With the Right to Education Act coming into force, India has joined the league of over 130 countries which have legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to children.
According to the UNESCO’s ‘Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010’, about 135 countries have constitutional provisions for free and non-discriminatory education for all.
However, the report says that despite the legal guarantee of free education, primary school fees continue to be charged in some countries.
It also cited a 2005 World Bank survey, which stated only 13 countries impart primary education totally free of cost. In majority of countries, some direct costs have been reported though no tuition fees are charged.
“In reality, free primary schooling still remains the exception rather than the rule,” says the report.
Chile tops the list of countries in providing free education for a period of 15 years to a child. It gives free and compulsory education to children in the age group of six to 21 years.
The Latin American country, where elementary education was among the worst two decades ago, had implemented a special education programme in 1990 which recorded a significant improvement among primary and upper primary students.
There are seven countries such as Germany, Belgium, Italy and Norway that have provisions of free compulsory education to children covering their entire schooling period.
Countries like Britain and New Zealand have made education compulsory and free for children for a period of 11 years.
Spain, France, Norway and Canada are among the 19 nations where education is free of cost for a duration of 10 years, ranging from the age of five to 15 or six to 16 years.
There are 34 countries, including Japan, Finland, Russia and Sweden where a child gets nine years of compulsory education, according to the report.
In India, the Right to Education law, providing free and compulsory schooling to children in the 6—14 year age bracket, came into force yesterday.
With the new education act now operational, India has joined some 20 other countries including Afghanistan, China and Switzerland which have laws guaranteeing free and compulsory education for eight years of elementary education.
India’s neighbours such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan do not have any law providing free education, where as Bangladesh and Myanmar have such provisions for a four-year-period while Nepal has five years of compulsory schooling.
According to the report, there are seven countries, including Romania and Brazil whose laws define seven years of compulsory education for a child, while five countries, including the Philippines and Georgia give children legal right to education for a period of six years.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iraq and eight other countries have the provision of five years of free education for children.
However, there are over 50 countries, including the US, South Africa, Malaysia and a majority of Sub-Saharan African countries which do not have any constitutional provision to provide free and compulsory education to children.
The UNESCO report, however, does not have data about certain countries on whether they have any constitutional provision of providing free education.
The report also states that some countries have achieved extraordinary progress in their education system and the number of children dropping out from schools has declined by 33 million worldwide since 1999.