RTE 2008 : Snatching, Not Guaranteeing Right to Education

- Anil Sadgopal

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, 2008 introduced in Rajya Sabha does little to improve universal access to quality education for children. Rooted in neo-liberal ideology rather than in the Indian Constitution, the Bill treats education as a marketable commodity and not a fundamental right. The present Bill has been introduced under the 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002), Article 21 (a), an Amendment which itself was a product of neoliberal intervention. Remember that the Unnikrishnan verdict by the Supreme Court in 1993 established free and compulsory education for children up to 14 years of age (including children under 6 years of age) as a fundamental right under Article 45 of the Constitution. The 86th Amendment, introduced precisely to snatch away this right provided by the Unnikrishnan verdict: 
a)     It snatched away the access to nutritious food, health and pre-primary schooling to about 17 crore children of under 6 years of age
b)     Unlike in the case of any other fundamental right, it leaves it to the Government to frame the law to decide the form of the fundamental right to free and compulsory education for children between 6-14 years of age. This will allow the State to legitimize the distortions of DPEP and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan as law. Otherwise, we could have appealed to the courts that the stratified and poor-quality education violates the Constitutional fundamental right to education.
If the Bill presented in the Rajya Sabha is passed in its present form it will have the following consequences:
a) The stratified and discriminatory educational system will remain
b) Majority of Indian children will continue to receive poor quality and uninteresting schooling, as a result of which more than 50% of them will continue to drop out before the 8th standard
c) Based on the standards prescribed in the Bill and NUEPA’s data (Elementary Education in India - Progress Towards UEE: Analytical Report, 2006-2007, NUEPA, New Delhi, 2008), we can say that the Bill will only maintain or further lower the existing standards of education. Examples of this are:
i) At least 37% primary schools will remain with only 2 rooms and 2 teachers. As a result the practice of one teacher teaching more than one class of students in the same classroom at the same time will continue. This fate will be shared by another 17% primary schools with 3 rooms and 3 teachers. About 12% primary schools will have 4 rooms and 4 teachers. Bahu-kakshayi adhyapan The practice of teaching more than one class in one room, introduced under DPEP  and Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan (SSA) will still continue in about 2/3rd primary schools.
ii) In approximately 75% primary schools, no new head teachers will be appointed

Move to Scuttle Constitutional Provision of Reservation

The UPA Government, in a shameful move, tabled and passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Reservation in Posts and services) 2008 Bill on the last day of the Rajya Sabha session in December 2008. The Bill proposed to scrap reservation at the faculty level for the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs in institutions of ‘national importance’.
This is a move for which directors of IITs, IIMs and other sections peddling casteism in the name of ‘meritocracy’ had been lobbying for long. If the bill were to have been passed, 47 institutes, including seven IITs, the seven IIMs, AMU, Allahabad University, AIIMS, NITs, Jawaharlal Institute of Post Graduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry, BHU, DU, Visva Bharati, Victoria Memorial, National Library, and the Indian Museum, would have been exempt from implementing faculty reservation. As it is, even central universities have an abysmal track record of implementing faculty quotas – it is apparent that it is discrimination, not the ‘lack of merit’ in applicants, that is the cause of such a state of affairs. The Bill would have sanctified this shocking denial of rights into law.

Facing a furore of criticism, the Government has now been forced to announce that the offending provisions seeking to do away with faculty quota will be deleted from the Bill. The Bill revealed the real attitude of the UPA Government towards social justice and education too.

iii) The bill recommends that teacher-student ratio in primary/middle schools must be maintained at 1:35. Whereas in most such schools the ratio is already better, ranging from 1:34 to 1:29. If the Bill is enacted, will teachers in these schools be transferred to comply with the prescribed norm? 
d) The Permanent Cadre of government trained teachers will be replaced by qualification-less, poorly-trained and ill-paid para-teachers working on contract basis
e) The cadre of teachers will be divided since state governments will be free to decide wages and service rules for teachers based on their whims and fancies
f) Teachers in government schools will continue to be sent off on election/census/disaster duty. During this time, their classes are left unattended while regular classes continue in private schools. This discriminatory policy will receive legal justification.
g) In those states where some laws exist to monitor and regulate private schools, the private schools lobby, in the wake of the Bill being enacted, will bring greater pressure on State governments to scrap such laws. Such schools will be free to charge fees as they please.
h) A seemingly liberal provision in the Bill provides free schooling for poor children in 25% of the seats in private schools. The caveat is, however, that ‘free’ schooling does not mean waiver of the entire tuition fees. The Government will provide only the average amount spent on each child at government schools. The Bill does not spell out what will happen in case the fees of private schools are greater than the amount provided by the Government. Moreover, this waiver does not cover other kinds of fees like on uniforms, extra-curricular activities etc. Thirdly, this facility will be withdrawn in 8th standard. There are 19 crore poor children in the age group 6-14 years who lack education – can this provision of 25% reservation in any way solve this problem? At present there are about 4 crore children enrolled in private schools – let us assume that according to the 25% provision, 1 crore children will be accommodated in these schools. Will the remaining 18 crore be condemned to poor quality education?   
i) The bill also seemingly provides safeguards against capitation fees and screening of parents before admitting their ward. But this only covers capitation fees charged against a receipt. What about the money demanded under the table? Further, the Bill has no provisions to regulate and limit fees charged by private schools; so the lack of ‘capitation’ fees can be made up through exorbitant fees! The provision’s against parents’ screening does carry some weight; but we must remember that how the safeguards provided by the Delhi High Court continue to be manipulated by private school, and elimination and discrimination in admissions continues. The Bill has no answer to this problem. Actually, such discrimination can end only when each child is guaranteed good-quality schooling and each school is declared to be a ‘neighbourhood school’ on the lines of schools in the US and some European countries. 
j) Pre-primary education is a crucial aspect of a child’s development. The government has not involved itself so far and as a result this is area is almost completely under the control of private players. This Bill leaves this matter to the ‘good intentions’ of State Governments, and does not make it in any way enforceable.
k) The Bill provides that no child will be evaluated as ‘failed’ up till 8th standard. However, this is hardly an effective solution to the dropout rate, which can be remedied only by providing schools with a child friendly environment where learning is interesting and motivating. How will stratified schools and schools dependent on para teachers provide such an environment? 
l) No financial statement is attached with the Bill. The amazing reason provided for this gap is that it is not possible to estimate the expenditure required to implement this law. Can the government which coule not even come up with a budget estimate in the last 3 years, be serious about implementing the Bill? But the truth is otherwise. Actually, the fund estimate was prepared in 2008 and approved by the Planning Commission and MHRD, and passed on to the Ministerial Secretariat. Why has it been kept under wraps? The only reason is that if made public, it would reveal several expenses (such as wages for parateachers) which would expose the Bill’s bluff.
m) According to the Indian Constitution, Fundamental Rights are those rights upon whose violation one can approach the judiciary and file a case against the government. But in an extraordinary provision in this Bill, in case of complaints against violations by private schools, one must first seek the permission of an authorized government officer. In other words, the Government will continue to protect the powerful private schools. Further, the Bill states that in case there is a violation of rights or provisions by an officer has happened “in spite of good will and good intentions,” no case can be filed against the said officer! If this is not a crude joke with the idea of the very definition of ‘fundamental right,’ what is?
There are many other questions that can be posed to the Indian State that has, after a long wait of 60 years, given us this caricature of the fundamental right to education; also to the Bill’s supporters – the non-governmental proponents, corporate houses, media peddling marketisation; and international funding agencies. We must urgently launch a campaign to expose this Bill as a piece of proposed legislation that intends to snatch the fundamental right to education, not guarantee it.

(The above commentary is based on a translation of excerpts of an interview with Prof. Anil Sadgopal, published in Hindi.)