Free education for kids compulsory

Parliament passes historic bill; Sibal allays fund fears

 Described as “historic” by majority of members in Parliament, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill has made it obligatory on the part of the state governments to provide free elementary education to children in the 6-14 age group.

There will be no board exams for them. For the disabled children, the upper age limit for receiving free education has been relaxed till 18 years. The bill will now go to President Pratibha Patil for her assent before becoming law.

The concept of neighbourhood schools would be enforced by the state governments in tandem with local areas, districts and panchayats.

All schools will ensure that 25 per cent seats are reserved for “ the disadvantaged groups”, including minorities and physically and mentally disabled children. The provisions of the bill ensure that elementary education would be imparted, to the extent possible, in the mother tongue. The expenses for providing free education would be borne by the Centre and states with a helping hand from the private sector. The new measure does away with the need for school leaving certificate for admission to another school.

The bill also seeks to do away with the practice of schools taking capitation fees before admission and subjecting the child or parents screening procedures. Sibal said it would be up to the states to implement the policy of reservation in admissions.

Uniform standard

The minister said there were four categories of schools in the country — government schools, government-aided schools, specialised schools (Sainik schools etc) and private schools. The passage of the bill would now bring uniform standard of education in all the four categories, he said.

Sibal added state governments would ensure the availability of quality teachers. If the teachers are not well-oriented they would be given a maximum of five years to train themselves. A ‘recognition authority’ would be set up by the state governments to decide on the criteria to recognise schools within three years.

The civil society would participate in running the schools. The school management committees, which would prepare the development plans, would have 50 per cent representation for women, the minister announced.

On shouldering the burden of free elementary education, Sibal said the Finance Commission would give an estimate of the expenditure. The expenditure would be divided in the ratio of 65:35, and if any state finds it difficult to raise funds, the matter would be referred to the commission.

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