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Education is not freely accessible to children in many parts of the world. This lesson covers the Right to Education Act in India, which is a constitutional amendment that requires the government to provide free, high quality education to all children.

Access to Education

Depending on where we grew up, access to quality education might be something that we take for granted. We might even complain about having to go to school. But in many parts of the world, education is not a given, and there is a major lack of quality, affordable education, especially for marginalized members of society.

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In many countries, children are denied education; but in some of these countries, changes are beginning to happen. In this lesson, we’ll focus on the case of India and explore a constitutional amendment that seeks to make education affordable and accessible to everyone in the country.

The Right to Education Act makes school available to all Indian children
Right to Education Act; India

India and the Right to Education (RTE)

In 2002, the 86th amendment of the constitution in India declared that education is a fundamental human right, and that it should be provided to all children ages 6 to 14 years old. Following this, in 2009 the Right to Education Act (RTE) was passed to uphold the new declaration.

The Act states some important clauses for education in India:

  • All children should be able to attend school full time
  • All children should have access to education that is the same quality
  • Student-teacher ratios must ensure that there aren’t too many students in any one classroom
  • Teachers must be properly trained

As part of this act, the RTE states that children cannot be denied access to education if their parents cannot afford to pay for it. What this means is that the government has to provide education for those who cannot access it for themselves. State governments are required to make sure that this legislation is actually implemented and that schools are following this protocol. This act makes education compulsory for kids between 6 and 14, meaning it’s now an obligation of the government to provide it, and it’s required for children to attend.There are also a number of things that the act is trying to prohibit that have been an issue in India’s schools in the past, including:

  • Prohibiting physical punishment of any sort
  • Prohibiting emotional or verbal abuse.

Outcomes of the RTE

So, what has happened since the RTE went into effect in India? The results have been a little bit uneven. Let’s start with the good.

There have been significant improvements in the physical infrastructure of schools in India. This means that things like toilet facilities have improved, especially in terms of facilities for girls. India has also witnessed improvements in the teacher to student ratio, so classrooms now have fewer students per teacher. There’s also been an increase in the enrollment of girls in school in India, and, overall, there’s been a definite drop in the total number of students who do not attend school.

But the goals of the RTE have not yet been fully realized. Some critics have charged that the Act has been focused on increasing enrollment and not on actually increasing the quality of education. It’s great to get more students in school, but it’s important to make sure the education provided is high quality. Additionally, children are placed into a class in their age group regardless of how much schooling they’ve had previously. For example, a 12-year-old student who might not have been in school the past several years will find herself in a 12-year-old class anyway. This can limit her in the classroom.There have also been some closures of some low-cost private schools in different Indian states for failure to comply with the implementation of certain parts of the Act.

Critics charge that this decreases quality schools in general and is harmful to the mission of providing education for all.India still has a very large rate of adult illiteracy, a fact that suggests there is still much work to be done to increase access to education in India.

Lesson Summary

In 2002, the government of India decided to try and address the country’s high rate of illiteracy and low rates of school enrollment among children. The Right to Education Act (RTE) was implemented in 2010, and it states that the Indian government is responsible for providing education of equal quality to all children, known as compulsory education. The RTE requires schools in India to admit children regardless of a parent’s ability to pay. This is an effort to try and help low income children gain access to education. Other elements of the act require that teachers be properly trained, classes have low teacher/student ratios in an effort to reduce class size, and prohibits harassment or physical abuse of students.

Since its implementation, there has been an overall increase in the number of students, especially girls, attending school in India; but the RTE has a long way to go before education in India is truly equal. Critics have pointed out that a focus on enrollment has taken away from the goal of achieving high quality education, and that India still has a very high rate of adult illiteracy.

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