The recent legislation on Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 is an instrument which could help in materialising many a child's dream.

It is the dream of every child to tuck the books in his or her school bag and walk to the school every morning. Whether, it is a walk through the maze of traffic or through the misty rice fields - urban or rural - rich or under privileged, it is the dream of every child to walk to the school every morning.

The recent legislation on Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act- 2009 is not only a brave move, especially in the face of the global economic meltdown, but also an instrument which could help in materialising many a child's dream. An outlay of Rs. 15,000 crore for the year 2010-2011 for the purpose, clearly indicates the government's resolve in implementing it.

It is undeniably a historic decision and can be said to be complimenting the global Convention on the Rights of the Child, another iconic decision that was taken by the UN General Assembly on November 20, 1989. It also highlights India's concern for children and its commitment towards the Convention and UN's Millennium Development Goals. The Convention was ratified by India in December 1992.

History

Children had been a matter of concern since time immemorial. But the first global move to legalise certain rights for children was moved by the League of Nation in 1924 by adopting the Geneva Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

This was followed by the UN General Assembly passing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the UN adopting the Rights of the Child in 1959 and finally the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In between and after, there were many supporting acts and protocols like International Covenants on Civil, Political, Economic, social and Cultural Rights, ILO's historic article on minimum age of employment, International Year of the Child (1979) and additional protocols to the Convention on involvement of children in armed conflict and sale of child for prostitution and child pornography in 2000, only to ‘make a world fit for children'.

This Act has its history embedded in the drafting of the Indian constitution at the time of Independence and more specifically to the Constitutional Amendment that included the Article 21A in the Indian constitution making Education a fundamental Right.

It could not be implemented then, as the amendment called for a legislation to state the mode of implementation through a separate Bill.

The rough draft of 2005 was opposed due to the mandatory provision of 25 per cent reservation for disadvantaged children in private schools. After much deliberation it was approved by the cabinet in November 2008 and passed in 2009 and implemented from 1 April 2010.

The implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act- 2009 clearly indicates that a child without education and freedom of expression cannot develop. Education is a universal dream and 6-14 years, as specified by the Act, is the age for transformative seeding of opportunity for every child.

The very essence of the Act indicates that children are rights holder and not just objects of charity.

The Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal said that the Act would make elementary education free and compulsory to all and about 1 crore children from the under privileged sector would stand to benefit. But at the same time he noted that it was the responsibility of all stakeholders to enforce it.

Apart from the three branches of the government- executive, parliamentary and judiciary- the other stakeholders would be the private sector, the media, religious leaders, the parents and the guardians and the NGOs. “The success of the Act depends on the sheer cooperation between the government and the above mentioned stake holders,” said the Director of Conduira Mohammed Abdullah. Conduira has adopted a school, B.B.V. High School, as part of its corporate social responsibility.

As per the Act, private educational institutions should reserve 25 per cent of the seats for children from weaker section. It also specifies an element of fee reimbursement to the schools.

Challenges

The Act goes beyond just providing free and compulsory education to include quality education to all. “Well this would be the first challenge.

Quality is an integral part of the Act and quality comes with infrastructure development. Infrastructure includes things like building, laboratories, basic amenities and libraries and as well as quality teachers. No amount of software and technology can replace teachers in flesh and blood. It is no doubt a landmark Act, but its success depends on its implementation.

The success also depends on the outlook of the stakeholders.

The private schools should welcome it openly, the parents of the disadvantaged children should encourage children to go to school and discourage dropouts, the NGOs should do the intervention job and the religious leaders should develop a positive outlook,” says the Director of Sri Prakash Educational Institutions Vasu Prakash.

Abdullah adds, “The implementation is in the formative stage and certain other things like reimbursement module (how, when and how much) and status of under privileged and disadvantaged needs to be defined clearly.”

“With all its challenges- it is still an historic decision. If every Indian gets educated- then ‘Brand India' will be even stronger,” says Vasu Prakash.