RTE: the Act needs Action

By Mahtab Alam, TwoCircles.net,

The much-awaited and much-debated Act — Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) — is in effect now. And Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh hopes, now no children have to walk to long distance to attend a school as he had to in his childhood. By this India is now amongst one of the few countries which ensure compulsory education legally. It took nine years after the Constitutional amendment was done to make education one of the fundamental rights.

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The Act at a Glance

The Act is a detailed and comprehensive piece of legislation which includes provisions related to schools, teachers, curriculum, evaluation, access and specific division of duties and responsibilities of different stakeholders. Key features of the Act include:

(1)Every child from 6 to 14 years of age has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education.

(2)Private schools must reserve a quarter of their class strength for students from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, sponsored by the government.

(3)All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 per cent parents and guardians as members.

(4)All schools except government schools are required to be recognized by meeting specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure.

On the basis of this Act, the government has framed subordinate legislation called model rules as guidelines to states for the implementation of the Act.

Historic but Difficult

“The act proposes to send to school, children in the age group of 6-14 years, which will be a tall task and difficult as well,” says Amod Kanth, Chairman, Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights (DCPCR) while speaking at consultation organised by DCPCR on Thursday itself, the day Act came into effect. But he is not alone, many believe it is full of challenges, in fact drawbacks.

Ashok Agrawal, an Advocate by profession and educational activist associated with Delhi based organization, Social Jurist; working on child rights’ issues has another point to make- “it is still not clear, how government is going to provide the education to the children of migrant laborers”, he told TwoCircles.net. India is home of three crore migrant labors, of which one crore are children.

One of the major challenges for the government in implementation is financial crunch though for now, the finance commission has approved a budget of Rs. 25, 000 crore over five years for states to implement the Act. An estimated amount of Rs. 1,71 484 crore will be required in next five years to fulfill the basic norms on infrastructure, teacher-students ratio and accessibility to school. There has been also a cause of worry, what if state governments are not able to meet their contribution (45% of the estimated spend)? Ashok Agrawal would say, “centre should be ready to provide that too because it is bound to happen as we can see in the cases of other acts”, while talking to TCN. “Otherwise, nothing is going to change by this Act as well”, he asserts.

The Act needs Action

Renowned educationist, Vinod Raina while talking to TCN says, “the biggest challenge for government is its implementation among the historically discriminated groups and minorities and these groups need most urgent attention especially those living in remote areas”. Like Kanth and Agrawal, he also stresses action on the Act. While the Act is already enacted but one thing is very clear– it needs action as without action the PM’s dream- “I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be touched by the light of education. I want every Indian to dream of a better future and live that”, is going to be shattered. Let the dream of our PM get not shattered.