The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE), which was passed by the Indian parliament on 4 August 2009, describes the modalities of the provision of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010.
The present Act has its history in the drafting of the Indian constitution at the time of Independence but are more specifically to the Constitutional Amendment that included the Article 21A in the Indian constitution making Education a fundamental Right. This amendment, however, specified the need for a legislation to describe the mode of implementation of the same which necessitated the drafting of a separate Education Bill. The rough draft of the bill was composed in year 2005. It received much opposition due to its mandatory provision to provide 25% reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools. The sub-committee of the Central Advisory Board of Education which prepared the draft Bill held this provision as a significant prerequisite for creating a democratic and egalitarian society. Indian Law commission had initially proposed 50% reservation for disadvantaged students in private schools.
The bill was approved by the cabinet on 2 July 2009. Rajya Sabha passed the bill on 20 July 2009 and the Lok Sabha on 4 August 2009. It received Presidential assent and was notified as law on 3 Sept 2009 as The Children's Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. The law came into effect in the whole of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1 April 2010, the first time in the history of India a law was brought into force by a speech by the Prime Minister. In his speech, Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister of India stated that, "We are committed to ensuring that all children, irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education. An education that enables them to acquire the skills, knowledge, values and attitudes necessary to become responsible and active citizens of India."
The Act makes education a fundamental right of every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and specifies minimum norms in government schools. It requires all private schools to reserve 25% of seats to children from poor families (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan). It also prohibits all unrecognized schools from practice, and makes provisions for no donation or capitation fees and no interview of the child or parent for admission. The Act also provides that no child shall be held back, expelled, or required to pass a board examination until the completion of elementary education. There is also a provision for special training of school drop-outs to bring them up to par with students of the same age.
The RTE act requires surveys that will monitor all neighbourhoods, identify children requiring education, and set up facilities for providing it. The World Bank education specialist for India, Sam Carlson, has observed:
The RTE Act is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of ensuring enrollment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents' responsibility to send the children to schools in the U.S. ad other countries.
The Right to Education of persons with disabilities until 18 years of age has also been made a fundamental right. A number of other provisions regarding improvement of school infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and faculty are made in the Act.
The Act provides for a special organization, the National Council for the Protection of Child Rights, an autonomous body set up in 2007, to monitor the implementation of the act, together with Commissions to be set up by the states.
In the Indian constitution, education comes under the purview of the states, and the act has made state and local bodies accountable for the implementation. The states have been clamouring that these bodies do not have the financial capacity to implement all the schools needed for universal education. Thus it was clear that the central government (which collects most of the revenue) will be required to subsidize the states.
A committee set up to study the funds requirement and funding initially estimated that Rs 171,000 crores or 1.71 trillion (US$38.2 billion) would be required in the next five years to implement the Act, and in April 2010 the central government agreed to sharing the funding for implementing the law in the ratio of 65 to 35 between the centre and the states, and a ratio of 90 to 10 for the north-eastern states. However, in mid 2010, this figure was upgraded to Rs. 231,000 crores, and the center agreed to raise its share to 68%. There is some confusion on this, with other media reports stating that the centre's share of the implementation expenses would now be 70%. At that rate, most states may not need to increase their education budgets substantially.
It has been pointed out that the RTE act is not new. Universal adult franchise in the constitution was opposed since most of the population was illiterate. Article 45 in the Constitution of India was set up as a compromise:
The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.
As that deadline was about to be passed many decades ago, the education minister at the time, M C Chagla, memorably said:
Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we just set up hovels, put students there, give untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds, and say, we have complied with Article 45 and primary education is expanding... They meant that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14 - M.C. Chagla, 1964
In the 1990s, the World Bank funded a number of measures to set up schools within easy reach of rural communities. This effort was consolidated in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan model in the 1990s. RTE takes the process further, and makes the enrollment of children in schools a state prerogative.
The act has been criticized for being hastily-drafted, not consulting many groups active in education, not considering the quality of education, and for infringing on the rights of private schools to administer their system. Many of the ideas are seen as continuing the policies of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan of the last decade, and the World Bank funded District Primary Education Programme DPEP of the '90s, both of which, while having set up a number of schools in rural areas, have been criticized for being ineffective and corruption-ridden.
The quality of education provided by the government system remains in question. Many muslim families resist sending their daughters to distant schools. The government schools are riddled with absenteeism and mismanagement and appointments are based on political convenience. Despite the allure of free lunch-food in the government schools, parents prefer to send their children to private schools. At the same time average schoolteacher salaries in the rural private schools (about Rs. 4,000 per month) is 5-10 times less than the government schools. The highest salaries in rural private schools are less than the lowest salaries in the rural public schools. At the very least, the government system is critiqued as being poor value for money.
Children attending the private schools are seen to be at an advantage, thus discriminating against the weakest sections, who are forced to go to government schools. The act has been criticized as discriminatory for not addressing these issues. Well-known educationist Anil Sadagopal said of the hurriedly-drafted act:
It is a fraud on our children. It gives neither free education nor compulsory education. In fact, it only legitimises the present multi-layered, inferior quality school education system where discrimination shall continue to prevail.
Entrepreneur Gurcharan Das noted that 54% of urban children attend private schools, and this rate is growing at 3% per year. "Even the poor children are abandoning the government schools. They are leaving because the teachers are not showing up."
In order to address these quality issues, the Act also has provisions for aiding private schools via schemes such as Public Private Partnership (PPP), and for school vouchers, whereby parents may "spend" their vouchers in any school, private or public. These measures, however, have been viewed by some organizations such as the All-India Forum for Right to Education (AIF-RTE), as the state abdicating its "constitutional obligation towards providing elementary education".
The Society for Un-aided Private Schools, Rajasthan petitioned the Supreme Court of India claiming the act violates the constitutional right of private managements to run their institutions without governmental interference. The Bill has been also been criticized for excluding children under six years of age.