By Ummar Jamal
Education is the cornerstone of personal and societal development, serving as a powerful catalyst for positive change. Access to education ensures that opportunities are not limited by socio-economic status, gender, or other societal barriers. It is a transformative force that empowers individuals to reach their full potential. It equips them with knowledge, skills, and critical thinking abilities necessary to navigate life’s challenges. Access to education provides a pathway out of poverty, enabling individuals to break the cycle of deprivation and contribute meaningfully to their communities. A society that values education for all is inherently more just and equitable.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, was a pivotal step pertaining to the concept of education for all. It aimed at ensuring that every child in India, regardless of their socio-economic background, had access to quality education. Section 12(1)C of this act mandated unaided private schools to reserve 25% of their entry-level seats for children from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups. It recognized education as a fundamental right and sought to ensure that all children, regardless of their economic background, had access to quality education. The Act aimed to eradicate illiteracy, promote inclusive education, and bridge socio-economic gaps.
In April 2012, the Supreme Court while affirming the constitutionality of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, directed all schools, including those privately operated, to provide free education immediately to students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds from class-I until they reach the age of 14 years. The bench, comprised of Chief Justice S H Kapadia and Justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, specified that private unaided minority schools would be an exception to the RTE Act, relieving them from the mandate that 25% of their student body must consist of boys and girls from economically underprivileged families.
As of the 2021 report from the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), the specified provision has been put into practice in 16 states and Union Territories [UTs] nationwide (NCPCR, 2021). Assam, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh have implemented this particular section.
In the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the RTE Act was extended in 2019 under section 95 and the fifth schedule, Table-1. However, its implementation has fallen short, denying underprivileged students their fundamental right to education.
Despite the RTE Act’s noble objectives, it has faced numerous challenges in Jammu & Kashmir. The government and private schools have not taken adequate steps to enforce the Act’s provisions, resulting in the continued exclusion of disadvantaged students from the benefits of the Act. Section 12(1)C, a provision that was intended to bring about socio-economic equality, has largely remained unfulfilled in the region. The act’s implementation raises serious concerns about the government’s commitment to ensuring that every child receives the education they deserve.
People from different quarters have raised their concerns over the violations of the provisions of RTE Act from time to time. In December 2022, AAP leader and former education minister Harsh Dev Singh, on Friday, voiced his concern over the failure to implement the foremost provisions of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Highlighting the obligation of private schools under the RTE Act to enroll a minimum of 25% students from economically weaker sections (EWS), Harsh Dev Singh expressed disappointment over the insufficient execution of these provisions by the UT administration RTE Act in J&K.
Adding to the chorus of concern in 2022, Young Lawyers Forum, filed a PIL before the High Court of J&K and Ladakh, seeking the implementation of the Act in J&K. In response to the PIL, the High Court of J&K and Ladakh, in March this year took action by ordering the government to provide a status report on the steps taken to implement the RTE Act in Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that such legal action was necessary underscores the pressing need for more rigorous enforcement of the RTE Act in the region to safeguard children’s right to education and promote a more equitable society.
The promising initiative of the RTE Act, designed to provide quality education to all children in India, faces a critical juncture in Jammu and Kashmir. The recent directions by the High Court of J&K and Ladakh indicate a recognition of the challenges and a call for more stringent enforcement. To truly uphold educational equity in the region, it is imperative that all stakeholders, including the government and private schools, collaborate to ensure that every child can access the education they deserve. Through a united effort, we can promote inclusive education and lay the foundation for a more equitable society.
Ensuring that every child has equal access to quality education is not just a legal obligation but a moral imperative that needs to be upheld. Addressing the challenges and extending the reach of this provision is essential for the holistic development of our nation’s future generations, regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a J&K based columnist
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