Thursday, February 02, 2006

Analysis: Right to Education Bill

Over the previous few weeks we in Asha have been discussing the Draft Right to Education Bill, 2005. The goal of this excercise is to come up with a Asha Seattle's stance on the bill. Different opinions were expressed in the discussions which were interesting to listen at times. In this multi-part blog entry I would put forth my opinions and discuss several background documents.

Some background info:
Draft Bill
CABE Committee report on free and Compulsory Education
CABE Committee Report on Girls’ Education and Common School System
Short good read on the bill & analysis by PRS.

My critique of the bill is based on the following points:
1. Childrens Age Group:
Current Position:
The draft bill and the 93rd ammendment defines fundamental right to free and compulsory education for children in age group 6-14.
My View:
I think the right should include all children upto the age of 18 or until they have completed 12th grade.

0-6 age group:

Education for the 0-6 age group might mean providing basic health and nurtrituion facilites to this age group. It might mean providing anganwadi and creches (day care facilites).
In India more than 45% of the children suffer from malnutrition in this age group. Scientifically it has been proved that this is among the most important period in a childs brain development.
The aim of the bill is to provide everybody with equitable quality of education. If this age group is not addressed in the bill a large propotion of the children will not get opputrunity of quality education as they are disadvantaged before they reach the age of 6.

14-18 age group:
One of the goals of education is to equip children with means to live a fulfilling life which includes providing some sort of skills to earn livelihood. Education for 14-18 age group can be tailored to provide such skills in form of education to go for higher studies or additional vocational education.

There are several other reasons like:
- In the 1993 Supreme Court Judgement in case of Unnikrishnan vs State of Andrha Pradesh the court recognized the right of education for upto 14 years of age and from 14-18 age group depending on the financial ability of the state.
- India is signatory to the United Nations Resolution on Rights of the Child which recognizes the right to education for everybody upto 18 years of age.

Critics of my argument may agrue that the govt. currently addresses the 0-6 age group through various schemes like ICDE scheme and its also part of the constitution as part of Article 45. But this doesnt make it a fundamental right for 0-6 age group children which the state is liable to. Is there any valid reason for this age group not being addressed in the bill?. None. Its just lack of political will. The financial commitment on the govt by extending the bill to include 0-18 age group is not signficant if there is political will.

2. Government's Commitment:
Current Stand:
The government will provide neighorbood schools in all areas within 3 years and till then provide transportation charges for children to the schools.
Free education is vaguely defined as govt schools will not charge any fees.
Quality of education is defined mostly in terms of accesibility to schools.

My View:
I think the government should provide quality neighborhood schools in all areas within 1 year.
I think governement should in addition provide a) free textbooks b) uniform c) transportaion charges if any d) any other expenses incurred on education by children of lower income families.
Within one year government should ensure that all govt schools are of the same level in terms of insfrastructure (building, teacher's education, teacher-student ratio etc) as today's Kendriya Vidyalaya schools. Within 3 years per-child expenses on education in all schools should be comparable to KV schools today. Govt should setup strict evaluation mechanism for monitoring how schools are performing in terms of imparting education. This will mean looking beyond infrastructure to things like children learning standards in schools. The bill should include provisions by which Govt can be held responsible if it doesnt acheive the above in stated time frame.

I believe "Everybody should get equal opportunity for education". No child should be denied quality education. Education for all should be a priority as it has been ignored for many years.
Critics may argue that this is overly ambitious. Is it?. Just look at the Golden Quadrilateral project or the National Highway project. The govt considered it a priority and within a few years we have roads comparable to free ways in America. So I am sure it can be done.
Oh we dont have money, the other argument will go. Do we really dont have money?. The government is spending a lot on various infrastructure projects. I think education being the most important priority funds can be diverted towards that for 1-2 years. Also I beleive we dont really need that much money that other sectors will be completely ignored. A few places where untargeted subsidies are reduced/restructured (LPG!, fertilizer! ...) or special incentives given to rich industries (Special economic zones!, free/subsidized land!) removed will provide with the needed money. If Govt commits I am sure there wont be any trouble finding the money.

In the next part I will cover my other criticisms to the bill. Comments/questions are welcome.


At 12:34 PM, Blogger Sunil said...

a good summary...and overall, i'll agree with your suggestions. One difference though...

I think governement should in addition provide a) free textbooks b) uniform c) transportaion charges if any d) any other expenses incurred on education by children of lower income families.

should it be "one size fits all" there? Should not people who can afford to pay, pay? How does one decide a "low income family"? (i've had collegemates, who claimed to be from families with annual incomes of Rs 30000 from farming families, when it was more like Rs 300000.. (much more than what my retired dad makes)..and got to pay even more subsidized fees (some Rs. 1000 a semester). How does one decide this?"

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Rahul said...

Ya I agree. Not sure on the exact criteria but it can be some income based criteria.
The point I wanted to make was more on the lines that no child should be denied education due to any economic costs.


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