Sunday, April 15, 2012

Right to Education-Will they kill the goose that lay golden eggs

SreeNair | 6:45 AM |

           The Supreme Court on Thursday by a majority of 2:1 upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act(RTI), 2009. The ruling is a shot in the arm for the Centre as the legislation was its flagship programme designed to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the age group of 6 to 14 years, despite stiff opposition from unaided private institutions.

           The law provides for reservation of 25 percent seats for poor children in all government, private aided and unaided schools but not in minority institutions and it is aimed at uplifting the socially and economically vulnerable sections of society.

The apex courts judgment, reserved on August 3, 2011 after a marathon hearing which went for months , was pronounced by a bench comprising of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S.P. Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar ,on a batch of petitions filed by Society for Unaided Private Schools, Independent Schools Federation of India and others who contended that the Act violates the rights of private educational institutions under Article 19(1)(g) which provided unhindered autonomy to private managements to run their institutions.

The RTE Act would not apply to unaided private minority institutions .The majority judgment by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar said: “Reservation of 25 per cent in such unaided minority schools will result in changing the character of the schools if the right to establish and administer such schools flows from the right to conserve the language, script or culture, which right is conferred on such unaided minority schools. Thus, the 2009 Act including Section 12(1) (c) violates the right conferred on such unaided minority schools under Article 30(1).”

The verdict will apply from the academic year 2012-13. However, admissions given by unaided minority schools prior to the pronouncement of this judgment shall not be reopened.

The Bench said: “It is true that, as held in the T.M.A. Pai Foundation as well as the P.A. Inamdar judgments, the right to establish and administer an educational institution is a fundamental right, as long as the activity remains charitable under Article 19(1) (g). However, in the said two decisions the correlation between Articles 21 and 21A, on the one hand, and Article 19(1) (g), on the other, was not under consideration.Further, the content of Article 21A flows from Article 45 (as it then stood). The 2009 Act has been enacted to give effect to Article 21A. For the above reasons, since the Article 19(1) (g) right is not an absolute right as Article 30(1), the 2009 Act cannot be termed as unreasonable.”

The law now will empower the government to ensure students from the alienated segments of the society also have access to affordable ,inclusive and sustained quality education at the elementary level.

Talking to reporters, Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said on Monday that "The government needs to recruit 20 lakh teachers to successfully implement the Right to Education Act.The implementation of the Act was a difficult task and the only solution would be to hire teachers even if they did not have the required qualification."

The RTI bears added significance in the Indian context as a counter offensive where acute poverty and illiteracy is the single largest social scourge that accentuates the rural downturn. The Education For All–Global Monitoring Report finds that India is still home to largest illiterate population.About 72 million primary school age children and another 71 million adolescents are not at school, and on current trends, 56 million primary school age children will still be out of school in 2015, It finds that with the exception of China, progress towards halving illiteracy has been "painfully slow."

This is why the RTI is exalted as a landmark legislation.The purpose and object of the Act is “social inclusiveness in the field of elementary education." The apex court said that the Act has been enacted keeping in mind the crucial role of universal elementary education for strengthening the social fabric of democracy through provision of equal opportunities to all and ruled that “From the scheme of Article 21A and the 2009 Act, it is clear that the primary obligation is of the State to provide for free and compulsory education to children between the age of 6 and 14 years and, particularly, to children who are likely to be prevented from pursuing and completing the elementary education due to inability to afford fees or charges.”

Many north Indian states children borne to poor parents are forced to discontinue their education and go for menial jobs due to poverty or lack of conscience in those classes.

We brag to have the largest network of State run public institutions in the world.The country has over 0.9 million schools, 3.6 million school teachers and 143 million children in the 6-14 years age group .We have the largest noon meal program in schools covering 131.69 million children. We have the largest immunization program and nutrition program with 1.4 million early child care (anganwadi) centers covering over 80 million children which addresses children from the most vulnerable communities such as the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes through affirmative action as mandated by the Constitution of India. Further the Government is commitment to build 6,500 ‘model' schools in backward areas; of these, 3,000 would be developed through public-private-partnership investment.

The Centre provides 65 per cent of the funds for school education under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan while the states bear the 35%. The 13th Finance Commission allocated additional resources when the Act was notified. This raised the sharing pattern to 68:32 between the Centre and the States.

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          Government and Municipal schools have a shoddy record of neglect and faffing around, while flourishing private schools use the state of the art educational tools and methods.The onus is now on to the states as it has to put its house in order, considering the abysmal standards in the government run schools.The government as well as well meaning citizens should take up the responsibility of transforming government schools as centres of quality education. In fact the condition is not such that the education requirements of the poor can be meted out by the Governments alone. Private schools either aided or unaided have the social obligation to share the burden in the national interest.

         Education is becoming increasingly money oriented. Education is a "business for the private sector, a pretence for the government sector, and a dire need for the population", especially the desperately poor. The educational expenses in private schools cannot be borne by the poor and the marginalised. Large scale studies (like Mehrotra Panchmukhi, 2006) show that private schools have so far had a disproportionately low percentage of enrollment from SC, ST, Muslim, children with disability.

Private English school education is glorified as a symbol of gentility for the elites. We very often hear egoistic presentations with considerable aplomb even from high profile dignitaries ,that one is educated at Doon school ,Howard etc.Rich parents take it a as a token of dignity to send their wards to such private schools and they demand things like air-conditioned buses, A/c class rooms, international curriculum, and world-class facilities and are ready to pay for it. Private school managements fear that they cannot provide these facilities if they should implement the 25 per cent quota for poorer students.Also they would not love killing the goose that lay the eggs by being stand-off-ish towards these bigwigs.

The private schools should also be keen to discharge their social obligations. While they are not expected to surrender their constitutionally guaranteed rights,Justice RadhaKrishnan in the dissenting note said,"Non-state actors exercising the state functions like establishing and running private educational institutions are also expected to respect and protect the rights of the child."

It is precisely with this aim in mind that the legislation went for 25% of the intake in these institutions specially reserved for the socially weaker sections.The argument that the new rules would affect the privately run schools financially was not acceptable to the court.

Private Schools are not fully private as being widely believed. Most private schools currently are aided by the State apart from enjoying various consolations like tax benefits under the income tax act, wealth tax and lower property taxes, direct subsidy towards the cost of land allotted, concessional electricity charges etc. In addition, some State Governments also provide direct grant-in-aid to the schools towards meeting recurring expenses e.g. West Bengal provides the Dearness Allowance component of teacher’s salaries of Anglo-Indian Schools which are all in the private domain.

Accordingly a study on the “Public Utility of Private Schools: A study of 80 Elite Private Schools of India” by Bhatnagar & Omer (2005) of Rs 100 of concessions/incentives given by the government, only Rs.27 are spent by private schools towards socially useful activities. Both the 2005 Comptroller and Auditor Report and the subsequent Directorate of Education inquiries on the subsidy extended in lieu of allotment of land to schools in Delhi found several gross malpractices. The courts pronouncement should help them to understand their social responsibility.

Given the scenario that in many north Indian states children borne to poor parents are forced to discontinue thir education and go for menial jobs due to poverty or lack of conscience in those classes,just by providing universal free education, these children cannot be enticed back to their class rooms. A programme to take up their whole security at least in educational years should be a prime consideration.

However the administration of education deffer widely from state to state in India.That is why many a brow stood furrowed over its implementation In some states like Kerala there are no need to rope in unaided schools as there are government and aided schools in almost every neighbourhood in the State. Educationalists Mr.RVG Menon fear that "this would result in a big drain from the State's exchequer and students from government and aided schools.

Mr. Menon said that the stipulation in the Act directing unrecognised schools to apply for recognition instead of closing them down was dangerous. In the event, the applicants satisfied certain minimum eligibility parameters the State government could do nothing but grant them recognition without considering many crucial factors like whether there was the need for such a school in the first place and how they promoted the cause of education.This would result in all unrecognised schools becoming recognised unaided schools giving them the added opportunity to poach 25 per cent of students from government and aided schools, Mr. Menon said.

There are also apprehensions that students and parents from under-privileged sections will find it difficult to mingle with students from affluent sections and this may create psychological and related problems for the quota children.

The states fear of the additional financial burden it will have to shoulder in the form of reimbursement of fees to private schools for quota students.

With the sustained economic growth, it shall not be a concern to allocate the Rs. 4.50 lakh crore needed for the implementation of the RTE Act over the next five years. The act enables monitoring of the implementation through the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.

It remains tobe seen whether the new law is teethed enough to effectively preempt the nifty and innovative techniques that will be invented to subvert and downplay the spirit of the law by impostor where in admissions are arranged by fake certificates and cooking the books like collecting the fees in un-receipted cash. It is left to be seen how poor children will be thwarted by way of intimidation,bullying and extortionate demands from the school authorities.

" And what when the rich students talk about their short vacation at Singapore or the alpine countries?"


"Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave" [Lord Henry Brougham speech to the House of Commons]




 

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