The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which was passed by the Indian Parliament on 4 August 2009, describes the modalities of the provision of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. The Act came into force on 1 April 2010 and India became one of the 135 countries which have made education a fundamental right of every child.
The Act is the enabling legislation to notify the 86th Constitutional Amendment passed by Parliament in December 2002 that specified the need for a legislation to describe the mode of implementation of education as a fundamental right. This necessitated the drafting of a separate Education Bill. The rough draft of the bill was composed in year 2005. It received much opposition due to its mandatory provision to provide 25 per cent reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools.
The sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education which prepared the draft Bill held this provision as a significant prerequisite for creating a democratic and egalitarian society. The Indian Law Commission had initially proposed 50 per cent reservation for disadvantaged students in private schools.
After the bill was approved by the Cabinet on 2 July 2009, the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha passed the bill on 20 July 2009 and 4 August 2009 respectively. It was notified as law on 3 Sept 2009 as The Children’s Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act after it received Presidential assent. The law came into effect in the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1 April 2010 through a speech by the Prime Minister. It was the first time in the history of India that a law was brought into force by a speech by the Prime Minister.
In his speech, Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, stated: “We are committed to ensuring that all children, irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education. (We are committed to) an education that enables them to acquire the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes necessary to become responsible and active citizens of India.”
Besides making education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 to 14, the Act specifies minimum norms in government schools. It requires the reservation of 25 per cent of places in private schools for children from poor families, prohibits unrecognized schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.
Under the Act, the Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age has also been made a fundamental right. The Act 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 and faculty are made in the Act. There must be at least one teacher for 30 students and there must be involvement of students’ parents in school’s administration.
It is estimated that the implementation of the Act would cost ? 1.78 trillion or 1.78 lakh crore for the initial five years. The cost would be shared in the ratio of 65 to 35 between the Central Government and the states, and a ratio of 90 to 10 for the north-eastern states. However, the task of implementing and enforcing the law will be in the hands of state governments.
Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal termed the Act a “national enterprise that would help shape India’s future”. The legislation would not only ensure every child’s right to education, but puts the obligation on the government to impart it. The law would not interfere with the various state governments attempts to provide elementary education. On the medium of instruction, there is a provision to provide elementary education, as far as possible, in the mother tongue of the child. The law would ensure that the child got free, compulsory and quality education by qualified teachers.
As the curriculum would be less rigorous, it would ensure all-round development of children. On infrastructure, there is a provision for establishing recognition authority in every State under which all schools would have to fulfill the minimum requirement of infrastructure within three years. Otherwise, they would lose recognition. Similarly appointment of teachers had to be approved by the academic committee.
The law has come as a boon to India and is expected to be a big boost to children’s education as out of every 100 children attending elementary school only 12 reached the graduation level compared to the global average of 27. In Europe it was 50-70 students reaching college from the elementary level. The HRD Ministry expects that the law would increase India’s average to 15 by 2012 and to 30-35 by 2020.