The Right to Education Bill has been passed. After 62 years of Independence the children of India have finally got the fundamental right to free and compulsory education! Wonder why it took so long but then today let us simply celebrate the event.
It is true that millions of children have been excluded, those below 6 and those above 14. Wonder why as both these age groups are extremely vulnerable and need adequate care and understanding. We do hope that our lawmakers will make amends at a later date.
Once the celebrations are over, it will time to think about whether words will be translated into action. It will be time to ponder at how the piece of legislation will actually affect children or whether, for the time being at least, nothing much will change. If you look at things around you you soon realise that there is still long way to go before every child born in this land will be schooled. Education alone does not make any sense. It has to be linked to a broader vision where employability is addressed. As we know, many jobs today require a class X if not a class XII certificate. 14 is the age where you are just in class VIII. Social needs must be part of any education policy. If education leads me nowhere why should I study. Free education has to lead somewhere: to a school leaving certificate at least!
Before and after August 5, 2009, the ground reality has not and cannot change. Children may have acquired the right to education but education will still be imparted, at least for some time, in the same conditions: the same schools, the same teachers, the same environment. No teacher will look at his pupil in a different way post 5/8/09.
If ones looks at the Bill closely one finds many lacunae, each one needing to be addressed. How will one ensure that every child does go to school? How will one ensure that quality education is being imparted? and so on.
The RTE Bill also states that 25% of seats available in each public school will be reserved for the less privileged. This in itself is a contentious issue in many ways. It has been on the cards for some time now and we all now that free and equitable education for ALL the children of India is not around the corner. There are still many hurdles to clear and though the neighborhood school was mentioned in the Bill, its definition was too vague. One would have liked to see it mentioned as it is the only way one can truly ensure the free and equitable education for all.
In today's India getting your child into school is nothing short of a nightmare. No child should be subjected to rejection and yet the society of schools is a reality one cannot circumvent, and better schools come at a better price. It was a relief to see the Bill address the capitation fee issue. But again who bells all the cats? A question waiting to be answered.
True the Bill throws up many questions and each will need to be carefully addressed. Let us just hope it is a step in the direction of the still elusive common school that would truly give every child its newly acquired fundamental right.