The reality of the Right to Education Act

Under the garb of a ‘fundamental right’, India’s education system is being made even more discriminatory and class divided, giving in to the ‘right’ demanded by capitalists to make profits from every sphere of social activity, including education.  The real aim underlying the RTE Act is to fulfil capitalist greed – not the fundamental right of all workers, peasants and their sons and daughters.

One year after the RTE Act was implemented on 1st April, 2010, the Government of India has revealed its true intentions behind the law – to principally cater to the demands of the capitalist market, without worrying about equality or justice.

Thumping their desks one afternoon late in 2009, Indian Parliamentarians passed a law that claims to makes free and compulsory schooling the right of every child between the age of 6 and 14. 

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, popularly known as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, aims to legally enforce a Constitutional Amendment in 2002 making schooling a part of the charter of fundamental rights.  But the right – which the government is advertising as representative of its great social commitment – is far from fundamental in reality.

The Act makes sure that citizens need to navigate through myriad caveats and depend for justice on the very bureaucracy and power centres that have denied education all these years. Sample section 36 of the RTE Act for instance, specifies that the approval of a special government officer is required for prosecution to proceed against any government official or private school administrator for alleged violations.  

Unlike every other fundamental right, denying a child between 6-14 schooling is not automatically illegal. It is illegal only if the violation is contrary to the provisions of the RTE Act. This is why, despite the Constitutional Amendment in 2002, children had no right to education until 1st April, 2010.

The RTE Act – in the form in which it was passed by Parliament – started by ignoring demands for a common public schooling system, the bedrock of schooling as a fundamental right employed by many of the advanced industrial countries of the world. In Britain, for instance, 95 % secondary school students go to common public schools – with the same curricula, standards and fees. 

In India, standards of education and infrastructure at most publicly funded schools have been driven down by conscious neglect, while private schools – which charge fees beyond the reach of many working class Indians – have been encouraged to expand.

Several educationists consulted during the drafting of the RTE Act told the government that common, public-funded schooling was the only way to ensure quality education for all. The suggestion was dismissed on grounds that common schooling would violate the rights of private schools under the Constitution.  But the same government – which was concerned about the rights of private schools – has over the past year gone about dismantling those pillars of the RTE Act that were aimed at ensuring equal rights for all children at these same schools.

The RTE Act, in the form in which it was passed by Parliament and notified on April 1, 2010, barred any school for conducting screening of students during admissions except through a random, lottery process.  This meant that a private school would have to place all admission applications for class 1 in a box, and randomly pick out applications based on the number of available seats. Violation meant a hefty fine and the risk of de-recognition.

Under pressure from top private schools, the government has introduced notifications modifying the implications of the Act. The notifications allow each private school to decide the parameters on which they want to pick students, thereby eliminating all others. Schools can also decide to set aside quotas for alumni wards, girls, and seats based on the management’s whims. All they need to do is ensure that within each category – which the school has decided – students are admitted based on a random selection process.

In effect, private schools can therefore continue admitting students the way they have been – even though this process works contrary to the interests of lakhs of working parents who cannot afford pay donations or use connections to win a management quota seat.  The private schools have also challenged in the Supreme Court another clause of the RTE Act that requires them to create or set aside 25 % seats for economically weak students. The most elite among the private schools – the major boarding schools – do not even need to worry about that. The government is planning to exempt them altogether from the 25% economically weaker quota.

Alongside the RTE Act, the Central Government has introduced a grand plan for vocationalising secondary and senior secondary education.  The aim of this plan is to divert significant numbers of students into skills that capitalists in modern industry and specialized services desperately needs hands for.

The Central Government, through its actions, is ensuring that children of the working class find it hard to access the same quality of education as the children of the capitalists and other propertied classes, but are instead trained to be good mechanics, plumbers, nurses, etc. 

Under the garb of a ‘fundamental right’, India’s education system is being made even more discriminatory and class divided, giving in to the ‘right’ demanded by capitalists to make profits from every sphere of social activity, including education.  The real aim underlying the RTE Act is to fulfil capitalist greed – not the fundamental right of all workers, peasants and their sons and daughters.

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