A Right to be

Written by Kiran Yadav | Garima Pant | Updated: Nov 9 2008, 08:51am hrs
There was at least one person, as the Constituent Assembly debates reflect, who believed that non-justiciable rights had no meaning. K T Shah, member of the Constituent Assembly would have probably put up a stronger resistance to the division of the rights of the people into justiciable and non-justiciable, had he known that the journey of a Directive Principle to become a right could span well over six decades!

Six decades is indeed a long time long time for a nation which holds the distinction of housing the largest number of illiterates in the world. For a nation trying to understand why 53% of its children drop out of school and why a quarter of its primary school government teachers, according to a World Bank Report, bunk school. And the children who do attend school show very poor learning levels. According to the latest Annual Status of Education Report only 60% children in Class V can read a class II text, while only 40% can do simple divisions. There has been progress too. According to the last census the average rate of literacy at the national level is 65%. Lets not miss the fine print though. Female literacy falls short of the 50% mark in at least six states Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

The Right to Education Bill, expected to be tabled in the Parliament in the winter session, again springs up the old debate. The legislation, provided it comes through, will make elementary education free and compulsory for every child between the age of 6 and 14 years. While the social impact of the legislation will be immense, its the arithmetic that cannot be ignored. Given the high rate of economic growth, managing 6% of the GDP for education should not be difficult. But, yes, thats one of the reasons why the Bill is stuck, says Jandhyala B G Tilak, Head, Department of Educational Finance, National University of Educational Planning and Administration adding unlike India, countries like Korea, Japan, and US have a strong public education system at the school level. Thats the way to go.

George Deikun, Mission Director, US Agency for International Development couldnt agree more. Even the OECD countries are spending much more. There is lack of accountability. The states are unable to exhaust their budget. So, it makes sense to get the NGOs and corporate houses involved. They are more flexible and have their objectives clear. USAID has partnered with Microsoft, Azim Premji Foundation, Community and Progress Foundation amongst others for one of their educational programmes. The State has failed to deliver. Take the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme for instance. Its marred by red tapism and corruption. Also, the delivery mechanism of the government is faulty. NGOs are the new development agents there are good ones and also bad ones but they need to be institutionalised, feels Suresh Neotia, Chairman Ambuja Foundation.

That apart, the Draft Bill seems to have more hurdles to face. The Group of Ministers, entrusted with the task of scrutinising the Bill, had cleared the draft legislation early last month without diluting the content including contentious provisions like 25% reservation in private schools for disadvantaged children from the neighbourhood at the entry level. Other features included doing away with donation, capitation and interviewing of the child or the parents as part of the screening procedure. While schools welcomed the bill but also expressed their concerns over the proper implementation of the bill. Supporting the fundamental reason behind the introduction of the bill, Principal unanimously called education as the fundamental right of a child. Lata Vaidyanathan, Principal, Modern School, Delhi expressed her support with the move: The Education Bill has been long overdue. However, I feel that the problem is in the execution and implementation of the bill. Every policy looks good on paper, and even this one does. Her concerns are not new. Vaidyanathan and other private school administrators fear if they will be forced to admit 25% students, despite no existing infrastructure. Whether the calculations made by the government match the existing provisions in terms of the school fee per child

At Springdales School, Pusa Road in Delhi, implementation of the Bill would mean a continuation of its existing policy of providing education to students under the Economically Weaker Section. Principal Ameeta Wattal believes that no school will oppose the Bill. We just have to look at the whole issue in a holistic and humane manner and make the bill very clear to the schools. Without adequate infrastructure, we should not be expected to admit students beyond our capacity.

A few voices of dissent and a few voices of hope. However, consensus remains the child in India has been long deprived of one of the most basic rights. Its time the state grants it to them.