Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Behind The RTE ACT

The right to education act that makes it a basic right of Indian citizen to have access to education is a laudable step by the Centre but in its present form it endangers the private and religious institutions, opines the writer.

It is gratifying to know that full attention is now being paid to education in our country and in lieu of this, the Parliament passed the RTE Act in 2009. It is a promising piece of legislation which opens the way for the education of the underprivileged young. In its draft form it was under discussion for two years and is now in effect from 1st April, 2010.

In the wake of this Act by the Central Government, State Govenments will also enact legislation so that equal opportunities for education are ensured for children of age 6 to 14 years. In future, it seems, everyone in India will thus study up to VIII class. Our legislators have recognized that every child has the right to education. It is the obligation of every parent and every teacher to provide education.

The spirit behind the above move initiated by the Central Government should be hailed and let us pray that it gains ground and becomes effective. While this Act grants the right to education to every child in India, it defines also what education is. It answers also the following questions – Where will 6 – 14 years old study? What is the responsibility of parents and teachers? What subjects will be taught? How will these children progress from one class to another in order to gain more education? What kind of educational institutions will provide education? What will be the composition of the management of these schools? Who will have the right to establish such educational institutions? What will be the Government’s stance towards the educational institutions which fail to meet the standards set by Government? Will teachers and educational institutions be held guilty of depriving 6 – 14 old of education, if they do not impart the same education which is prescribed by the Government?

RTE Act provides answers to all the above questions. It is therefore, all the more important that the Act be thoroughly analyzed in a purely objective manner. It is also worth-studying what will be the position of minority institutions after the enforcement of this Act.

The first and foremost question is – What is education? To this the Act responds thus: Education is what is prescribed by the Government through legislation. This question is answered at length by various Articles and Clauses of the Act:
Article 3A states that every child has the right to gain full time elementary education in a formal school, which is of acceptable standard and in accordance with the prescribed norms and quality.

Full time and elementary education are explained in the Act thus:

Article 2F: “Elementary education” means the education from first class to Eighth class. Such education will be imparted in schools.

The Act defines school thus: “School means any recognized school imparting elementary education”.

On studying these Clauses of RTE Act the following salient points emerge:

1. Education is which is recognized by the Government or its related bodies.
2. Education is which is gained in a formal school on a full time basis in a satisfactory manner.
3. Education is which is in accordance with the norms and regulations laid down by the government or its related bodies.
4. Education is which is recognized by the government as elementary education and which is imparted from class I to VIII.
5. Education is which is gained at schools recognized by the government by 6 – 14 years old (or by older children)1

While keeping in mind the above points let us also take note of the explanation of Article 8 of the Act:

The term compulsory education means obligation of the appropriate government to –
I. Provide free elementary education for every child of the age 6 – 14 years.
II. Ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education of every child of the age 6 – 14 years.

It emerges from the above that it will be compulsory for every child up to 14 years to be admitted to a government school. Likewise, an institution which does not impart full time elementary education will also be held guilty. Such educational institution will be culprits which fail to impart education in accordance with the norms and regulations laid by the government or which fail to secure government permission after fulfilling the educational and other norms prescribed by the government:

17-(5) Any person who establishes or runs a school without obtaining certificate of recognition or continues to run a school after withdrawal of recognition, shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees and in case of continuing contravention to a fine of ten thousand rupees for each day during which such contravention continues.

Madrasas and Private Schools

It is worth-reflecting that the provision for the education of 6 – 14 years old is only for the schools established or recognized by the government. There cannot be any school, educational institution, Madrasa, Maktab, Pathshala or Gurukul other than the government school for these children. The Act clearly holds guilty one who provides education to children of this age group. With this Act in force, Madrasas or Pathshala are illegal. For Article 8 of the Act reads as follows: “No school is to be established without obtaining certificate of recognition”.

The above Article has 5 Clauses which further explain the above law and also lay down the penalty for those who violate this law:

No school, other than school established, owned or controlled by appropriate government or the local authority shall, after the commencement of this Act, be established or function, without obtaining a certificate of recognition from such authority, by making an application in such form and manner, as may be prescribed.

It is fairly clear from the wording of the Act that no institution can be established or run unless it abides by the norms and regulations prescribed by the government and obtains the government certificate of recognition. It goes without saying that Madrasas cannot be run under this Act.

RTE Act And Article 30 Of The Constitution Of India

Article 30 of the Indian Constitution grants minorities the right to establish, and run educational institutions of their choice. The Constitution has granted this right so that the religious, cultural and linguistic minorities may preserve their faith, culture and language and be equal citizens of the country. With this Fundamental Right minorities should not have faced any difficulty in establishing and running their educational institutions. However, after Independence governments have made this very complicated and for 50 years this state of affairs lasted. The Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution were not implemented. For governments laid down the condition of obtaining NOC for establishing school. Then another condition was prescribed that government will issue the certificate of minority institution. Both these orders of government were in conflict with article 30 of the Constitution. Yet, minorities faced all these obstacles for 55 years in establishing educational institutions of their choice.

There have been numerous instances of the problems faced by minority institutions in obtaining NOC in most states of our country. I know such institutions which have been struggling for the last 30 years for securing NOC in vain. Some institutions in Bihar managed to get NOC only when Deputy Chairman of Bihar Legislative Council reprimanded the officials of the Department of Education. The same problems plague the issue of the declaration of minority institution. It would have been commonsense that the government would have passed an Act or issued a circular, spelling out the conditions and features of a minority institution. However, governments both at Centre and in States never did so. It is a tragic story of the Indian educational system that minority institutions had to move to High Court and Supreme Court for obtaining the certificate of being a minority institution.
Minorities, especially Muslims, have been subject to the hurdles created by government for years. Muslims establish an institution yet it being a minority institution is declared by the government. How strange is this? An analogy will be that the government passes a law to the effect that a child’s parentage will be established only on the basis of a declaration by hospital superintendent. Until now Parliament or legislative bodies have not passed any legislation which spells out the conditions for getting NOC or minority institution certificate. For 55 years the harassment of educational institutions of Muslims and minorities went unabated. With the establishment of Minority Education Institution Commission, minorities have got some relief. However, they are now confronted with the recent RTE ACT, which lays down the condition that no school can be established without recognition:

18-(1) No school, other than a school established, owned or controlled by appropriate government or the local authority, shall, after the commencement of this Act, be established or function, without obtaining a certificate of recognition from such authority, by making an application in such form and manner, as may be prescribed.

An unrecognized school will have to pay a fine of Rs. 1 lakh. Only the government can answer how minority institutions will be protected against the mischief perpetrated by the government officials.

If a body intends to establish a school upto class V in accordance Article 30 of the Constitution, the officials of the appropriate government will not allow it. For under the RTE Act they can give permission to only elementary education i.e. from Class I to VIII. Such problems will arise and minorities in particular will suffer. Legislators should not disregard the fact that it has been very hard for minority institutions to secure NOC. Given this, securing recognition will be much more difficult.

RTE Act And Minority Institutions

Constitution of India grants minorities their right to establish and run educational institutions of their choice. However, Article 3(1) the RTE Act binds these minority educational institutions that they should provide education to 6 – 14 year old children until they complete their elementary education. One of the consequences of this Article will be that around 25% students will be enrolled in minority educational Institution as a matter of their right. It will render Article 30 of the Constitution of India as null and void.

Article 12(c) of the RTE Act stipulates that 25% children from weaker sections have the right to be enrolled in school. The Article further clarifies that even in pre-school, prior to class I, there will be 25% students of the same section. Article 12 of the Act is general in its application and embraces such minority educational institutions which provide elementary education. They will be obliged to admit 25% children of the weaker sections. This Article too contravenes the Fundamental Right enshrined in our Constitution.

National Syllabus

The RTE Act envisage also national syllabus, as is evident from sections Article 7 sub section 6A. This Article is in conflict with Articles 26, 29 and 30 of Fundamental Rights encapsulated in the Constitution of India. The above article of RTE Act will prove as an obstacle for religious, linguistic and minority educational institutions. Articles 26, 29 and 30 of the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution have been put in place for the very purpose that minorities should be free to teach their own syllabus or may use the syllabus prescribed the government with some alteration. However, once national syllabus is enforced, minority institutions will be divested of their right to teach their own syllabus. Let us not disregard the reality that every state designs text books with an eye on the needs, historical, geographical and social conditions of the state and thus students gain better knowledge about their state. This is quite natural. National syllabus will culminate in inter-state rivalry.

National syllabus or a uniform educational institution seeks to mould all the students in a particular way and to deprive their parents of providing any alternative educational system for their children. Such thinking is peculiar to old communist or RSS activists. It is beyond logic why HRD Ministry had adopted this line of thinking. Our children should have educational institutions of their choice, so that their parents may send them there, if they so wish.

Quality of Education

After the enforcement of this Act every child of the age group 6 – 14 years old will have the right to get free and compulsory education in neighbourhood school until he completes elementary education. A student admitted to school will not be prevented from promotion to the next class. Nor can he be expelled from the school until he completes elementary education. The above clauses should be read in conjunction with Article 30 of the Act which says: “No child shall be deployed to pass any Board examination till completion of elementary education.”

In other words, whether students study or not, whatever be their mental ability, they will be admitted to school. It should be responsibility of state government and local authority to complete their attendance. It is teachers’ duty to impart them education. However, students will be able to secure certificate of class VIII even without appearing in any examination. It is indeed radical thinking. The reason behind the above move is the problem of drop outs.

Owing to the problems of drop outs education has not been gaining ground. Despite the best efforts of the government, children leave schools. What accounts for this is the mind-set of these students, their parents and guardians that since government will not provide any job, it is pointless to pursue education. They prefer to remain illiterate which gives them freedom to take up any job. The RTE Act, however, proposes a solution that whether students learn or not, they are assured of getting a certificate of class VIII. It goes without saying that such students will be highly incompetent, thanks to this overflowing affection of the government.

It is worth reminding that there will be examination free system not only up to class VIII. All Board examinations up to class XI are now going to be abolished. Only when students are in class XII they will have examinations for the first time. It is anybody’s guess as to how many of them will pass the first board examination in their life and how many of them will be eligible for pursuing higher education.

Constant testing and evaluation induces competitiveness and hard work among students. They are able to display their abilities in the light of their results. With the introduction of the examination-free system, all these opportunities will be lost. There will be illiterate degree holders who will be a burden on the country and highly incompetent in today’s globalized world.

Students cannot be harassed

Article 17 of the Act specifies: “No child shall be subjected to physical punishment or mental harassment.” Mental harassment is a very vague and relative term. A teacher’s query about homework or absence may be misconstrued by students as mental harassment. It creates problems for teacher as they will be liable to legal action.

Another clause of the Act states that if a teacher or Principal reprimands a student, he will be subject to disciplinary action.

Neighbourhood School

The Act makes a repeated reference to neighbourhood school, a term exported from the USA. This term does not exist in our legislative parlance. The Act does not specify as to which schools qualify as neighbourhood school. It could be a school which is already running in accordance with Article 30 of the Constitution or a school with screening and written examination or a school which admits only 80% marks holder students. Even standard schools will have to admit 25% students of neighbourhood. It will result in producing not only incompetent students at government schools, it will destroy also the academic excellence of quality schools.

School Management

The Act lays down also the structure of school management. It states that three-fourths of management will consist of parents or guardians, of whom 50% will be women. School committees along the above lines have been functioning in some states. Their efficiency and success has not been evaluated so far. This part of the Act also stands in need of revision. For it is contrary to Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution of India and contravenes the Fundamental rights granted to linguistic and religious minorities.

It is needed that such amendments be made in Act which may help maintain education in Madrasas and their identity. The Act should make allowance for the rights for the rights granted to linguistic and religious minorities by the Constitution of India. It should help raise the standard of education. The Act should reflect the cultural traditions, morals and manners of our country.

Muhammad Wali Rahmani
(The writer is the Chairman of Madrasah Modernization Committee of HRD Ministry)


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