Education is life
IE reports one of the most far reaching judgments handed down by the Supreme Court:
The Supreme Court has upheld the Right to Education Act and its 25 per cent quota for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in all schools — public, private and in-between (except minority unaided institutions). It dismissed the petition of certain private schools, which argued that the directive to admit these children was unconstitutional, cut into their autonomy, and interfered with their capacity to be “centres of excellence”. The real constitutional concern, as the court has said, is providing quality education to all children between 6 and 14, as promised by the RTE — an obligation that all educational institutions must pitch in to fulfil. This does not mean shifting responsibility from the government — private schools will be compensated by the state to the extent that it spends per child in the public system (and how this will be managed is crucial).
In fact, the judgment impacts the interpretation of constitution, because it holds that a right to education is part of the right to life. The Hindu reports:
A Bench of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Swatanter Kumar while upholding the law, however, held that it would not be applicable to unaided minority schools. Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan, gave a dissenting judgment.
The majority judgment said: “We hold that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is constitutionally valid and shall apply to a school established, owned or controlled by the appropriate Government or a local authority; an aided school including aided minority school(s) receiving aid or grants to meet whole or part of its expenses from the appropriate Government or the local authority; a school belonging to specified category; and an unaided non-minority school not receiving any kind of aid or grants to meet its expenses from the appropriate Government or the local authority.”
The CJI who wrote the judgment said: “It will operate from today. In other words, this will apply from the academic year 2012-13. However, admissions given by unaided minority schools prior to the pronouncement of this judgment shall not be reopened.
“By judicial decisions, right to education has been read into right to life in Article 21. A child who is denied right to access education is not only deprived of his right to live with dignity, he is also deprived of his right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1) (a). The 2009 Act seeks to remove all those barriers including financial and psychological barriers which a child belonging to the weaker section and disadvantaged group has to face while seeking admission.”
The Bench said: “To put an obligation on the unaided non-minority school to admit 25 per cent children in class I under Section 12(1) (c) cannot be termed as an unreasonable restriction. Such a law cannot be said to transgress any constitutional limitation. The object of the 2009 Act is to remove the barriers faced by a child who seeks admission to class I and not to restrict the freedom under Article 19(1) (g).
On the important issue of the state’s contribution to primary education, TOI reported:
The schools will get a subsidy from the government for giving free education (65% of the subsidy will come from the Centre and 35% from states), but the subsidy is not expected to meet the full cost. The government subsidy will be based on the expenditure per student in government schools or Kendriya Vidyalayas, while many private schools spend (or at least, charge as fee) much more.
According to estimates, the government spends Rs 3,000 per child per year for primary education. The Centre has given states the freedom to implement its own grants and aids, but many states are financially broke and the grants vary from state to state. For instance, Delhi gives about Rs 1,200 per child per month, while Haryana doesn’t give any aid to schools.
According to 2007-08 statistics quoted by the Supreme Court, out of the 12,50,755 schools imparting elementary education in India, 80.2% were government run, 5.8% private aided and 13.1% private unaided. Of these, 87.2% of the schools were located in rural areas.
Unless the government system of compensating schools works in a timely and efficient manner, private schools will need to pass on any financial burden to paying parents. These views are very clearly stated in an article in Deccan Herald:
Ameeta Wattal, principal of Springdales School said the endeavour will not be successful until there is full co-operation from both government and private schools. “This is a historic judgement which will provide a platform for children to gain good education. But does the onus of providing quality education lie only with private schools?” said Wattal
“The government should strengthen its schools in such a way that people do not feel the compulsion to send their children only to a private school,” she added.
She added that the government has not paid for students who are admitted under the EWS category in last three years.
“How are we going to support non-fee paying children if the government does not support us? Schools cannot raise fees arbitrarily. The government needs to ensure adequate support for better implementation of this judgement,” she said. Sujit Bhattacharya, director of Indus World School in Greater Noida echoed similar views.
Then there are schools which turn a tidy profit, and these are unable to take the judgement as the last word. So one can expect that school education will become more litigious in the coming years. One can see portents of the future in this quote taken from the report by India Today:
Arun Kapur, director of Vasant Valley School, welcomed the judgment, saying: “One needs to note that the Supreme Court has given split verdict on the issue. The majority judgment is silent on a lot points that have been discussed detail by Justice Radhakrishnan his dissenting opinion.”
Highlighting one such instance, he said: “The minority judgment states that provisions regarding the proof of age, denial of admission and age-appropriate admission are directional and not mandatory, and the majority judgment says nothing about this. Presuming that the minority judgment prevails on issues that the majority has chosen to remain silent on, I think the verdict provides great clarity in areas that were causing a lot of concern to the private schools.”
There are clearly many issues to be ironed out in getting to a workable system. The union government cannot walk out of the education sector on the strength of this act. To the contrary, it must expand its spending on school education. Over the years this will put a welcome spotlight on the woeful record of state governments in the area of education. However, the judgment brings a very good perspective on the issue: it sets the rights of the child above that of school management.