Past 3 months have changed the scenario of our country. We have seen millions of labours migrating to their respective villages. The bravery of our Corona Warriors, the gigantic humanitarian work is undertaken by individuals and Association of citizens in feeding the poor, call of Prime Minister to become Atmanirbhar.
Future of the Nation depends on how we educate our people. Dr B.R.Ambedkar opined that “Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of human existence”.
The Founding Fathers of The Constitution through original Article 45 had expected that within 10 years of commencement of the Constitution all children up to the age of 14 years should get free and compulsory education. Though we couldn’t adhere to the timeline but finally in the year 2002 by adding Article 21-A made Primary Education a Fundamental Right, it took further 8 years to bring into force “The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009”. Now, it is made applicable since 01.04.2010.
As per Article 21-A and the RTE Act, each child of the age of 6 to 14 years has a Fundamental Right to receive free and compulsory education. The Act further provided for the ways and means as to how this Right should be extended to the last person in the society. It is the duty of appropriate Governments and Local Authorities to establish Neighbourhood Schools within a distance of One Kilometer of the neighbourhood for the children in Classes 1 to 5 and 3 Kilometers for the Classes 6 to 8.
Special provisions for a child belonging to disadvantage group i.e. from SC, ST, or such group having disadvantage owing to social, cultural, economical, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor is a highlight of this Act. The Act further clearly defines the responsibilities and duties of Central Government, State Government and Local Authority for enforcement of Right to Education.
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The migration of millions of labour along with their families have now created a new question about the fulfilment of Right to Education to their children. Answer to this question is in Section 5 of the Act that provides for a further Right of child to seek transfer to any other school for any reason and non-production of documents from earlier School cannot be a ground for denial of admission to another School. The documents can be produced later on.
In the last few years with the effect of privatisation of education, we have seen the trend of decrease in admission to the Schools managed by Government or Local Authorities and a surge in admissions in Private Schools. During the Lockdown period, there are continuous complaints against the Private Schools for demanding the Fees for the period of Lockdown. Several parents are finding it difficult to pay the Fees considering the loss of Income and non-certainty of future. Though on first blush this seems to be a problem if analytically seen this is an opportunity for the Government Schools to get more admissions and revamp itself. The Schools in the rural area where the migrant labours are returning needs to be ready for more Students that are coming back with their parents.
The visionaries of our country and our Great Leaders from the past have found that our Nation has suffered a lot due to caste divides and now is suffering because of the class divide. Privatisation of Primary Education has further added to this class divide. Post pandemic allows us to minimise the class divide by properly and meticulously implementing the provisions of the Right to Education and take the Nation towards self-sufficiency.
In the changed circumstances the appropriate Governments should ensure the establishment of the Neighbourhood Schools and create a mechanism for centralised admission to the primary education, no child should be permitted to be admitted beyond the geographical limits of one Kilometer for the Classes between 1 to 5 and 3 Kilometers for 6 to 8. This will have duel benefit, (1) children from all classes of society would study together, (2) there will be no requirement of vehicles to transport them minimising the travelling time and risk. If the parents insist of getting their wards admitted to Private Schools then they should be given the clear understanding that the Government would not assist them in any manner in present and also in future either monetarily or through other Regulatory Control over Fees as already the Government has made Neighbourhood Schools available. The paramount requirement for this would be the obligation on the Governments to create appropriate infrastructure in the Schools as per the requirement of the RTE Act.
If we are expecting our country to be self-reliant then it would be necessary to formulate appropriate curriculum from the primary level considering the requirement of the country for at least further 25 years. In the words of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore “Don’t limit a child to your learning, for she was born in another time”.
Till this date, we are following the British introduced Model of Education where the emphasis is to produce Job Seekers and not Job Givers. For becoming self-reliant we need to have more number of job givers and therefore since inception new curriculum should introduce our children to the practical sectors like Farming, Industries related to Farming, Marketing, Management, etc. The children should be taught of the great values of Democracy and also how to protect it.
We should convert the problems created by pandemic into an opportunity to reshape the future of our great Nation, and the key for this lies only in the implementation of Right to Education Act in its true letter and spirit. The Governments and Local Authority should immediately update their List of the children by conducting appropriate Survey as required by law, modernising the Schools by equipping the Teachers with proper facilities. Need not forget Article 350-A of Constitution expects that the instructions at the primary stage of education should be imparted in the mother tongue.
Dr Abdul Kalam has stressed the need of proper primary education in these words, “Creativity is the key to success in the future and primary education is where teachers can bring creativity in children at that level”.
By Advocate Firdos Mirza
Practising Advocate, Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court