To escape from poverty, earn livelihoods or make extra income many children in India forsake their education and schooling. Many children never even attend school, and if they do, they drop out or leave school early to work elsewhere. Due to these reasons, the literacy rate remains low and leaves many children vulnerable to social and economic exploitation.
1. National Policy on Education, 1986
In an attempt to remove inequalities in the education system, the policy emphasises the importance of special programmes for marginalized groups as such women, scheduled tribes (STs), scheduled castes (SCs), handicapped, etc. Some of the provisions for SCs listed are incentive to families, pre-matric scholarships, constant micro-planning to ensure enrolment, retention and successful completion of SC students, recruitment of SC teachers, hostel provisions for SC students and appropriate location of the school building to facilitate the participation of SCs. Similar provisions are made for STs, including the use of youth teachers and the use of tribal languages at the initial stages.
The Policy identifies the need to pay attention to minority groups and other backward sections of society. Hill, desert and remote areas will be provided with adequate institutional infrastructure. The policy encourages the integration of a handicapped student in the mainstream system but also makes provisions for special schools with hostels if need be. Teachers will also be trained to deal with special difficulties of handicapped children.
Recognising the impact of early years on the development of a child, the policy makes room for early childhood care and education through the Integrated Child Development Services programme. With regard to elementary education, the policy makes three very important commitments: 1. Universal access and enrolment. 2. Universal retention of children up to age 14. 3. A much-needed improvement in the quality of education that allows children to achieve a certain level of learning.
According to the policy, education must be culturally applicable and inculcate values in the children and hence society. There is a need to develop the use of local languages in education. There is a need for low prices books and improvement in library management as well as additional libraries. There are provisions in the policy for work experience as a part of education, population education, using math as a tool to teach analytical thinking, strengthen science education, and support sports, physical education and yoga. The policy called for greater participation of educated youth and revision of the evaluation system so that it does not simple reflects rote learning. It emphasises the importance of teacher training and continuing teacher education. The policy devotes an entire section to overhauling the planning and management system surrounding education at national, state, district and local levels. It outlines that it is both the government and the communities responsibility for providing funds and that inadequate or non-investment is a major problem facing education like the policies before it emphasises a need to raise expenditure to six per cent of the GDP in the Eighth Five Year Plan.
2. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act,2009
In 2005 the Central Advisory Board of Education drafted the Right to Education (RTE) Bill and sent it to the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) for review. The MHRD, in turn, sent it to the National Advisory Council and the Prime Minister. The bill spent three years being scrutinised by the union government, government ministers and the public. In 2008 there was a new draft placed before, and in September 2009, it was passed by the Union Cabinet, and hence became The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The main purpose of the act is to outline the provision of quality education for all children between the ages of 6-14 as per the constitutional fundamental right awarded to children in the 86th amendment.
In the first chapter, the act states that the act, once passed by the central government, would be applicable to the entirety of India except for Jammu and Kashmir. Chapter one also defines a number of key terms used in the act. Two terms of utmost importance are 1. Appropriate government: is the central, state or union territory government which is directly in charge of a particular school or area; 2. Local Authority: is a Municipal Corporation or Municipal Council or Zila Parishad or Nagar Panchayat or Panchayat. The act has seven chapters that outline the various powers, roles and responsibilities of the central, state, district and local authorities, as well as teachers and school administrators.
Chapter two is the provisions of the act that calls for free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. It provides equal opportunities for disabled children. It makes special provisions for children who are not admitted and are above age 6 to be admitted into their age-appropriate class after special training and provides that they be allowed to complete their elementary education even past the age of 14. Any child also has the right to transfer to a school that provides education up to class VIII if it is not provided in the school she is currently enrolled in.
Chapter three begins with a provision that the central and state governments are responsible for establishing schools where one is not available in every area or neighbourhood. It outlines that the central and state governments share the responsibility both financially and others (such as the development of curriculum, training of teachers, etc) required under this act. The appropriate government is responsible for providing free and compulsory education to all children, except those who would choose to enrol in private/ unaided schools. It must ensure no discrimination against children from educationally and socially backward groups, availability of a neighbourhood school, provide necessary infrastructure, provide good quality education, ensure completion of elementary school, and provide curriculum and teachers training. The local authority shares the above responsibilities as well as in charge of the academic calendar, education of children of migrant families, the functioning of the school and maintaining a record of all children up to fourteen years of age in its jurisdiction.
Lastly, it is the responsibility of parents to send their children to school and the appropriate government (which is directly in charge of a school or area) to provide pre-primary (between ages 3-6) education and child care.
In chapter four of the act, there is an outline of school and teacher responsibilities. A government school is required to provide free education to any child that seeks admission. Aided schools, private schools and special schools are required to provide free education to a minimum of 25% of its students, especially those from disadvantaged sections of society. In return, the government is responsible for reimbursing private schools the cost per child that a public school incurs to help aid the free education provided by such schools. But if the private school has received any sort of concession or subsidy, they are not entitled to such reimbursement.
Schools are not allowed to charge capitation fees, screen the children for admission and even though they are allowed to ask for proof of age, they may not deny admission on the basis of lack of proof. No school may hold back or expel a child before their completion of elementary education. There is a prohibition against physical punishment and mental harassment, which, if broken, is liable to disciplinary action. All schools must be registered or given a certificate of recognition by the appropriate government in order to function. This certificate will only be given or maintained if certain norms and standards are upheld. The government can levy charges up to one lakh against schools for continuing to function without a certificate. At this point, it is conveniently added that the central government has the power to change these said: "norms and standards" (given in the schedule at the end of the act) at any point.
The act calls for the establishment of a School Management Committee (SMC), which consists of local authorities, parents or guardians of children admitted in such schools and teachers. The SMC is responsible for monitoring the school and making a school development plan. The school development plan is basically an outline for plans and grants that the appropriate authority should make.
The second section of Chapter four provides guidelines for teachers. Qualifications required by teachers can be set by the authorised academic authority, such as a school headmaster. But the central government can override these minimum qualifications for a period of five years to allow for teachers to gain the appropriate qualifications. This section does not specify the salary and allowances granted to teachers. Teachers are responsible for regular attendance, finishing the curriculum, supplementing learning in the classroom, and meeting with parents/guardians of the child on a regular basis.
There are three interesting clauses in this section. Teacher vacancies shall not exceed 10% of the total strength of teachers in a specific school. The number of teachers required is described in the schedule. Public school teachers may not engage in private tuitions for private gain but must participate in "decennial population census, disaster relief duties or duties relating to elections to the local authority or the State Legislatures or Parliament" (section 27-28 of this act).
Chapter five does not outline the specifics of curriculum and evaluation procedure but simply says it is the role of the authorised (by the appropriate government) academic authority. The authorized academic authority is required to look after the development of the child, the values of the constitution, the mother tongue of the child, the mental and physical well being of the child, allowing for anxiety and fear-free expression of each child and evaluating and understanding each child's knowledge and ability. Under this section, no child will be subject to a board examination but will receive a certification on completion of elementary education.
In chapter six, this act holds the National and State Commissions for the Protection of Child Rights responsible for upholding the right to education specified in the act and other rights under section 4 of the Commissions for Protection of Child Rights Act, 2006. They are responsible for addressing grievances that have come beyond the local authority. This section also provides for the establishment of the National Advisory Council, whose members are responsible for upholding this act.
Chapter seven provides a detailed description of the powers of the various levels to issue directions to the authorities below them, for example, from central to state government. It also establishes that there is no prosecution taken without the sanction of an authorised officer for violating the school certification requirements and the capitation fee ban. This section adds the disclaimer that the government and all other bodies acting on its behalf are free from prosecution if their actions are in 'good faith. The appropriate government is also given powers to make rules on a variety of areas such as the special training for children currently not enrolled, the area or neighbourhood limits, the duties of teachers, the allowances and terms and conditions of members of the National Advisory Board. All rules must be laid before and passed by both houses of parliament (in the case of the central government) and state legislatures (in the case of the state government).
At the end of the act, there is a schedule that outlines the number of teachers, building facilities, hours of the teachers, library and additional equipment required in each school.