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India and the Right to Education

Indian children from disadvantaged backgrounds are still discriminated against when it comes to education.

In India, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act) came into being in 2009 and became effective from April 2010. However, the government’s attitude toward its implementation is at best lackadaisical.

It is the duty of governments and local authorities to ensure that children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged social groups are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education. But in the 2016-17 academic year, 105 children were denied admission by City Montessori School, Navyug Radiance, City International, St. Mary Intermediate College and Virendra Swaroop Public School, in spite of an order by the district magistrate under section 12(1)(c) of the act. Fourteen of these children who were supposed to be admitted to City Montessori School went to the high court, but even the court did not give a clear-cut direction for admission.

Would the administration, government and court have been so lax if these children were from the elite?

The local authority is responsible under the act to maintain records of children up to the age of 14 residing within its jurisdiction, and it must ensure and monitor admission, attendance and completion of elementary education. It is also supposed to provide infrastructure, including a school building, teaching staff and learning material, facilities for the training of teachers, and ensuring good quality education. But the municipal authority is blissfully unaware of its role under the RTE Act in Lucknow, the capital of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The situation is likely to be the same in other places around India.

The government and local authorities have been tasked with establishing schools in neighborhoods where there are none within three years from the implementation of the RTE Act. But there are a number of residential areas in Lucknow where there are no schools. So, how are children supposed to receive education?

The local authority has also been assigned the duty of ensuring admission of children of migrant families to government schools. Vijaya Ramachandran, a social activist and the daughter of former Indian President R. Venkataraman, has been advocating for the right of educating children of construction workers and brick kilns in Kanpur for over four decades. Her request to the government and local administration to get children of workers enrolled in government schools is being completely ignored.

The Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, while launching his “Study Well, Grow Immensely” campaign, has distributed books, uniforms, shoes, socks and school bags to children and said that he does not want a single child to be out of school. Yet he did not elaborate on how he aims to achieve this. The only good thing he said was that he would like to restore the positive image of government schools.

In June, a public fast was organized in Lucknow to get Justice Sudhir Agarwal’s ruling implemented, which calls for children of all public sector government workers to study in government schools. But the government chose to ignore the fast. The fast was withdrawn on the seventh day on July 3, after accepting juice from a child beggar and a mother of another child whose admission was ordered by the district magistrate for Navyug Radiance School, yet the institution did not admit them.

This was a slap in the face for the government and local administration. Will Adityanath tell us how he proposes to get these 105 children admitted to schools that are openly violating the RTE Act?

SCHOOL FEES

During the current academic year, the City Montessori School also went to court challenging 40 admission orders, stating that these children did not fulfill the norms prescribed under the RTE Act. How can it be that Jagdish Gandhi, the manager of the school, finds fault with every admission that is approved in his institution by the basic shiksha adhikari, the district level education officer? Either this official is incompetent or Gandhi is playing truant. Does the administration or government have the willpower to take action against powerful private schools? Gandhi is certainly denying the right of education to some children.

It is good that the government wants to restore the prestige of its schools. But that is not going to happen by merely distributing material items required to attend schools, including books and uniforms or by a tree plantation campaign that has been linked with the enrollment drive this year in Uttar Pradesh until July 31. It will happen only when the children of government officers, people’s representatives and judges are allowed to study in government schools. The quality of government schools will change dramatically overnight if this happens, which will directly benefit the poor as their children will also receive good quality education.

Additionally, it will create an option for the middle class, who are forced to spend exorbitant sums of money on the education of their children. In Gujarat, an act implemented during this academic year places an annual fee limit of Rs15,000 ($233) for primary schools, Rs25,000 for middle- and higher-middle schools, and Rs27,000 for higher-middle schools with science. In Uttar Pradesh, there have been demands for a similar law. For Uttar Pradesh, which is a poorer state than Gujarat, the proposed limit is Rs6,000 and Rs10,000 annually for primary and higher-middle schools, respectively.

Of late, the Uttarakhand high court has been proactive in giving strict rulings related to the state of government schools. It has ruled that until all government schools have basic facilities — such as benches, tables, chalk, dusters, separate toilets for girls and boys, computers, science laboratories, fans for summer and heaters for winter, good quality lunch meals, a library, water purifiers, and two set of uniforms for children — the local government would not be allowed to buy luxury items like expensive cars, air conditioners and furniture.

The state court has come down heavily on high-level officials, including the principal secretary of the education department, saying that if they do not arrange the abovementioned things for schools, their salaries would be stopped from January 2018.

Similarly, the Madras high court, in a recent judgment, has ruled against starting an English section, saying that teachers have no interest in working at government schools as their own children do not study in them.

India has its work cut out to ensure that the RTE Act meets its aims.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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