the right to education ‘act’ (2009)

Though the act is generally incorrectly abbreviated to RTE act, the correct phrase is: The Right of Children to Free And Compulsory Education Act, 2009. It should probably be called ‘Right to Elementary Education act,’ say REE, by us – which is at least closer to the content of the act… However, I would use the incorrect, but unfortunately a  popular abbreviation – RTE act! Sorry.

Some of my friends and I have been having some tentative discussions & have been jotting down personal notes on the subject and were circulating them ‘privately’ – that is, comprising among others,  some of our opinions, readings, misreadings, gross-misunderstandings etc etc on the RTE act.

I am planning to share some of them, in the hope that the semiformed notes would probably be useful to folks out there on the web, seeking some jaundiced information on the RTE act. (of course, the jottings will be less rabid, expunged,  and therefore slightly more readable than the original febrile discussions, I hope);  so, these are my notes and further down, my questions too! (most of this text is some weeks old – and there has been at least one formal meeting that I have since attended, thanks to Sri Ramdas and Srimathi Rama of Viswabharati Vidyodaya Trust – and so, I have become aware of more interesting and relevant points of view about the RTE act since when I first wrote the notes, but more on this in later posts!)

My notes:

One should FIRST & foremost, go through the Central gazette publication of the act, in detail. It is available off the Indian Government website – The Department of School Education and Literacy – The Right of Children to Free And Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

Next, one should go through the  notification of the act: Notification of Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act 2002 and Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. This merely gives the ‘effective date’ but it is important from a legal perspective.

The third reference document would be:  Model Rules Under the Right Of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

It is also important that the notifications of the state governments are yet to happen. So, when I write ‘notification,’  it is about the (impending) State notifications, rather than the Central one.

Now,  it is very important at this juncture, to remember what  Mark Twain said once: “First get your facts; then you can distort them at your leisure.

The RTE act  sure reads very draconian or very egalitarian depending on where one comes from. But the fact is that it is both. Very good intentions are in the right place (Kapil Sibal and all that – though he came in quite late to the scene & to the real run-up to the passing of the bill) – nobody could question this act done in good faith, but the implementation is the one that one will have to wait for (and/or take afirmative action) and then see… Anyway, the basic features of the act (my reading) are:

  • the word ‘education’ has not been defined at all – which in my opinion is puzzling
  • free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14
  • nothing to do with the primary or higher education
  • no entry or exit criteria for children apart from age
  • mandatory provision to provide 25% reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools
  • prohibits unrecognized schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission
  • no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education
  • provision for special training of school drop-outs, to bring them up to par with students of the same age
  • the Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age has also been made a fundamental right
  • provides for the establishment of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, and State Commissions for supervising proper implementation of the act, looking after complaints and protection of Child Rights
  • other provisions regarding improvement of school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio, hours of duty, working days in an year, class size etc etc
  • funding estimates: US$38.2 billion or Rs 1,71,000 crores – would be required in the next five years – but there is already a shortfall of Rs.19,000 crores off the allocated Rs.34,000 crores even for the first year!
  • funding for implementing the act would be shared in the ratio of 65:35 between the Central Government and the states, and a ratio of 90:10 for the north-eastern states; of course, the state of J&K is an exception, as usual!
  • formation of a school management committee (75% of this will be parents!) involving parents, local elected representatives etc, in every school, with significant powers
  • all schools have to be recognized by the appropriate authorities
  • 3 years timeframe for the implementation; with some provisions, it is 5 years
  • fine of Rs 1.00 lakh for contravention – with a probable Rs 10k perday for repeated contraventions!

Sheesh! It does look like a war declaration, at one level! A war declaration, NOT because of the draconian provisions which are well intentioned and aimed at curbing the growth of ‘factory’ schools with no soul or values, but because the act does not acknowledge the diverse & critical ground realities!

This could have happened, may be because certain positive facets of this beast called ‘education’ that are being adddressed by well meaning folks and organizations, are not taken cognizance of at all, by the legislative bodies or by our bureaucracy.

Perhaps this happened because, these well meaning schools, folks and philosophies are in a minority. Minority not in terms of narrow religious denominations or sects, or else, their voice would have been heard purely because of the expediencies of political mobilization and carving out of constituencies.

May be these folks did not use the available spaces for the articulation of their points of view, during the run-up to the passage of the bill.

Or, possibly these maverick educationalists were actually busy doing their work, minding their own businesses, when the legislative actions simply whizzed past them.

Or may be perhaps, these groups did not have a reasonably sufficient mindshare of the nation, given the fact that our nation is caught between the asinine IPL cricket matches and the abysmal Aamir Khan starrers, and is rather busy getting entertained.

Whatever be the reason, there are possibilities for much collateral damage due to the current provisos of the RTE act.

My questions:

  1. Without defining the term called ‘education’  in the RTE act, how can it be made meaningful? Or is there a possibility to interpret education creatively and realistically because of this very reason,  so that grievances of genuinely affected constituencies be addressed pronto?
  2. How come no one is (mis)quoting the freedom of religion, in respect of ‘education’? I would say that my particular religion does not allow me to go to these HighYieldVariety schools as per the diktats of the act. So, can I say that my religion would allow me to go only to these schools with  ‘alternative’ ideas? Can we say that the State cannot interfere in this aspect of our lives??
  3. If one reads the preamble to our Indian constitution: “WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens: JUSTICE, social, economic and political; LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HERE BY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION.” Just read the brown text again.  How come no allowance at all has been made for small community establishments, pursuing various educational philosophies and thoughts? What about the basic diversity – especially when we talk about ‘unity in diversity’ and all that?? What about ‘not profit making’ schools?
  4. Is the act going to create an yet another failed ‘green revolution’ archetype? That Indian apparatchiks could dream up a well intentioned idea (yet again) but thoroughly botch up on the implementation/fineprint aspects, thereby killing ALL the vibrant diversity and memetic pools?
  5. How is the new position reconciled with the existence of NIOS – National Institute of Open Schooling? How can one arm of the government strangle the other (a much older and wiser arm at that) and the basic ideas that basically gave rise to the wiser arm?
  6. How are the homeschoolers (not that they are even in a microscopic minority – in addition, many of them are utterly clueless, but I would say that they HAVE their right to be clueless too, like the rest of us!) – I am quite intrigued! What about the parents’ rights?? (In my Tamilnadu, there is a very grave law against parents who are not sending their children to school, think it has been around for a while – but I don’t know of even a single case of punishment. I recall that there was not even a single FIR that was filed in this context, even when the ‘law’ was a freshmint one!)
  7. Elementary and Secondary Education are EXCLUSIVELY State Subjects in the Constitution of India (not even in the concurrent list) and the Central Government can not compel the State Governments to follow the former’s diktats. So, can we bank on the karnataka BJP government to help combat the well-intentioned offtangentness on part of the central government of Congress and its cohorts (just to bring in the dirty politics angle) – at least while forming its own rules, the States do have the power of creative interpretation.
  8. Where is the money? Many state governments are already in the red! The Central Government, could it help? May be the latter will cheerfully establish more factories for printing currency??
  9. As it is, there are some 12 lakhs India-wide vacancies that are yet to be filled in our Government schools! How can one even begin the address this…
  10. The Central Government itself has set up quite a few types/genres of elite schools – such as navodaya vidyalayas, thereby depriving the normal, other government schools of due funding… How is this gap ever going to be bridged? How come this RTE act is not applicable to the Central Government’s such creations?
  11. The nation, even 60 years after Bapuji’s death, has not even understood the deep schism that exists between the ‘equality of opportunity’ and ‘equality of status’ – this is really sad. Without this basic cognition, we simply go ahead and want to make cataclysmic changes! Tell me, as to how will a child from a disadvanged background, go to a court of law for enforcing its fundamental right? How can the poor child (or its parents)  engage the likes of Ram Jethmalanis to ensure the enforcement of their rights, say in the Supreme Court? Would there be a followup “Right to Engage Ram Jethmalanis” too?
  12. I feel that the Central Government should provide for at least safe and clean drinking water in all the schools first; may be usable toilets can follow later. Then, it can take up all the other ‘developmental’ issues.
  13. How can the Indian Central Government ensure that the funds that are supposedly allocated by it, will be used by corrupt and completely spoilt, mercenary State governments (like that of say, Muthuvel Karunanidhi’s Tamil Nadu) for the purposes of implementing the act? What if the said ‘governments’ use the fiund to give away free Sony PSPs to all the children? Or to give away free Fridges to all households? Or better still, what if they embezzle the whole damned fund? After all,  my fellow Tamilian friend Srimaan Karunanidhi,  has been accused by the venerated judges (of impeccable credentials and integrity) of having the ability to practise Scientific Corruption, as early as three decades back! So, the likes of  Srimaan Karunanidhi would have only become better at their acts, the dilegent students of malfeasance that they have been, for all their lives! The Central Government has lamented that the state of Tamil Nadu  for example, has not been conducting any internal audit from the year 2006 – with respect to the expenditures on education! (but am digressing)

The basic ideas of the act are closer to my heart too – but when there are so many holes, the funds mobilization is grossly inadequate, where do I even begin to interpret the act…

On the contary, may be there is hope. May be all the holes and inadequacies in the RTE act, can be rightfully and genuinely addressed. In spite of my fears to the contary, there are many, very many people who will do the right things, at the right time.

May be not all is lost. We survive on hope.

(more later…)

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  • sunder  On May 25, 2010 at 6:25 am

    Thanks for putting that together (without much ranting:-). I guess in the end, it is a question of intent vs implementation.

    The trouble is that the implementation could be misapplied to small schools and alternative models: It requires one moronic District Education Officer to cause trouble for a small school which may not have the resources, people or the ability to fight things out “legally”.

    Will you keep this post updated with comments as the situation on the ground changes, please? (New academic year will presumably bring its share of FIRs and suchlike)

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