• The Right to Education Act (RTE) is significant legislation that represents a turning point in India’s educational system. The right to education has become a basic right in the country since its implementation.
  • Right to Education Act (RTE) provided free and compulsory education to children in 2009 and enforced it as a fundamental right under Article 21-A.
  • The Right to Education Act is completely titled “the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act”. It was passed by the Parliament in August 2009. When the Act came into force in 2010, India became one among 135 countries where education is a fundamental right of every child.
  • The 86th Constitutional Amendment (2002) inserted Article 21A in the Indian Constitution which states:
    • “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of 6 to 14 years in such manner as the State, may by law determine.”
  • As per this, the right to education was made a fundamental right and removed from the list of Directive Principles of State Policy.
  • The RTE is the consequential legislation envisaged under the 86th Amendment.
  • The article incorporates the word “free” in its title. What it means is that no child (other than those admitted by his/her parents in a school not supported by the government) is liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education.
  • This Act makes it obligatory on the part of the government to ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children falling in the age bracket six to fourteen years.
  • Essentially, this Act ensures free elementary education to all children in the economically weaker sections of society.

Constitutional Background

  • Originally Part IV of Indian Constitution, Article 45 and Article 39 (f) of DPSP, had a provision for state funded as well as equitable and accessible education.
  • The first official document on the Right to Education was Ramamurti Committee Report in 1990.
  • In 1993, the Supreme Court’s landmark judgment in the Unnikrishnan JP vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Others held that Education is a Fundamental right flowing from Article 21.
  • Tapas Majumdar Committee (1999) was set up, which encompassed insertion of Article 21A.
  • The 86th amendment to the constitution of India in 2002, provided Right to Education as a fundamental right in part-III of the Constitution.
  • The same amendment inserted Article 21A which made Right to Education a fundamental right for children between 6-14 years.
  • The 86th amendment provided for a follow-up legislation for Right to Education Bill 2008 and finally Right to Education Act 2009.

Feature of Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009

  • The RTE Act aims to provide primary education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
  • It enforces Education as a Fundamental Right (Article 21).
  • The Act makes it clear that ‘compulsory education’ implies that it is an obligation on the part of the government to ensure the admission, attendance and completion of elementary education of children between the ages of six and fourteen. The word ‘free’ indicates that no charge is payable by the child which may prevent him/her from completing such education.
  • The act mandates 25% reservation for disadvantaged sections of the society where disadvantaged groups include:
    • SCs and STs
    • Socially Backward Class
    • Differently abled
  • It also makes provisions for a non-admitted child to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
  • It also states that sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.
  • It lays down the norms and standards related to:
    • Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs)
    • Buildings and infrastructure
    • School-working days
    • Teacher-working hours.
  • It had a clause for “No Detention Policy” which has been removed under The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2019.
  • It also says there should be no urban-rural imbalance in teacher postings.
  • It also provides for prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
  • It provides for the appointment of teachers with the requisite entry and academic qualifications.
  • It prohibits
    • Physical punishment and mental harassment
    • Screening procedures for admission of children
    • Capitation fee
    • Private tuition by teachers
    • Running of schools without recognition
  • It focuses on making the child free of fear, trauma and anxiety through a system of child friendly and child centred learning.
  • The Act envisages that the curriculum should be developed in coherence with the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution, and that which would take care of the all-round development of the child. The curriculum should build on the knowledge of the child, on his/her potentiality and talents, help make the child free of trauma, fear and anxiety via a system that is both child-centric and child-friendly.

Significance of RTE

  • With the passing of the Right to Education Act, India has moved to a rights-based approach towards implementing education for all. This Act casts a legal obligation on the state and central governments to execute the fundamental rights of a child (as per Article 21 A of the Constitution). 
  • The Act lays down specific standards for the student-teacher ratio, which is a very important concept in providing quality education.
  • It also talks about providing separate toilet facilities for girls and boys, having adequate standards for classroom conditions, drinking water facilities, etc.
  • The stress on avoiding the urban-rural imbalance in teachers’ posting is important as there is a big gap in the quality and numbers regarding education in the villages compared to the urban areas in the country.
  • The Act provides for zero tolerance against the harassment and discrimination of children. The prohibition of screening procedures for admission ensures that there would be no discrimination of children on the basis of caste, religion, gender, etc.
  • The Act also mandates that no kid is detained until class 8. It introduced the Continuous Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system in 2009 to have grade-appropriate learning outcomes in schools.
  • The Act also provides for the formation of a School Management Committee (SMC) in every school in order to promote participatory democracy and governance in all elementary schools. These committees have the authority to monitor the school’s functioning and prepare developmental plans for it.
  • The Act is justiciable and has a Grievance Redressal mechanism that permits people to take action when the provisions of the Act are not complied with.
  • The RTE Act mandates for all private schools to reserve 25 per cent of their seats for children from socially disadvantaged and economically backward sections. This move is intended to boost social inclusion and pave the way for a more just and equal country.
  • This provision is included in Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act. All schools (private, unaided, aided or special category) must reserve 25% of their seats at the entry-level for students from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and disadvantaged groups.
  • When the rough version of the Act was drafted in 2005, there was a lot of outcry in the country against this large percentage of seats being reserved for the underprivileged. However, the framers of the draft stood their ground and were able to justify the 25% reservation in private schools.
  • This provision is a far-reaching move and perhaps the most important step in so far as inclusive education is concerned.
  • This provision seeks to achieve social integration.
  • The Act has increased enrolment in the upper primary level (Class 6-8) between 2009 and 2016 by 19.4%.
  • In rural areas, in 2016, only 3.3% of children in the 6 – 14 years bracket were out of school.
  • The loss incurred by the schools as a result of this would be reimbursed by the central government.

Achievements of Right to Education Act,2009

  • The RTE Act has successfully managed to increase enrolment in the upper primary level (Class 6-8).
  • Stricter infrastructure norms resulted in improved school infrastructure, especially in rural areas.
  • More than 3.3 million students secured admission under 25% quota norm under RTE.
  • It made education inclusive and accessible nationwide.
  • Removal of “no detention policy” has brought accountability in the elementary education system.
  • The Government has also launched an integrated scheme, for school education named as Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, which subsumes the three schemes of school education:
    • Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
    • Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA)
    • Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Teacher Education (CSSTE).

Limitation of Right to Education Act, 2009

  • Age group for which Right to Education is available ranges from 6 – 14 years of age only, which can be made more inclusive and encompassing by expanding it to 0 – 18 years.
  • Children below 6 years are not covered under the Act.
  • There is no focus on quality of learning, as shown by multiple ASER reports, thus RTE Act appears to be mostly input oriented.
  • Five States namely Goa, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Telangana have not even issued notification regarding 25% seats for underprivileged children of society under the RTE.
  • More focus is being given over statistics of RTE rather than quality of learning.
  • Lack of teachers affect pupil-teacher ratio mandated by RTE which in turn affects the quality of teaching .
  • Many of the schemes under the Act have been compared to the previous schemes on education such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and have been plagued with corruption charges and inefficiency.
  • At the time of admissions, many documents such as birth certificate, BPL certificate, etc. are required. This move seems to have left out orphans from being beneficiaries of the Act.
  • There have been implementational hurdles in the 25% reservation of seats for EWS and others in private schools. Some of the challenges in this regard are discriminatory behaviour towards parents and difficulties experienced by students to fit in with a different socio-cultural milieu.
  • Regarding the ‘no detention’ policy till class 8, an amendment to the Act in 2019, introduced regular annual exams in classes 5 and 8.
    • In case a student fails in the annual exam, he/she is given extra training and made to appear for a re-exam. If this re-exam is not passed, the student can be detained in the class.
    • This amendment was made after many states complained that without regular exams, the learning levels of children could not be evaluated effectively.
    • The states which were against this amendment were six states with higher learning outcomes due to their effective implementation of the CCE system as mandated in the Act. (The six states were Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Goa, Telangana and Maharashtra.)

Steps to Be Taken

  • Minority Religious Schools need to be brought under the RTE.
  • More focus on teacher training programs.
  • Quality of education needs to be emphasized over quantity of education.
  • Steps should be taken to make the teaching profession attractive.
  • Society as a whole needs to be supportive of education for children without biases.

Way Forward

It has been ten years since the implementation of RTE Act, but it can be seen that it still has a long way to go to be called successful in its purpose. Creation of a conducive atmosphere and supply of resources would pave the way for a better future for individuals as well as the nation as a whole.

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