Nearly eight years after the Constitution was amended to make education a fundamental right, the government of India implemented a historic law to provide free and compulsory education to all children in age group of 6-14 years on April 1, 2010.
The 86th Constitutional amendment making education a fundamental right was passed by Parliament in 2002. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, a law to enable the implementation of the fundamental right, was passed by Parliament last year. Both the Constitutional amendment and the new law came into force April 1, 2008.
The new law makes it obligatory on part of the state governments and local bodies to ensure that every child gets education in a school in the neighbourhood.
Its implementation will directly benefit close to one crore children who do not go to schools at present. These children, who have either dropped out from schools or have never been to any educational institution, will be enrolled in schools.
The Right to Education is being touted by the UPA government as another major achievement after Right To Information Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
At present, there are nearly 22 crore children in the relevant age group. However, 4.6 per cent of these children (nearly 92 lakh) are out of school. The school management committee or the local authority will identify the drop-outs or out of school children above six years of age and admit them in classes appropriate to their age after giving special training.
The Act makes it a right of every child to get education. The Act makes it obligatory for the appropriate governments to ensure that every child gets free elementary education.
The Act mandates that even private educational institutions have to reserve 25 per cent seats for children from weaker sections.
Certain schools have already challenged the law in the Supreme Court as being “unconstitutional” and violating fundamental rights of unaided private educational institutions. However, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has said that legal process would not affect the implementation of the law.
The Finance Commission has provided Rs 25,000 crore to the states for implementation of the Act.
As per the government’s estimate, there will be a requirement of Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years for implementation of the Act. Sibal said that the government has arranged the required funds for implementing the law.
The Act says no school can deny admission to a student and all schools need to have trained teachers. In case of schools not having trained teachers, they will have to comply the provision within three years. As per the new law, every school needs to have a minimum quality standard or facilities. There should adequate trained teachers, playground and essential infrastructure as minimum quality standard. The government will evolve some mechanism to help marginalized schools comply with the provisions of the Act.
The government has already prepared model rules which have been circulated to the states for preparing their own rules for implementation of the Act. The Centre has also prepared separate rules for the Union Territories that will be notified by the Law Ministry next week.
As per the Model rules, the local bodies and the state governments will undertake household surveys and neighbourhood school mapping to ensure that all children are sent to school.
The rules say that the state governments or local authorities will determine the neighbourhood schools by undertaking school mapping. Such agencies shall ensure that no child is subjected to caste, class, religious or gender abuse in the school.
The local authority will conduct a household survey and maintain a record of all children in its jurisdiction. The record will contain detailed information about the child and the parents and will specify whether the child belongs to the weaker section or disadvantaged group or having any disability.
The state government or local authorities will identify children with disabilities and children from disadvantaged groups every year.
Unaided and private schools shall ensure that children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups shall not be segregated from the other children in the classrooms nor shall their classes be held at places and timings different from the classes held for the other children.
The new law will ensure that quality education is provided to children of all community, including minorities and backward classes.
However, the reservation for weaker section will not be implemented from this year as the admission season is almost over. It will be implemented from 2011-12.
The state government and local authorities will establish primary schools within walking distance of one km of the neighbourhood. In case of children for Class VI to VIII, the school should be within a walking distance of three km of the neighbourhood.
Model Rules for States
In a significant step towards notification of the Right to Education Act, HRD ministry has finalised the model rules for states for implementation of the new law.
The model rules finally define the concept of neighbourhood schools and make it clear that there will no discrimination against the 25% children from weaker and disadvantaged groups who will get reservation.
Also, the minimum qualification for teachers can be relaxed only by the Centre and the period should not exceed three years. The relaxation has to take place within five years of the commencement of the Act. Each state will have to set up a state commission for the protection of child rights and in the interim period they can have a Right to Education Protection Authority. A State Advisory Council will be the highest body to oversee RTE’s implementation.
There has been considerable confusion about what neighbourhood schools mean. As per the model rules finalised now, a neighbourhood school for class I to V means an institution that exists within one kilometre. For class VI to VIII, neighbourhood schools will be within three kilometres. The rules also ask the states to upgrade the existing class I-V schools to include classes VI-VIII.
The model rules also make it clear that in case there is no school within the prescribed distance, the state government will make arrangement for free transportation and residential facilities. States have been asked to carry out a detailed school mapping for establishing neighbourhood schools.
While reiterating that no discrimination on the basis of caste, class, religion or gender be carried out by the states, especially against the 25% reserved children, the model rules say that reimbursement to be paid to schools for reserved students should only consist of expenditure on students.
The model rules also state that the period of admission can be extended six months from the date of commencement of the academic year. Only schools run by a society, not-for-profit trusts and open to government inspection can be given recognition. The schools should not be used for commercial or residential purpose except for employees.
The important school management committee in all government-aided schools should be reconstituted every two years. Seventy-five per cent of the members consist of parents. Of the remaining 25%, one-third will be elected members of local authorities, one-third teachers and one-third local educationists. The committee will see the annual accounts of expenditure and also bring to light deviation from the right of the child, mental, physical harassment of children, denial of admission and timely reimbursements to the children.
The rules also say that a three-year School Development Plan will be chalked out about classwise enrolment, requirment of teachers and physical requirement of infrastructure as well as additional financial requirement.