March 31 was not merely the end of a financial year, but also of a deadline.
If the deadline for the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) law was anything to go by, all children between the ages of six and 14 should have been in school. Also, all forms of screening for admission should have become redundant, capitation fee should have been a thing of the past and disabled children should have got equal opportunity to study.
But sadly, this deadline too suffered the same fate as many government deadlines do — they pass without anything much being accomplished.
Take for instance the case of eight-year Raghu, who stays in a south Delhi government school all day. He doesn’t study there but instead runs small errands for teachers and passes on the principal’s messages. A child of migrant labourers, who are building a new structure for the school, Raghu is a glaring example of how government apathy has failed the RTE.
A law that mandates the government to ensure free and compulsory education for all is not new to the country. The Constitution, framed in 1950, said in Article 45, “The State shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of this Constitution, free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 years.” A court decision in 1993 made the right to education a fundamental right. The RTE Act was finally passed in 2009.
Yet, the situation on the ground remains bleak. Recent reports by NGOs and government agencies acknowledge the large number of children out of school. They also talk about the lack of drinking water and toilets and unhealthy student-teacher ratio in government schools across the country.
Ironically, most people equate RTE with nursery admission under EWS category, which is not even part of the Act.
“The Act talks about increasing accountability, improving infrastructure, getting parents involved with school management and bringing kids to school. It has sections that can help even middle and upper middle classes,” said Saurabh Sharma, member, JOSH, an NGO that works in the field of education at the grassroots.
The Act has provisions for banning capitation fee and screening, a problem several parents face if they have to get their kids admitted to classes 2 to 8. The Act also mandates the formation of school management committees to ensure greater participation of the parents in the school.