The historic Right to Education came into force on Thursday providing free and compulsory schooling to children in the 6-14 year age bracket with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking the states to join in this national effort with full resolve and determination. The new statute makes it obligatory on part of the state governments and local bodies to ensure that every child gets education in a school in the neighbourhood. Its implementation will directly benefit close to one crore children who do not go to schools at present.
Addressing the nation on the occasion, the Prime Minister said, "The government is committed to ensuring that all children irrespective of gender and social category, have access to education. Our government, in partnership with the state governments, will ensure that financial constraints do not hamper the implementation of the Right to Education Act," he said.
The 86th Constitutional amendment making education a fundamental right was passed by Parliament in 2002. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, a law to enable the implementation of the fundamental right, was passed by Parliament in 2009. Both the Constitutional amendment and the new law came into force from Thursday. Adding a personal touch to the importance of education, the prime minister recalled his own childhood days as someone born in a family of modest means who had to walk a long distance to go to school. "I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am today because of education," he said.
"I want every Indian child, girl and boy, to be so touched by the light of education. I want every Indian to dream of a better future and live that dream", Singh said. Recalling the desire of Gopal Krishna Gokhale about 100 years ago when he had urged the Imperial Assembly to confer on the Indian people the Right to Education, Singh said about 90 years later the Constitution was amended to enshrine the Right to Education as a fundamental right. "Today, our government comes before you to redeem the pledge of giving all our children the right to elementary education," Singh said, adding "this demonstrates our national commitment to the education of our children and to the future of India." The children, who have either dropped out from schools or have never been to any educational institution, will be now enrolled in schools. The Right To Education is being touted by the United Progressive Alliance government as another major achievement after Right To Information Act and National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.
The new Act mandates that even private educational institutions have to reserve 25 per cent seats for children from weaker sections. Singh said the governments at the centre, in states and union territories and authorities at district and village levels must work together as part of a common national endeavour to realise the Right to Education and asked the states to join in this national effort with "full resolve and determination." Pointing out that India is a country of young people, he said, "It is the belief of our government that if we nurture our children and young people with the right education, India's future as a strong and prosperous country is secure."
Noting that the success of any educational endeavour was based on the ability and motivation of teachers and the implementation of the Right to Education is no exception, he asked the teachers across the country to become partners inthis effort. At the same time, Singh said it was also incumbent upon all to work together to improve the working conditions of teachers and enable them to teach with dignity, giving full expression to their talent and creativity. Parents and guardians too have a critical role to play having been assigned school management responsibilities under the Act, he said, adding, "The needs of every disadvantaged section of our society, particularly girls, dalits, adivasis and minorities must be of particular focus as we implement this Act."
"At present, there are nearly 22 crore children in the 6-14 year age group. However, 4.6 per cent of these children (nearly 92 lakh) are out of school," a ministry official said.
The school management committee or the local authority will identify the drop-outs or out of school children above six years of age and admit them in classes appropriate to their age after giving special training. The Act makes it a right of every child to get education and obligates the governments to ensure that every child gets free elementary education. Certain schools have already challenged the law in the Supreme Court as being "unconstitutional" and violative of fundamental rights of unaided private educational institutions. However, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has said that legal process would not affect the implementation of law.
The Finance Commission has provided Rs 25,000 crore to the states for implementation of the statute. As per the government's estimate, there will be a requirement of Rs 1.71 lakh crore in the next five years for implementation of the Act. Sibal has said that the government has arranged the required funds for implementing the law.