitions. Teacher vacancies in government schools cannot exceed 10% of the sanctioned strength.

School norms and standards:

No school, other than government schools, shall be established or function without meeting certain norms and standards. Infrastructure requirements mandate at least one classroom for every teacher and a shared office-cum-storage room space. Other facilities include separate toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water, kitchen where mid-day meals are cooked, playground and arrangements to secure the school. Every school is required to have a library containing books including storybooks, newspapers and magazines related to all subject matter. Teaching learning equipment and sports equipment shall be provided to each class as required. Teachers are required to follow minimum working/instruction hours per week and academic year.

Pupil-Teacher ratio:

Classes 1-5 should have a pupil-teacher ratio according to a schedule prescribed by the act. For example, a ratio of 30:1 is prescribed up to class strength of 120. Beyond that a ratio up to 40:1 is allowed. Higher classes from 6-8 require one teacher for every 35 students, so that there is at least one teacher each for Science and Math, Social Studies and languages. If any of these classes 6-8 have more than 100 children, there should be a head teacher and part-time instructors for art, physical and work education. The schools should adhere to the prescribed pupil-teacher ratio within six months of the act coming into effect.

School management committee:

Every government, aided and specified category school such as a Kendriya Vidyalaya will appoint a school management committee, which is mainly responsible for preparing the school development plan and monitoring the working of the school and its utilization of funds obtained from the government. Atleast three-fourths of the committee must include parents and guardians of children attending the school. The rest may comprise elected representatives from the local authority. A proportional representation must include those from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections of the community. At least 50% of the committee must comprise women.

Protection of right of children:

The National or the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is responsible for examining the safeguards for rights under the act and recommending measures for effective implementation. It is also responsible for inquiring into complaints relating to child’s rights to free and compulsory education. Regardless of these commissions, any person having any grievance relating to the right of a child may make a written complaint to the local authority and the local authority shall judge within three months. The decision of the local authority can be appealed to the State Commission.

A national advisory council constituted by the central government will advise the central government in effective implementation of the act. The committee will comprise a maximum of 15 members, all of whom are expected to be knowledgeable and experienced with elementary education and child development. Similarly, a state advisory council constituted by each state government will be responsible for advising the state government.

Concluding Remarks:

As written, the act allows only certain schools to fall under its jurisdiction and being classified as neighborhood schools. With only 25% reservation for children from disadvantaged groups, Dr. Anil Sadgopal asks why the principle of free education and neighborhood school does not apply to the remaining 75% children. He believes most private and government run elite schools will continue to collect capitation fees and screen students during admission. Mr. Ramamurthy believes that with all the bureaucracies involved, there is large room for misuse of the huge amount of government funding and says this will be the end of government schools in rural areas.

You can learn more on these and Mr. Ramamurthy’s opinion about RTE in the next edition of this newsletter.


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