This Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha and referred to the Lok Sabha for further discussion and approval. Still, it is needed some more corrections for realization of ‘Right to Education’ in actual sense. Therefore, Bill should be debated in public domain before its approval.
The comments made below are not inclusive. They are confined to some of the essential features of the Bill.
(1) Financial implications of the Bill:
There is no attempt in the Bill to calculate its financial implications. It is stated in the Financial Memorandum attached to the Bill that “it is not possible to quantify the financial requirement on this account at this stage”. This is not correct. The expert committees set up by the Central Government as well as the Common School System Commission established by the Government of Bihar, have quantified the financial requirements for providing free and compulsory education for children in the relevant age groups. They have done it on the basis of putting price tags on detailed norms and standards specified in their reports.
Unless the required financial resources are calculated and a provision made in the Bill that the State shall provide them in a time bound framework, the time target set out in the Bill are unlikely to be met, and free and compulsory education to the children in the age groups 6-14, is unlikely to become available in the foreseeable future.
The assumption seems to be that the enhanced financial resources made available for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), including States’ contribution to it, would take care of the financial requirements. This assumption is not justified. The total resources for SSA including the contributions by the State Governments in the 11th Five Year Plan is Rs.1,51,453 Crores. This comes to an annual resource allocation of nearly Rs.30,000 Crores. This is far short of approximately Rs.73,000 Crores per annum additional expenditure, estimated by the Expert Group set up by the CABE Committee on the Right to Education Bill.
(2) Norms and Standards:
Norms and Standards are the most crucial requirement for ensuring quality and equality in school education. However, the norms and standards contained in the Schedule to the Bill are skimpy and grossly inadequate. There are numerous omissions like norms relating to availability of a school at a particular distance from the habitation of children, types of schools, students and teachers per school and per class room, school furniture, laboratories, medical facilities etc. A number of norms are left to be determined at the discretion of the government. As they are not provided in the Bill, they will not be justiciable. Besides, they may, also never be provided. The Bill is deficient in providing norms and standards in spite of the fact that these have been specified or prescribed in the recent past by a number of committees, commissions and agencies of the Government of India.
(3) Responsibility of Schools to provide free and compulsory education:
Different scales of responsibility have been laid down for different types of schools for providing free and compulsory education. The net result of the provision on this subject will be the perpetuation and legitimization of the currently prevailing hierarchy of schools, some meant for privileged classes and others for the poor classes. This violates both Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 21A (Right to Education) of the Constitution.
There is no alternative to the establishment of a Common School System in India if the State intends to strictly adhere to these fundamental rights in the Constitution. The Bill, therefore, must be rooted in the framework of a Common School System which brings in its fold all schools, including private unaided schools, the so-called specified category schools etc.
(4) The Neighbourhood Concept:
The concept of neighbourhood as provided in the Bill is in relation to a child and not in relation to a school. This has the effect of exempting certain schools, mainly unaided private schools, from the responsibility of admitting all the children in the neighbourhood. The competent authority should prescribe the neighbourhood for each school taking into account, among others, the need to optimise the socio-cultural diversity of the children. Moreover, it should be clearly provided that every school shall admit all the children in the relevant age group residing in the prescribed neighbourhood.
(5) Responsibility of Local Authorities:
The Bill imposes extensive responsibility on the local authority. This is unrealistic in the context of the present state of the evolution of local authorities. If the Panchayats are to be taken as local authority, then these are in a rudimentary state of evolution in a majority of the States in India.
In most States, there is only nominal devolution of authority to the Panchayats. Therefore, the provision in the Bill relating to the responsibility of the local authority is unlikely to be implemented in most States in the near future.
(6) School Management Committees:
The School Management Committee (SMC) is the critical link in the chain of institutions responsible for ensuring free and compulsory education of an equitable quality. The provisions in the Bill on SMC are utterly inadequate. The total membership of a SMC is not given. If the SMC is very large, it can become non-functional. Besides, there is no indication as to how the Chairperson and other office bearers of the SMC would be elected. In many States, local
M.L.As and M.Ps are the Chairpersons of SMC in their ex-officio capacity. This lies at the root of the corruption prevailing in the management of schools.
There should, therefore, be clear-cut provision that the Chairperson and other office bearers of the SMC will be elected by and from among the elected members of the SMC. Moreover, the functions of the SMC should be spelt out in greater detail. This would include several of the functions assigned in the Bill to local bodies.
It was due to the importance of the School Management Committee in ensuring access and quality of school education that the Report submitted by the Common School System Commission, Bihar, included two elaborately formulated draft legislations on school management, one for primary and middle schools, and the other for secondary schools.
(7) Language Policy:
The Bill does not lay down any language policy. It simply states, “medium of instruction, as for as practicable, be in a child’s mother tongue”. This is inadequate. It does not even define the word “mother tongue”. For example, the mother tongue of the child can be other than Hindi, (say Bhojpuri or Maithali) in a Hindi-speaking region. Secondly, a distinction has to be made between using language as the medium of instruction and teaching a language.
Thirdly, a beginning has to be made towards implementing, at least from now onwards, the 3-language formula recommended by the Kothari Commission and included in the 1986 National Education Policy and since then reiterated several times by the Government of India. The text in Annex-II to the Legislation on
Common School System and Right to Education recommended by the Common School System Commission, Bihar, lays down all essential details of the language policy to be followed while implementing Right to Education. This is Annexure-II to the legislation, and is, thus, its integral part.
(8) Pre-Primary Education:
Though Article 21A of the Indian Constitution on Right to Education does not extend this right to children below the age of 6, it is very difficult to ignore pre-primary education in any scheme for providing free and compulsory education. The most important point to bear in this connection is that pre-primary education is the foundation on which primary and secondary education is built. The ICDS under which pre-primary education is supposed to be covered is utterly inadequate for the purpose. The education component function of the ICDS is discharged only peripherally. Besides, ICDS does not cover the entire population of the children in the age group 3-6, in spite of the Supreme Court’s directive to this effect. The quality of education in the age group 6 to 14
will critically depend upon the kind of education that is imparted to the children in the age group 3-6. The Bill in a sense, recognizes these facts in that it has a clause on pre-primary education in Section 11. However, this clause is perfunctory and only on a best endeavour basis, as it states “the appropriate government” may make necessary arrangement for providing pre-school education for such children”.
There is enough justification to universalise free and compulsory education at least for the age group 3-6 as a part of ensuring right to education. There is little justification for allowing obligation to provide pre-primary education to continue to languish under Article 45 of the Constitution, when education for the children in age group 6 to 14 has become a part of fundamental right.
(9) Over-all surveillance of school education:
The provision in the Bill on overall surveillance of school education (Section 33) is also utterly inadequate. It provides for the constitution of only “ a National Advisory Council”. The need is not for an advisory body but a statutory body. An advisory body functions as an appendage to Government Department or Office and more often than not, appointment to such a body is a means of distributing patronages. What is needed is a separate statutory commission both at the central and State levels, vested with the power for the over-all monitoring of the implementation of the Bill, reviewing the norms and standards on a periodical basis with a view to improving them, functioning as the Court of Last Appeal and adjudicating when necessary. Every developed country with a common school system has established such a statutory body.
(10) Teachers: Service terms and conditions:
The Bill has hardly any provision on the service terms and conditions of teachers. This has been left to the discretion of the government. Without motivated qualified teachers, it is not possible to deliver quality education. Therefore, norms and standards recommended by committees, expert groups and the commission set up for this purpose, as well as those practiced in government schools, clearly prescribe service terms and conditions. By far the biggest chunk of resources for school education is devoted to teachers salary. It is, therefore, not possible to calculate the additional costs for universalising school education, without prescribing the salaries and other terms and conditions for the service of teachers.
(11) Teachers: Minimum Qualifications
The provision in the Bill on teachers minimum qualifications (Section 23) is inadequate and non-committal. It leaves the qualifications of teachers to be laid down by the appropriate authority. These authorities may very well perpetuate the present system of para-teachers, teachers without training etc. This section, therefore, has to be revised in order to provide specific norms for teachers qualification and for training to meet these qualifications.
(12) Prohibition of deployment of Teachers for Non-educational purposes:
The relevant Section (27) of the Bill provides for so many exceptions as to render it of little value. Teaches would continue to be deployed for “decennial population census, disaster relief duties or duties relating to elections to the local authority or the State Legislature or Parliament, as the case may be”. These exceptions virtually nullify the provision of the Bill. If teachers are continued to be deployed for these purposes, there will be continuing disruption in teaching. This is bound to have a crippling effect on the quality of education to children.
(13) Maintenance of Pupil:Teacher Ratio:
According to Article 25 of the Bill, the pupil:teacher ratio as specified in the Schedule would be established in each school within six months from the date of commencement of the Act. This seems unrealistic because ensuring the enforcement of the ratio will call for recruitment of additional teachers and their training. In another section of the Bill, it is provided that teachers recruitment shall be completed in five years. How is it possible then to ensure the enforcement of the ratio within six months?
People’s Campaign for Common School System (PCCSS)