The National Education Policy, 2020, unveiled by the Narendra Modi-led union government on Wednesday proposed increasing the ambit of Right to Education Act (Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act) from three to 18 years.
While on paper, the law is good for the goal of universal education, there are often issues relating to private schools claiming that the state government does not reimburse them in time. On the other hand, activists point out that private schools make it hard for students of disadvantaged backgrounds to continue by levying non-academic fees and other means.
While Article 21A of the Constitution guarantees education as a fundamental right up to 14 years of age, it was implemented by the law notified in August, 2009. Currently under the existing framework, RTE is applicable to six to 14 years and ensures that every child in the country gets free and compulsory education till Class 8.
This Act meant that in addition to government and government-aided institutions, even private institutions (un-aided) were made to reserve 25% seats for students of economically disadvantaged category.
Education being a concurrent subject under Article 42 of the Constitution, states had to pass their own laws to implement this policy and specifics were decided by respective state governments. TNM spoke to multiple stakeholders across south India about their thoughts about the new policy and how itâs going to affect things on ground.
Fellow of the Centre for Child and Law at NLSIU, Bengaluru, Niranjan Aradhya, said the policy of extending it to 18 years is good and the same has been demanded by civil society organisations for the last two decades. He, however, doubted the intention of the government as there have been no legal amendments proposed yet.
âUnless you bring an amendment to the Act, I donât see anything changing. However, in terms of the idea, this is nothing radical. This demand has been there since India ratified against Child Labour in 1992 at UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). Now it seems, this is being done under obligation under the Sustainable Development Goals (of the UN),â he told TNM.
Nagati Narayana, Chairman, Centre for Educational Studies (CES), Hyderabad concurred with Aradhya saying while on paper the move is good, the NEP 2020 is useless in this regard as it does not even propose an amendment.
Prahalathan, the founder of Bhumi, a Chennai-based NGO working towards implementing RTE spoke in favour of the policy. He said, âThis is definitely a breather for many students who are currently studying under the RTE in private schools. Many parents were worried on how to make the children continue education in the same private school after the aid gets over.â
He, however, conceded that RTE in private schools is not for the poorest of the poor. âThe parents must be able to bear the cost of food and uniforms to make their children study in the school. So I support RTE because this can give social inclusion and bring about social progressiveness. Even the preamble of the RTE mentions the same," he reasoned.
Critics of the system slammed the move over the governmentâs intention.
âThe NEP has taken âeducationâ from the policy. Academic education is in fact denied by vocationalising it. So while they are flipping the system by confining education to vocational training, how does it help when the age limit is extended? This change is insignificant,â says Shajir Khan, Kerala secretary of All India Save Education Committee.
An academic based in Chennai who wished to remain anonymous demanded that the funds used for reimbursement of private schools can be better spent on creating quality infrastructure for government institutions and negating the need for private setups.
The concern for private school management remains with the lack of clarity about how they will be reimbursed for the students from economically disadvantaged.
Nandakumar, state general secretary of Tamil Nadu Nursery, Primary Teachers Association (of private schools) in Tamil Nadu said, "This is definitely positive news for all of us. The clause of the policy is good and we welcome the move. However, the central government should think on how they are going to manage the financial burden that will get created because of the decision."
Ibrahim Khan, president of Kerala CBSE Schools' Management Association told TNM that this policy change is a non-issue in Kerala as according to the state norms, students canât opt for a private school if there is a government school within 2-km radius of his residence.
Even though in June, 2019, the Karnataka High Court gave a ruling to the same effect, Associated Managements of Primary and Secondary Schools in President of Karnataka (KAMS) Shashi Kumar D told TNM that they are still owed in previous dues.
âProviding free and compulsory education should be the governmentâs duty and if they want us to take part we need to be adequately compensated for the same. Till date, we are owed Rs 750-plus crore on RTE dues which have been piling up for the last two years. And if this is extended till 18 years, our costs will go up four times. In principal, we do not oppose it but the government should be clear on how they plan to reimburse us,â he told TNM.
With inputs from Neethu Joseph and Bharathi SP.