Do Indian Children have a right to Free and Equal Education?

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On April 1, 2010 a Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) came into force in India. From that free and equal educationday forth, the entitlement of every child aged 6 to 14 to free and equal education in their immediate neighborhood had the same force of law as the Right to Life enshrined in that Nation’s constitution. 

The RTE places responsibility on the Government for achieving a reality in which no child may be denied admission for any reason whatsoever and private schools must admit at least 25% of pupils from weaker disadvantaged communities. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights bears responsibility for monitoring progress, and is empowered to administer fines for non-compliance. Bold words and even nobler thoughts - nine months later though, what progress has been achieved with implementing India’s compulsory education act?

free and equal educationOn Tuesday 25 January 2010 Indian President Pratibha Patil admitted that much still needed to be done. Our endeavor should be to create a level playing field in educational competitiveness so that students from all sections of society can enter premier institutions … the President said on the eve of the Nation’s Republic Day. Primary Education was clearly her special concern as she stressed the need for teachers and parents to work together for their children's futures.

On the same day Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Siba lashed out at schools in New Delhi that had been reported as not cooperating with the requirement to admit students from economically impoverished families. He free and equal educationplaced the burden firmly on State authorities to enforce the free and equal education law, and was clearly in no mood to argue the merits of the compulsory education act.

India still has a long way to go with implementing the rights of children enshrined in law. A survey carried out in October 2010 revealed that only 1 in 6 Indian adults have even heard of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, and that just 3% know that the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights exists. I doubt this child does either. Will the little boy benefit from India's dreams?

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