The Indian government has approved a landmark bill which guarantees free and compulsory education to all children aged 6 to 14. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill was unanimously passed in the Rajya Sabha, India’s upper House of Parliament in late July and was successfully voted on in the lower house, Lok Sabha on 4 August.
S. Eswaran, a member of EI’s global Executive Board and the General Secretary of the All-India Primary Teachers’ Federation had this to say, “We are very happy. This is the outcome of our sincere efforts and agitation launched by AIPTF with the support of all affiliates,” and continued “We have achieved success in our struggle for getting every child in the country the fundamental right to education.”
Indrashekhar Mishra, General Secretary of the secondary teachers' union, AISTF contended “the bill is a step in the right direction” and one which will rejuvenate the education sector.
EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen welcomed the news. “This is an enormous step forward for 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.
The Bill seeks to make access to education more equitable. Vetting of students and parents, and demands for arbitrary capitation fees to secure admission to public schools will be proscribed under the legislation which obliges private schools to make a quarter of their places available to disadvantaged children on a non-fee paying basis.
AISTF expressed concern that the latter clause “will encourage privatisation and thereby commercialisation of school education” and advocated “changes to ensure free and compulsory education for the child up to the age of 18 years”. Chief among their recommendations is the implementation of a neighbourhood school concept which aims to send children to the schools closest their home.
With at least 70 million children out of school, the practicalities of guaranteeing education are daunting, and will demand increased funding. 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 [teacher] appointment,” he said.