It was a showpiece legislation when it was launched by the UPA government in 2009. The Right to Education, many hoped, would ensure a decent level of primary education to those who cannot afford expensive private education. The scheme started with much fanfare, but in a few years, reports started coming out that while enrolment in schools has shot up (almost 99% now), the quality of education has not kept pace. In the last 10 years, the 10th Annual Status of Education Report says, the overall situation with basic reading continues to be extremely “disheartening” in the country.
The reasons are: Lack of adequate infrastructure, severe shortage of well-trained teachers and poor institutional support for teachers’ professional development. As if these problems were not enough, a new Centre-backed survey has revealed that around 60 lakh children between the ages of six and 13 years are out of school in the country.
Alarmingly, 50% of them are from SC and ST communities and 36% are from Other Backward Classes. At 77%, a majority of out-of-school children are from rural areas. Besides, 15.57 lakh Muslim children are also out of school, comprising 25% unschooled children. The staggering data shows that despite all efforts, many children are not able to exercise their right to education. One reason is economic, of course. Poor parents often take their wards to work and they miss out on school. Another case in point can be of migrants’ children, who hardly get to stay at one place.
Now, the proposed amendment to the Child Labour (prohibition) Act, which will be placed in Parliament any day now, will leave the door open for large-scale use of child labour by legitimising their work in households, purportedly outside school hours and during vacations. Girls, Dalits and OBC children will be the worst sufferers as a majority of child labourers are recruited from these social groups. Muslims and other marginalised communities are also forced into low-grade employment due to their low educational attainments. This amendment will also run against the NDA government’s Beti Bachao Andolan. Meanwhile, getting children to school is just one part of the battle, the larger battle is to retain and educate them well. On this, all indices show that India has been failing its children, especially the poor and marginalised.