A game-changer

All children need to get equal opportunities.

The Supreme Court’s judgment upholding the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act has cleared all hurdles for the implementation of the important law. While the principle of universal and compulsory education for children in the 6-14 age group had well been accepted, the challenge to the law had arisen from the mandate for reservation of 25 per cent seats for poor and neighbourhood children in private unaided schools. By ruling that that denial of admission to a poor child would amount to a violation of the rights to life and free speech and expression and clarifying that the implementation of the reservation principle would not infringe on the right to establish and administer an educational institution, the court has removed all misgivings about the legality of the measure. Only unaided minority institutions would now be exempt from the purview of the law.

The opposition of some private school managements was based on the wrong notion that admission to poorer students, who are mistakenly considered backward in academics too, would lower the standards in schools and rob them of their reputation as centres of excellence. There was also the unstated apprehension about the desirability of the mixing of students from the lower strata of society with those from the higher strata. These notions are wrong because an inclusive class room, which is representative of society, would only help to improve the character of all students and make them  better citizens. It will also give better opportunities for poorer students and raise academic standards across the schools. It is not just the law, but equity and justice also demand that all children are treated as equals and given equal opportunities.

Though the law came into effect on April 1, 2010, its implementation has been slipshod and uneven across the country. With the last hurdle now removed the government must ensure that it comes into full force immediately. The court has directed that it must come into effect from the next academic year. The excuse that the admission process for the coming year has been completed cannot be accepted. The government also has the huge task of building the necessary infrastructure and recruiting teachers in sufficient numbers to cope with the challenge. The monitoring mechanism, envisaged under the law, should also be efficient and effective. When implemented properly, the law will be a game-changer for education, which is the most important basis for development and nation-building.

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