Tardy progress

There are serious problems in the implementation of the Right to Education Act in all the states of the country.The Act, which makes all children aged between 6 and 14 entitled to free and compulsory education, was notified in April 2010. But its enforcement is shoddy and uneven and there are large numbers of complaints about lack of compliance with the provisions of the law from all over the country. The complaints come from people who are aware of the right and find violations of the law. But the majority of the people are unaware of the law. The number of complaints would have been manifold if they knew that their children’s rights are being denied. Since schools are going to reopen in the next few weeks and this is the peak admission time, it is necessary to address the problems urgently.

A review meeting held by the human resources development ministry last week has decided to evolve procedures to address the complaints. Most complaints relate to denial of admission, prejudiced admission procedures, demand for capitation fees, poor quality of teaching,  absence of schools in accessible areas and lack of teachers and physical infrastructure. Some of these problems should have been addressed in the past few months but some others like the admission problems can still be sorted out. One important complaint relates to the 25 per cent quota for economically weaker sections in private schools. Many schools are unwilling to implement the provision and some have even incited parents to oppose it on objectionable grounds. The fee compensation scheme in the case of such students  is being disputed. But the refusal of some school managements to admit poor students on grounds of difference in family backgrounds and alleged learning disabilities are more serious and should be handled strictly.

The ministry has decided to make the grievance redressal mechanism more accessible to people. The mechanism does not exist in some states. Redressal  bodies should function effectively at the lowest levels like panchayats. There is a proposal to put in place a malpractices law which can better handle violations of the RTE Act.  While this may be considered, the present focus should be on using the powers which are already available. Wider dissemination of the rights under the Act, especially in the educationally and economically backward areas,  is necessary.  Non-government organisations and others interested in education should also be involved in the awareness programme.

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