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Right to Education- Is it as brilliant as it is portrayed?

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

RTE an overview


he World Declaration and the Framework for Action recognize the necessity to give to present and coming generations an expanded vision of, and a renewed commitment to, basic education. The Declaration reaffirms that education is a fundamental right for all people, women and men, of all ages. Primary education must be universal, ensure that the basic learning needs of all children are satisfied, and take into account the culture, needs and opportunities of the community. India is signatory to three key international instruments that guarantee the Right to Education – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Covenant), 1966 and the (UDHR) Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), 1989. In 2002, India joined, albeit after fifty-two years of Independence, the host of countries that provide a constitutional guarantee for free and compulsory education (FCE). Article 21–A of the Indian Constitution casts a duty upon the State to provide FCE to children in the age group of six to fourteen years, ‘as the State may, by law, determine’. Ours is a country that proudly boasts of article 21-A[1] for providing free and compulsory to children from the ages of 6-14, but the dismal way it is implemented is a shocking revelation. The Right to Education received considerable impetus during the last decade as a result of the concerted effort of many groups and agencies that made determined efforts to ensure that all children in India receive at least minimum education irrespective of their socioeconomic status and their ability to pay for education in a situation of continuous impoverishment and erosion of basic needs.[2] But in reality the right to education act in our country is a ruse to create an illusion that the government is doing everything within its power to actually eradicate illiteracy in our country. The Right to Education Act came into effect on 1st April, 2010 exactly 3 years back from now as Government of India’s most ambitious project in education, with a vision to provide free and compulsory education to children, but how much it has yielded till now?

The enactment of a project alone is not enough, necessary measures have to be taken to ensure that steps are actually taken to ensure the proper implementation of the project zeroing in on the various factors that actually contribute to the success of the project. With the case in hand these factors include proper infrastructure and quality infrastructure. Recent studies show that children are not able to grasp study material that are being taught to children who are three grades younger than them. Students around the age of 14-15 (roughly in their 9th grade) are unable to form a single coherent sentence in English. The basis of comparison over here is not the level knowledge of any particular language as a whole but also the entire level of education provided in the whole primary level as a whole.


Earlier the system of education that prevailed in our country was that of a gurukul, where children went and stayed with their guru and gained worldly knowledge which was imparted to them as the teacher deemed fit. This system had a barrier namely caste as only those who belonged to the upper strata of the society were allowed to attend these gurukul’s and as always there was the question of affordability as well. This system was changed during the British era where modern education systems were introduced to the Indian sub continent[3]. Even this form of education was available solely to the upper strata of the society even this system of education excluded the major part of the society thus alienating them from the concept of education. For instance, while reporting about the educational situation in Bellary (presently in the State of Karnataka) in the early nineteenth century A.D., Campbell, the then District Collector observed that “…it cannot have escaped the government that of nearly a million of souls in this district, not 7000 are now at school … In many villages where formerly there were schools, there are now none…..” Similarly, missionary notice of 1856 stated that in all other parts of the country “….a school, either government or missionary is as rare as a light house on our coast… there are four schools existing among three or four million of people….”[4] Thus it can be justifiable to conclude that the system of education has always evaded the lower strata of the society from time immemorial. This being said the current provision under Article 21-A of the constitution does attempt to provide education to all children between the ages of 6-14. The introduction of Article 21–A watered down the Judgment of the Supreme Court in the celebrated Unnikrishnan Case. A Right which was available to all children up to the age of 14 years was reduced to a right for children in the age group of 6 to 14 only through the restrictive language of the Constitutional amendment. Even more critical to the future of this right is the wording of Article 21A which finally leaves it to the state to provide ‘in such manner as the state may, by law, determine’.[5] Bridging the gap between private unaided schools and ‘government schools’ is a prerequisite for establishing a ‘common school system’.[6]

The policing model of education in India is somewhat similar to the carrot and stick approach. The emphasis on education in our country has always been treated with the pre conceived premise in our mind that parents are not willing to send children to schools as they do not know the value of education but consider a situation where a poor parent is unable to send her child to school because of her need for an additional source of income or additional help for household chores. Under the current model, such a parent is automatically denounced as an unwilling parent who does not or is unable to appreciate the benefits of formal school education but this being the point made it is also imminent to notice that the term formal education is merely a ‘catchphrase’.

 The government has enacted many schemes to promote RTE and one such incentive available is the “Mid Day Meal Scheme”. The mid day meal scheme has been implemented all over the country and this has given considerable impetus to parents to send their children to school just to ensure one square meal every day and thus this scheme has gained popularity.


In 2002, the eighty sixth amendment inserted Article 21 A[7] in the Constitution of India which entitled every child from the age of six to fourteen to free and compulsory education. Right to Education was made a fundamental right. The enactment of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act followed this in 2009. For the betterment of poor children who cannot afford to go to schools, this was a good step taken by the state. On the bright side, the Act is very specific about good quality physical infrastructure of the schools and teachers, training for the teachers, age appropriate classrooms, year round admissions for proper access to education and state recognition for such schools. But the law induced intense debate about its feasibility and implementation.

The right to education act is certainly a boon for the country as it prohibits laissez-faire in education system. Nevertheless it is a crippled law which only provides free education to a specific age group. It may get a child into a school but it cannot make him a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. The Act is silent about the education after the age of 14 which is the career oriented phase for a child. There is no specific process for subsidised education from the state after that for meritorious students. Also, the Act does not cater to the absence of pre school education provision for children below the age of six years.[8]

While the Act stipulates non-discrimination against the economically weak but does not place any restriction on the fees charged by the unaided private schools.[9] In July, 2013, the Supreme Court of India issued a notice to the Delhi Government that Fundamental Right to Education is also applicable to private unaided schools. The bench held that there is no justification in taking out such schools from the purview of Article 21 A as it would only make a parallel world of commercialized education.[10]

Article 26 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration defines Right to Education in such a way that the right comes out as a multi-faceted right. It does not just talk about primary and elementary education but also recommends provision for technical and professional education in higher level on the basis of merit. Education is meant to promote tolerance and not be divided on the basis on class, caste, gender or any other factor. The guiding principle for education policy for UNESCO is “lifelong education” and “lifelong learning”. The state’s concern for primary and secondary education in India represents democratization of education in our country but does not fulfill all the needs of the deprived.[11]

There are many untouched areas in the debate of implementation of RTE which need to be discussed. India is a country of beliefs, beliefs of all kinds, some of these being destructive too. Such a destructive belief is the idea of gender inequality. Historically, girls have a disadvantage in enrolment into schools as the opportunity cost of a girl child’s time is higher than that of a boy. The Act does not pay any special heed to this fact. But the issue of gender bias does not end here. In April, 2013, a writ petition was filed by the eunuchs of in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court against the private schools of the state which refuse admission for the third gender.[12] The counselor for the petitioner pleaded violation of their right under Article 14 and 15 of the Constitution of India. Alienation exists in all forms in our country and when the state is recognizing right to education as a fundamental right, this factor needs to be taken into account.

The Right to Education Act is silent on many other debatable issues like quality of teachers and teaching, detention and corporal punishment, specific working days and instruction hours, stressful exam system (no board exam in elementary school), banning the system of private tuitions etc.[13]


Education is not a commodity to be sold in the market. It is a fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution of India. Every citizen of our country is entitled to be educated and to have equal opportunity to build his/her own career irrespective of economic status, caste, religion, gender bias etc.

Therefore it is recommended that the state bring some changes in the prevalent law.

Expansion of purview: The purview of the Act should extend to all educational institutions, private or government, aided or unaided, primary, elementary or tertiary level. It should take into account the education below the age of 6 years and above the age of 14 years and diminish the chasm between the privileged and the deprived.

The recommendation part of this article has been dealt in three parts:-

The end of bias: Bias exists in our education system in all forms. There should not be any disadvantage for any gender in particular and positive discrimination for females and trans-genders should be encouraged. Here special impetus is given on the ‘third gender’ who have succumbed to the social alienation have not voiced their opinions and demands yet. Somewhere this issue also includes the system of private tuitions. The state should expressly ban this practice.

End of arbitrariness: There should be a provision that prescribes the conduct of the teachers and puts an end to arbitrary practices like corporal punishment, scolding, mental torture, pressurising and detention. The load of school bag, homework, frequency of exams and rules of evaluation should be stipulated by law. Assaulting and harassing of students by teachers should have special penalisation in the eye of law for the purpose of deterrence.

Betterment of the Infra structure and teaching faculty available:

As mentioned by the Supreme Court Ad hoc teachers appointed by the government are “shiksha shatrus”[14]. The content delivered and the methodology used to deliver it is also an important aspect that has to be considered. Many of the government school teachers also deal out corporal punishments to the students irrespective of it being an offence. Also many of the schools are rundown and defaced and hence there is a huge necessity. Measures should be taken to deal with the same.


“Only the educated are free” – Epictetus, Greek Philosopher

Education makes a human being a man. It gives a person the freedom to live his own life and the freedom to voice his opinions. The governance of an education system must be committed to the absolute democratization of the schools and colleges of the country. The law should pay heed to every aspect and issue of the system. The Right to Education Act needs drastic improvisation in order to support the deprived and push them towards learning. This article has modestly pointed out and suggested changes in the law that defines one of the most basic fundamental right available to the children of our country as they are the ones who are to lead us into the future.

About the Author(s)

BBA-LL.B (Hons.)
Symbiosis Law School, Noida



1 21A. The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine

2 Niranjanaradhya & Kashyap “The ‘Fundamentals of the Fundamental Right to Education in India” retrieved from

3 S Nurullah and J P Naik, A History of Education in India (Bombay: Macmillan, 1943) “Decentralisation, Professionalism and the School System in India”,Economic and Political Weekly, October 14, 2000, for a clear but concise descriptionof ancient versus modern education systems.

4 B B Misra, The Indian Middle Classes (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1961) p 160.

5 Dr Niranjanaradhya and Aruna Kashyap (2006), The ‘Fundamentals’ of the Fundamental Right to Education in India ISBN: 81-8291-042-0

6  “Private Schools in India Wriggle Out of 25% Seats for the Poor”, The Economic Times, August 8, 2006;

S Singh, “Right to Education Only on Paper”, The Statesman, October 22, 2006; also, Seethalakshmi S and M Seshagiri, “Private Schools Have the Last Laugh”, The Times of India, August 8, 2006, available at

7 Supra note 1

8 Sarvapalli Ram, Right to Education: Role of Private Sector, Ernest and Young, 20

9 Ibid

10SC judgement on 15.07.13

11 World Education report 2000 UNESCO publishing

12 News , Westlaw, available at

13 Sarvapalli Ram, Right to Education: Role of Private Sector, Ernest and Young, 20

14 Supreme Court tears into states for hiring ad hoc teachers in primary schools

PTI : New Delhi, Mon May 20 2013, 16:40 hrs – available at: for-hiring-ad-hoc-teachers-in-primary-schools/1118214/#sthash.LljJb4Xz.dpuf


July 19, 2016

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