State governments are going “against the letter and spirit” of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) on several issues in the State rules they have formulated, reveals a recent review report of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).
They have in effect diluted the Act that is supposed to provide all children between ages 6 and 14 the fundamental right of free and compulsory education.
The report points out “major gaps” in most of the State RTE rules regarding the provision of free education, documentation for age proof, composition and formation of School Management Committees, neighbourhood schools and 25 per cent reservation in private schools. The preliminary review report covers 23 States.
While the Central RTE rules expressly mentions ‘free education’ as an entitlement for all children, most of the States have skipped the term in their rules. Some, like Haryana, have included ‘free education’ but have not mentioned other entitlements such as free text books, writing material and uniforms which are provided under Section 12 of the RTE Act.
While the Act clearly states that no child shall be denied school admission due to lack of age proof and that a declaration by parents of the child is sufficient proof, many of the rules ask for an affidavit as document to prove the child’s age.
Regarding composition and formation of school management committees (SMCs), several State rules run contrary to the Central provisions. While Central RTE rules provide that the SMC should elect a chairperson and vice chairperson from among its parent members, many States have done otherwise. Andhra Pradesh RTE rules, for instance, say that the Sarpanch shall be the chairperson of the SMC in rural areas and the Councillor / Corporator in Municipal areas. Assam has authorised a government official — the District Education Officer — to be involved in the election of the chairperson and vice chairperson based on criteria such as educational qualification and aptitude. The review report points out that this may “lead to arbitrariness, discrimination and be unfair to parents of children belonging to weaker and disadvantaged groups”. Gujarat State rules provide another contrary provision of putting a member from the management or the Trust of the school in the SMC.
In the case of neighbourhood schools too, several States have not followed Central provisions. For instance, Madhya Pradesh does not provide the limit of neighbourhood for Class 1 to 5. Under the Karnataka rules, limit to neighbourhood area for Class 8 has been provided as a walking distance of 5 km while it is 3 km in the Central rules.
In some of the States provisions relating to 25 per cent reservation in admission to private schools are also contrary to the Central rules. In Andhra Pradesh, the State rule provides reservation within reservation by further classifying children. In Punjab, parents or guardians are required to apply for admission against 25 per cent seats in private schools if children of such background are unable to get admission in government or aided schools. The Central rule says that children belonging to weaker or disadvantaged groups have a right to admission in private neighbourhood schools up to 25 per cent irrespective of other criteria.
“The review report that looks at implementation of the Act on the ground three years after it was passed, clearly seems to indicate that the promised “no TC, no BC, no DC” ( no transfer certificate, no birth certificate, no disability certificate) still prove to be hurdles for those seeking admission,” say rights activists.