India has passed a landmark bill providing for free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14. In a vote held 20 July, the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper House of Parliament, gave unanimous approval to The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill.
The vote came after a long and intense struggle by teachers and their unions across India, said Mr. S. Eswaran, a member of EI’s global Executive Board and the General Secretary of the All-India Primary Teachers’ Federation.
“We are very happy. This is the outcome of our sincere efforts and agitation launched by AIPTF with the support of all affiliates,” said Eswaran. “We have achieved success in our struggle for getting every child in the country the fundamental right to education.”
EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen welcomed the news. “This is an enormous step forward for a country such as India, which faces significant challenges in eliminating child labour and reaching the goal of universal access to quality public education. EI congratulates all of the Indian teachers and trade union activists who have worked so hard to bring forward this historic legislation,” van Leeuwen said.
Winding up the five-hour debate, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said, "We are dealing with an issue that will determine the course of India in the 21st Century…. We must move forward by sending a strong message to the world and to our children that we are determined to provide them quality education."
Sibal noted that about half of India’s 200 million children are out of the education system. “We have to get them back to school,” he said. "It is not an easy task to embark on a national enterprise but we have to do it. Is it easy to tackle climate change? Is it easy to counter the global meltdown? … I agree it is a difficult task. Together, we have to do it, we must do it, and we will do it," he stated.
Eswaran of the AIPTF estimated that about 2,200,000 additional teachers would be needed in the next two to three years to meet the requirements of the bill. “This would influence the quality of education as well as opportunities for [teachers’] appointment,” he said.