By Asarul Haque Jeelani for TwoCircles.net
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 has communicated and executed free and compulsory education for children between 6-14 years of age, but the question before the government and the concerned bodies is: how is the performance of the Act on the ground?
There is little doubt regarding the positive intents of this Act: it aims to create a more literate future generation, especially among underprivileged sections of the society. But it seems that the Act, instead of promoting education, is actually denying them the same right. But how? Allow me to explain.
Herbert Kaufman has rightly said about red tape, that “when people rail against red tape, they mean that they are subjected to too many constraints, that many of the constraints seem pointless, and that agency seem to take forever to act.” This Act can be seen in a similar light.
This act has created many constraints regarding the restriction of children in accessing education. One among them is the age restriction: free and compulsory education is restricted only between 6 and 14 years of age, and is also allotted age-wise. Regarding the age factor, many scholars have pointed out that the denial of free education before 6 years of age as well as after 14 years of age, while only a few activist and scholars have raised the issue of the age wise class allocation. This provision has raised the question of quality education and created a loophole to deny the educational right by using tactics the age factor.
What often happens, is that the official in charge of admission in primary school asks the parent of a child to take admission in upper primary school, even if he/she wants to take admission at a primary level. Let me give you an example: recently, I went to enroll one student, who had dropped out earlier, in the Noor Nagar (Delhi) primary school, but the child was denied admission because his age was 14 years according their admission file. The school teacher not only denied admission on the basis of age under the half-cooked rule of Right to Education Act, another teacher made it clear that “there is no way for the child to get admission in any school and only the one way to finish his Class 10, is now through admission in an open school”. A child for whom we were seeking admission at a primary level, now has to study till Class 10 through an open school. Why? Because the Act, which seeks to empower these very children, says so.
The irrationality however, did not end here: the teacher pretty much killed the dream of the child’s mother by asking for Rs 6,000 to ‘help’ the child in getting admission in open school. This, during demonetisation. Not that the parents have that much money to pay a bribe anyway, but you can imagine the reaction of the helpless mother. The parents belong to Noor Nagar pahadi slum community, most of whom migrated form Uttar Pradesh.
The same child was denied admission when we tried to enroll him in Sarvoday Bal Vidyalay, Noor Nagar on the ground that the date of admission has passed. When we met the principle of the school, he used abusive words and asked us to leave the room. I emailed a complaint letter regarding the incident to the Deputy Director of Education, South Delhi but no action has been taken.
As someone who has been working with ABC Campaign since 2012 in an attempt to help children join school and having enrolled around 25 children from the slum community in and around Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, it is clear to me that a huge number of children are denied admission on some or the other illogical reason.
The most heart-wrenching case was that of a child who was denied admission by many schools in Trilokpuri area only because she had undergone an open-heart surgery and no school wanted to take the risk of giving her admission. However, she now attends the Learning Centre at the ABC Campaign and Foundation for Equal Citizenship, a collaborative centre.
All these incidents show that the concerned bodies and staff in the field of education are using age as a tool to avoid the burden of admitting children. In a more humane world, this would have concerned a lot more people and make them take actions that would address the issue.
I reiterate that the Act is immensely powerful and one of the most important additions to the Fundamental Right, but it is dented majorly by such loopholes. Anil Sadgopal, an educationist has rightly said “it is a fraud on our children. it gives neither free education nor compulsory education. In fact, it only legitimizes the present multi-layered, inferior quality school education system where discrimination shall continue to prevail.”
The author is currently enrolled in M. Phil at the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU