Right act


Parliament’s adoption of the Right to Education Bill could prove to be an important turning point in India’s struggle to achieve universal literacy. If acted upon with sincerity, the legislation could result in a dramatic improvement in literacy levels in the country. The bill, which will become law after the President signs it, gives all children between the ages of 6 and 14 years the right to education. Until they reach class VIII, children will not be failed or held back. The legislation makes it incumbent on the government to provide free education in neighbourhood schools. Within three years of the commencement of the Act, state governments are expected to have established a school in every neighbourhood. The legislation not only makes education a right but also reforms the system in the country. It requires the government and civil society to pitch in to make the exercise of this right to education possible. After all what is the point of having a right to education if our children do not have schools providing quality education?

The journey to the enactment of legislation on the Right to Education has been a long one. It was a hotly debated issue in the Constituent Assembly but free and compulsory education was included in the section on Directive Principles and not as a Fundamental Right. In 2002 it was made a fundamental right. It is now on the brink of entering the statute books. The big challenge lies ahead. Both, the government and civil society need to work together to make its provisions a reality. There are issues in the bill that need clarification. One is the issue of who, state governments or the Centre is going to bear the financial burden. There was some concern that differently-abled children were excluded. Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal has clarified that they are included under disadvantaged groups and therefore entitled to the reservation in schools to which disadvantaged groups have a right.

This is not a perfect piece of legislation. Neither does it tackle the many ills in the education system. Its failure to include children in the 3-6 and 15-18 age groups, for instance, needs to be tackled. Yet, the legislation is an important milestone. It has the potential to usher in a more literate and equal society.

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