Article 21-A of the Constitution makes education a fundamental right. It states that every child of the age of 6 to 14 years shall have a right to free and compulsory education.
This act has made it mandatory for schools to reserve 25% of their seats for disadvantaged groups. It also prohibits discrimination in education on the basis of caste, religion and economic status.
Free and Compulsory Education
The government has promised free and compulsory education for children from the age of 6 to 14. The policy also aims to promote the development of all sections of society by educating marginalized groups. This is accomplished through the development of a single educational system and platform for all sections of society, with an emphasis on quality.
Education is considered a fundamental right in India. This was the result of a series of events including India’s participation in the World Conference on Education for All, ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pressure from different social and political sources, such as civil society and grassroots campaigns. The Acharya Ramamurti Committee report in 1990 and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Unnikrishnan case both contributed to making FCE a legal claim.
In 2002, the 86th Amendment to the Constitution inserted Article 21A and made Education a fundamental right for all citizens. This was followed by the Right to Education Act in 2009, which makes it mandatory for the state to ensure access to education for children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. The RTE Act lays down specific responsibilities for the centre and states, as well as parents and guardians and schools. This law also imposes penalties on those who fail to send their children to school.
In 2009, the Government of India enacted The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (hereafter RTE) which makes education a fundamental right for children. This legislation sets out a notional social contract that places responsibility for securing this right on various state actors, local authorities, parents and schools. It also specifies norms and standards for schooling, including pupil teacher ratios (PTR), buildings and infrastructure, teaching days and teacher working hours.
Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether the government can meet its obligations to ensure quality education. Although the Act provides for monitoring and accountability, there are many problems that hamper implementation. The main issues are the lack of funding, inadequate teachers and poor school facilities. The RTE Act also places an excessive burden on states and local governments, who are not able to shoulder the financial costs.
It is essential to prioritise education in order to fulfil children’s rights to freedom, equality and security. However, it is not enough to increase access to formal education. Equally important is the quality of education – one that helps children become literate and numerate, enjoy learning, and feel included in society. Access to quality education can only be guaranteed if all actors involved – central and state government, local bodies and the private sector – work together in an effective way.
Access to Education
Education can be a powerful instrument for poverty alleviation and social re-engineering. However, there are barriers to access that work together and exclude many children from schooling. These barriers are both sociocultural and economic. They include issues of caste, religion and gender that prevent poor children from enrolling in schools. They also include issues of class and sector (urban vs rural) and income inequality. In addition, the cost of education can often be prohibitive.
The RTE Act has helped to reduce these barriers and provide greater access to schooling for all children. It has set minimum norms for student-teacher ratio, classroom sizes and sanitation facilities. It also requires private schools to reserve 25% of seats for economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups which will be reimbursed by the state. It also ensures that students cannot be discriminated against or harassed during the admission process and forbids the charging of donation fees. It also makes it compulsory for schools to have basic infrastructure facilities such as a building, playground, library and toilets.
Research has shown that the RTE Act has had a positive impact on the quality of education in India. In particular, it has shifted the focus from teacher-centered approaches to learning to child-centered methods. This has led to a more holistic approach to teaching and better learning outcomes. It has also resulted in a more inclusive system of education that takes into account the needs of all children, including those with disabilities.
The right to education is a fundamental human right recognised and upheld at international level through various conventions and treaties. However, it is up to the State to decide how they will uphold and give force to this fundamental right as it depends on their economy, power, capacity and development.
The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act 2002 inserted Article 21-A in part III of the Indian Constitution envisaging the fundamental right to free and compulsory education for children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. It is a constitutional obligation of the State to ensure that all children of the country have access to education and no child should be deprived of this right for financial reasons.
Consequently, the right to education is guaranteed through the National Policy on Education and other relevant legislations like the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). This Act provides for improvements in school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio, and faculty as well as requiring private schools to reserve 25% of seats for EWS students and disadvantaged groups.
The idea behind the RTE Act is to set up schools within easy reach of rural communities in order to provide education to all children. This is not a new concept as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan initiative began in the 1990s and the RTE Act simply takes it further. Nevertheless, it is important to realise that the normative and idealized social contract underlying such expressions of a ‘mutual’ responsibility can reproduce injustice.