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India to notify right to education act

Feb 17, 2010

The Right to Education Act that promises free and compulsory education for all children between 6-14 years will finally be implemented from April 1 with its notification by Ministry of Human Resource Development. Expressing their concern many civil society organisations ask the government to incorporate constitutional guarantee within the Act.

India: The Right to Education Act (RTE) that was passed by Parliament in August 2009 after several abortive attempts is all set to become a reality with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) expected to notify it on April 1. Though the Act was gazetted soon after its enactment, a separate notification was mandated in the body of the law for it to actually come into effect.

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According to Section 1(3) of the Act, “it shall come into force on such date as the central government may, by notification in the official gazette, appoint.” That date has now been fixed for April 1, 2010.

The Act that promises free and compulsory education to all children aged between 6 and 14 years was stuck over Centre and state negotiations on who will bear the implied financial burden: a staggering Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years.

The HRD ministry is learnt to have zeroed in on a 65:35 Centre-state fund-sharing formula to implement the ambitious provisions of the Act, it is learnt. A huge allocation to facilitate its further implementation is also in the offing in the next Union budget, ministry sources say.

The notification will bring to an end the long journey which saw its first official milestone in December 2002 when the fundamental right to education was enacted.

While efforts to bring compulsory education for children in the age-group 6-14 out of the directive principles of state policy and make it a fundamental right predate 2002, governments in subsequent years have made several attempts to pass the Right to Education Act-a law to operationalise the fundamental right to education.

While discussions on the funding formula have been on for months now, with state governments reluctant to shoulder too big a share, some states suggested a 90:10 Centre-state fund-sharing arrangement. Marathon meetings between the HRD ministry, Planning Commission and the PMO finally led to a consensus on a 65:35 formula.

A 75:25 formula proposed by the HRD ministry and a 60:40 fund-sharing approach were also being considered. A final meeting with the prime minister late last month is learnt to have helped arrive at a 65:35 funding pattern.

What this will imply is that all the states put together will have to pitch in with Rs 30,000 crore or so over the next five years, which the Centre considers feasible. State governments, however, may not find the formula very agreeable but will have to be brought around to the view that states must prioritise education.

The Centre will be allocating a substantial amount for RTE implementation in this budget through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme that will serve as an implementation channel for the Act so that construction of buildings and recruitment of teachers can begin.

An amount of Rs 34,000 crore has already been allocated to the SSA for the next two years of the Eleventh Plan period. With the recession constraining resources during the plan, a larger allocation towards implementation of the provisions of the Act will come only in the Twelfth Five-Year Plan, say ministry officials.

The model rules for implementation of the Act, as approved by the HRD ministry and circulated to all states last month, highlight the responsibilities of state governments, local authorities, school management, parents and teachers.

The rules say that state governments or local authorities will determine neighbourhood schools by undertaking household surveys and school mappings. Such agencies shall ensure that no child is subjected to caste, class, religious or gender abuse at school.

Local authorities will conduct household surveys and maintain a record of all children in their jurisdiction. The record will contain detailed information on children and their parents, and will specify whether they belong to weaker sections or disadvantaged group, or have a disability.

The state government or local authority will identify children with disabilities and children from disadvantaged groups every year. Unaided and private schools shall ensure that children from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups shall not be segregated from other children in the classroom, nor shall their classes be held in places and timings different from classes held for the other children.

Such children shall not be treated differently from the rest of the children in any manner pertaining to entitlements and facilities like textbooks, uniforms, library, ICT facilities, extra-curricular activities and sports, the rules say.

The school management committee or local authority will identify drop-outs or out-of-school children above six years of age and admit them in classes appropriate to their age after special training. The duration of the training shall be for three months and can be extended to two years. After admission, these children will continue to receive special attention by teachers for their successful integration into the class “academically and emotionally,” the rules say.

The state government and local authorities will establish primary schools within a walking distance of 1 km from the neighbourhood. In case of Class VI to VIII children, the school should be within a walking distance of 3 km from the neighbourhood.

Private schools will reserve 25% of their seats for poor children, and provide free education to them. The government will reimburse the cost according to the per-child expenditure fixed by it.

The rules prescribe a formula to calculate per-child expenditure. The annual recurring expenditure incurred by the state government on elementary education in respect to all schools established, owned or controlled by it or by the local authority, divided by the total number of children enrolled in all such schools, shall be the per-child expenditure.

In the absence of schools in small hamlets, the state government shall make adequate arrangements like free transportation and residential facilities. For physically challenged children, the state government will make arrangement for their smooth transport and schooling.

The states are now expected to draw up their own rules based on these model rules for implementation of the Act.

However, many organisations like the All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE), which has been concerned over the rapidly deteriorating state of the education system from the pre-primary stage to higher and technical education, are critical of the RTE Act.

“It is designed to enable the state to abdicate its constitutional obligation towards providing elementary education (Class I-VIII) of equitable quality to all children in the 6-14-year age-group,” the Forum has said in a press release issued in New Delhi recently.

Primary objections to the RTE Act 2009 include:

  • It will demolish the entire government school system except schools in certain elite categories (for example, kendriya vidyalayas, navodaya vidyalayas, the Eleventh Plan’s 6,000 model schools, and similar elite schools of states/UT governments).
  • The Act will provide neither free education nor education of equitable quality. Rather, it will legitimise and maintain the multi-layered school system built through the World Bank’s District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) during the 1990s, and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the current decade.
  • The central agenda of the Act is clearly to privatise and commercialise the school system through neo-liberal schemes such as public private partnerships (PPPs), school vouchers, adoption of schools by corporate houses, religious bodies and NGOs.

The Forum wants the government to replace the RTE ACT 2009 with a new Act drafted in the framework of a ‘common school system based on neighbourhood schools’ in consonance with the basic spirit and principles enshrined in the Constitution, and review the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act (2002) with a view to providing the fundamental right to free and compulsory education of equitable quality to all children until the age of 18, that is, until Class XII, including early childhood care and pre-primary education.

Moreover, it wants the government to incorporate a constitutional guarantee within the Act for providing adequate funding to the entire school system, including early childhood care and pre-primary education.

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