Education: A point manifestos missed out

Last Updated 17 April 2014, 16:40 IST

The out-of-school child has several diverse forces to fight against and be contended with.
Five years since the law on Right to Education was passed (on April 1, 2009), has it enabled all children to be enrolled and retained in school? This is an issue that all political parties need to give thought to in their manifestoes.

As per a Child Rights & You (CRY) study in 2013, 40 per cent of children in the country still fail to complete eight years of compulsory education. The out-of-school child (OOSC) has not only her household’s economic, social and cultural circumstances to fight against to be able to go to school, but ironically, she has several other diverse forces to contend with, which are allegedly working in her best interest.

Firstly, the question is raised whether a child who does not want to go to school, can be forced by the state to attend school. But is such a freedom to stay out of school given to any child under any other country’s law on compulsory education? It is universally understood that ‘compulsory education’ means ‘compulsion on a child to undergo education’ as it is in public good. However, here it is generally understood as ‘compulsion on the state’ and not on the child.

Another argument is that if only the school is good, all children would voluntarily come to school. While there can be no dispute that schools need to be of good quality, a good school may not be sufficient for ensuring that all children are in school if parents are keeping their children out of school for economic or other reasons.

Others assert that the solution to OOSC lies in ‘persuasion’ of parents to send their children to school. They fear that having a government official as an attendance authority  - who is given protocols for ensuring attendance of all children, (including provision of needed assistance to parents, which is the norm elsewhere) - criminalises parents and children.

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Those proposing a quality school or persuasion of parents as panaceas for OOSC also need to show how many neighbourhoods have achieved 100 per cent enrolment and retention of children by these measures alone. Also, what is their remedy, if these measures fail to bring the OOSC to school?   Again, can they cite any other country’s law which relies only on a quality school and persuasion of parents to ensure compulsory education of children?

Then there are some who argue that given the extent of poverty, it is inevitable for children to work. Thus, banning child labour and forcing such children to go to formal schools is a violation of their right to livelihood, they assert. Is it the stand of the above child rights champions that until all schools attain quality, all parents yield to persuasion and all poverty is removed from the nation, these children can continue to remain out of school even though education is their fundamental right?

If poverty is the cause of OOSC, Article 18 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that states “shall render appropriate assistance to parents .... in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities.” Yet several officials argue that payment of cash incentives to parents to keep children in school is money down the drain. But paying the conditional cash incentive now to educate the child is like giving her a fishing rod which will enable her to come out of poverty by herself, failing which the state will have to give her fish for the rest of her life as she will remain poor and illiterate and require subsidised food, shelter, clothing, etc., from the state.

If cash incentives too are not to be given or do not help then how is the child to be brought into a learning situation? In cases where parents are unable to fulfil the rights of their children, Articles 9, 19 and 20 of the UNCRC permit States to take charge of the child in her best interest and provide her alternative care in a suitable institution, such as a free residential school. But there is opposition to that too here by those who cry that such measures are undemocratic, against our culture and ‘Hitler-like’. Are they saying then that staying out of school is in the best interest of the child?

Since India has ratified the UNCRC, it is duty-bound to incorporate the provisions of Articles 9, 18, 19 and 20 into its laws. It is high time we did it too since we are one of the worst laggards where child rights are concerned. But those iterating ad nauseam that ensuring compulsory education is a ‘state responsibility’ never explain how it is to be actualised. A herculean task for the state indeed to reconcile all these diverse standpoints and still see that the out-of-school child somehow ends up in school! What solutions do our political parties have for this in their manifestos?

(Published 17 April 2014, 16:40 IST)

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