Winter Issue - 2012

Smile Foundation


Perfecting RTE Act can wait, Education cannot

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE) was passed by the parliament on 4 August 2009. The act describes the modalities of the provision of free and compulsory education for children in the age groups of 6 to 14 in India under Article 21A of the Constitution of India. The act came into force on 1 April 2010. Thus, India becomes one of 135 countries which make education a fundamental right of every child.

Education is a fundamental right of every child in India now. Thanks to the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act or Right to Education Act (RTE). A child in India is entitled to get free and compulsory education.

The act has realised at a time when India is home to the largest illiterate population above the age of seven. Further, estimates say up to 60 million children (6-14 years) are not in school. Those who are in school, only 47 out of 100 children enrolled in Class I reach Class VIII.

When Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All Movement) was launched in 2001, within two years there was a drop in the number of children outside school by 15 million.

But, millions of children would have no way but stay away from getting education, and thus missing a once-in-a-generation chance to come out of poverty and suffering.

Poverty compels many parents putting all focus on meeting basic survival priorities; obviously education does not stand a chance.

Education had to be fundamental right, with the act ensuring modalities which would facilitate sending all children to school.

The act came but was unable to put all children in school. Or, it took birth with shortcomings.

It speaks about free and compulsory education from the age of six. But, what about children who are below six? The demon named child labour induction starts quite early, putting the gullible children almost in a one-way path to suffering. Children should be in the process of learning quite early if ever they have to embrace the path of education.

With child labour in practice, there will always be children outside the school. A zero-tolerance approach to the practice of child labour can only enable the children to give education a chance.

It is never easy for a first generation learner, anyways, to enter and stay in the fold of education. There must be preparatory education for those children who are first generation learners. Without such preparation and special attention, they might drop out even after getting mainstreamed into schools.

Like learning, effective teaching is necessary for children from disadvantaged backgrounds to benefit from staying in school. It can be achieved by proper training of the teachers with the right methodologies. Prior to that, the shortfall of teachers in both primary and upper primary levels across India must be met.

Besides the required number of teachers and proper training, upgrading infrastructure in schools is another factor in making the RTE a success.

The RTE act can bring home the change of the century provided an identified agency or authority was in place, as is the case with the Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Despite the critical angles to the effectivity of the RTE act, we have all reason to be hopeful.

Because, perfecting RTE act can wait; education cannot.

A few ways we can find. A few examples are already there to emulate.

There have been hundreds of top-of-the-line public schools across India which were already keeping their arms, and doors, open for underprivileged children, much before RTE act came into being.

The experience of Smile Foundation has been very encouraging dealing with the best of schools, government, private or otherwise. Children from Mission Education projects across India have been mainstreamed to the best available schools in the vicinity – on merit, with request and by invitation. Lives have been changed through the power of education.

Parents of the first generation learners, children themselves, privileged children already in school, their parents, teachers and school authorities, and the civil society are the catalysts in ensuring education for the underserved children.

Sensitizing the teachers, privileged children and their parents have brought dividends in the efforts of Smile Foundation. Thus came the much needed encouragement too.

“There are still issues of larger proportions for ensuring proper implementation of the RTE Act, including provision of huge resources. Resolving them is necessary, but one cannot wait till all issues are taken care of. Smart NGOs are trying to achieve the outcome in their own way and at least been able to leverage the Act, though with lot of difficulties,” says Santanu Mishra, Co-Founder & Executive Trustee, Smile Foundation.

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