Right to Education: A Small Victory
Vinod Raina, 14 April, 2012
It is a comment on our times that a fairly small obligation on the private and minority schools under the Right to Education (RtE) Act should have led to such an intense national debate - it only highlights how far we have diverged from our national goals from the time of our independence.
Had the Act provided for a true Common School System (CSS), with obligations on the private schools to provide free education to any child in its neighbourhood without reimbursement from the government, and the Supreme Court had upheld that, that would have been reason to rejoice. But the CSS found no support in the Standing Committee or the floor of the Parliament. The 25% obligation was therefore the best that could be extracted from the socio-political system, for at least some degree of social inclusion and integration. But as happened, this too was opposed tooth and nail - including by human right lawyers like Rajeev Dhawan who joined the battery of corporate lawyers engaged by the private schools.
This ruling has made a small dent in the immunity sought by the private schools under article 19, and the minority schools under article 30 of the Constitution; by upholding the obligation of the private schools and by maintaining that aided minority institutions will continue to be under the ambit of RtE, since it flows from a fundamental right. Sadly, the unaided minority schools have been exempted - this implies that children in these schools have been denied the rights and entitlements that other children shall enjoy. Though their number is small, it is still unjust to them. I also feel glad that the Chief Justice voiced what I have maintained all through this debate - that the Act is about the right of the child, and not about the right of the institution the child is receiving education in.
I hope that with this behind us, focus will return to the substantial issues under the Act dealing with children in government schools (nearly 80%), out of school children, children without shelter and homes and migrating children, and issues regarding teacher quality and transaction in the classrooms for enhanced learning.