Right to Education and Challenges to EWS Children: An Analysis
Polity & Governance
11th Apr, 2019
- Successful implementation of the RTE Act has led to an improved net enrollment rate in primary education,infrastructure of schools and increased awareness among the states to abide by the curriculum mandate under the Act,
- However, thousands of EWS children are facing an uncertain future as they reach Class IX. Their parents are being asked to pay fee they cannot afford.
Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act
- Right to Education Act, 2009 proposed to provide free and compulsory elementary education for children between six and 14 years of age. It was passed to achieve the vision under Article 21-A.
- The Act made it legally binding for state and local governments to follow the norms laid down under the Act.
- The RTE Act 2009 guarantees admission to EWS children in private schools for up to 25% of all admissions that take place in schools at the entry level — nursery, kindergarten and Class I.
- These children do not have to pay tuition fee and are to be reimbursed for course material as well as uniforms. This clause is applicable up to Class VIII.
- The state can refuse to grant recognition to schools or withdraw recognition that has been conferred, for schools that do not adhere to the prescribed minimum quality, standards and rules.
Reserved seats for Economically Weaker Section (EWS):
- The mandate for reservation of 25 per cent seats in private unaided schools for EWS groups was a major step to bridge the gap between the quality of education offered by the government and private players.
- The definitions of disadvantaged groups and weaker sections have been defined under Section 2, Clauses (d) and (e) of the RTE Act as:
- A child belonging to disadvantaged groups refers to a child belonging to a Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribe, a socially and educationally backward class or such other group having disadvantages owing to social, cultural, economic, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other fact, as may be specified by the appropriate Government, by notification.
- A child belonging to weaker section refers to a child belonging to such parent or guardian whose annual income is lower than the minimum limit specified by the appropriate Government, by notification.
The Rationale behind RTE and EWS:
- Education is indeed an act of faith and social engineering — but not quick-fix social engineering.
- In view of the fact that children take time to socialize and teachers take time to develop new attitudes and pedagogic skills, the RTE Act provides for admission of disadvantaged and poor children at the entry level, covering pre-school and Class I.
- With these children moving up, the school will gradually have a more diverse population spread across all classes.
- Progression at this pace will allow children the opportunity to grow up together and create bonds: bonds that can survive social walls.
- The larger objective is to provide a common place where children sit, eat and live together for at least eight years of their lives across caste, class and gender divides in order that it narrows down such divisions in our society.
Why thousands of EWS children are facing an uncertain future?
- For hundreds of children — who got admission in Class I at private schools in Delhi, under the EWS quota in 2011 — the move from Class VIII to Class IX has left them staring at an uncertain future.
- Several schools have sent letters to their parents, telling them that if they want their children to continue in school, they will have to foot the bill.
- According to the RTE Act, children are to be provided free education only till Class VIII.
- In Delhi, one is eligible for the EWS quota if the parents’ income is less than Rs 1 lakh per annum, or Rs 8,333 per month.
- In many top schools in the city, the fee ranges from Rs 10,000-Rs 30,000 per month, depending on the facilities offered.
Unique position of RTI and EWS in Delhi:
- In Delhi, close to 350 schools were given land at institutional rates.
- For a majority of these schools, a clause was added in their lease document that they would have to reserve a certain percentage of seats for children from the EWS category.
- While some were set a responsibility of admitting at least 25% applicants from the EWS category, others were told to reserve 20% or 10%.
- Till the early 2000s, most schools did not follow the requirement.
- In 2004, a Delhi High Court order said all schools built on government land will have to adhere to their lease requirements — a point reiterated in a Supreme Court order in a different case the same year.
- In 2007, the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education (DoE) notified that all schools on government land will have to reserve 20% of their seats uniformly for EWS children.
The main issue in Delhi is that the RTE Act provision seems to have gotten mixed up with the Delhi Development Authority provision, under which schools getting land at concessional rate were supposed to set aside some seats for EWS kids.
According to experts, at least 20% children who were admitted under the EWS category will have to be supported till Class XII as it is a requirement of the schools’ lease documents.
Other significant challenges affecting RTE:
- Whilst the greater emphasis on enrollment levels and infrastructure standards, the Act has been less than successful in providing an adequate focus on quality in education.
- RTE Act only applies to EWS (Economically Weaker Section) children till Class VIII.
- Variations have also been observed even in terms of provisions of entitlements for EWS children across states.
- The government does not keep track of children admitted under the category in private schools.
- Various state rules do not even specify which agency or authority would maintain these records.
- Elementary education forms the basis of mental development in a child, and equips him/her with the analytical skills; confidence and competencies which help pave the way for a successful future for him/her.
- It is imperative for nations to focus their attention on providing quality elementary education to their citizens, especially to the underprivileged sections of the society.
What is the way out?
Nothing is stopping the government from using their majority to pass the resolution to say that the RTE Act for Delhi extends to Class XII. Once that is done, the state government would have to pay schools for the children they teach, the way it’s done currently.
Significant government policies/interventions that have shaped the education landscape in India
- 1950: Constitutional mandate –It made education a directive principle of state policy. It states that “The State shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education to all children until they complete the age of 14 years”
- 1986: National Policy of Education (NPE) - Its principles state free and compulsory education for all children up to 14 years of age, adequate and satisfactory emoluments and training for teachers, emphasis on the development of languages, equalization of education opportunities, high priority on science education and research, low cost and high quality textbooks for students and examinations to be introduced as a continuous evaluation process for learning assessment.
- 1993: Shri Unnikrishnan Judgment - The Supreme Court accorded the status of fundamental right to ‘free and compulsory education’ for all children till they attain14 years of age.
- 1995: Mid-Day Meal Scheme - To enhance enrolment, retention and attendance and simultaneously improve nutritional levels among children.
- 1998: Education Ministers’ Resolve - “Universal elementary education should be pursued in the mission mode. It emphasized the need to pursue a holistic and convergent approach towards UEE”.
- 1999: National Committee’s Report on UEE in the Mission mode -The Report emphasized the preparation of District Elementary Education Plans for UEE.
- 2001: SarvaShiksha Abhiyan (SSA) - Sought to provide useful and relevant elementary education for all children in the age group of six to 14 years by 2010. It recognized the need to improve the education system with active participation of the community and envisioned to bridge the prevalent gender and social inequalities, leading to a nationally integrated country.
According to the RTE Act, children are to be provided free education only till Class VIII. Thousands of EWS children are facing an uncertain future as they reach Class IX. Critically analyses of the Right to Education act within this frame of concern.