“I beg to place the following resolution before the council for its consideration.…the state should accept in this country the same responsibility in regard to mass education that the government of most civilized countries are already discharging and that a well considered scheme should be drawn up and adhered to till it is carried out.. The well being of millions upon millions of children who are waiting to be brought under the influence education depends upon it...”
The above words are the part of the resolution which Gopal Krishna Gokhale moved in Imperial Legislative Council on 18th march, 1910 for seeking provision of ‘Free and Compulsory Primary Education” in India.
Irony is that one hundred years have passed but the right to education still remains a distant dream. Gopal Krishna Gokhale in fact represents many of our freedom fighters who had dreamed of the right to education to in independent India. They had identified the significance of education as an integral part of their different and complex ideologies. After attaining independence, the forefathers of our constitution continued this debate on the right to education and concluded to retain it in the directive principles of state policy. This compromise was not positively received by many of the people who wanted a more specific assurance from the Constitution.
Even now after 60 years of our independence, no such right has been provided to the children of India. Successive governments at the centre had not given any consideration and have pathetically failed in providing public education in India.
The people of India raised their voice for universal public education as a part of the freedom struggle. The British imperialists simply denied their demand. But in 1870, the British legalized the free and compulsory education to every British. This was done to ensure the survival of the British Empire and maintain its hegemony on the colonies. In spite of our independence and all the tall talk of successive prime ministers who promise to turn our country into a knowledge super power, nothing substantial was done to ensure even this basic right to education. This is because of the ‘feudal- capitalist’ character of the State.
The right to education demand is alive even now in spite of every effort to belittle it. The judiciary, bureaucrats, and media have timely raised their voice over its necessity. It has become possible only due to sustained progressive struggles of people of India on this question and the judgment given by the Supreme Court directing the government to ensure that all the citizens of our country are provided this right.
Due to the sustained pressure of the students and people’s movement and Left, the central government was forced to introduce “Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill” in Rajya Sabha on the 15th December, 2008. This was done after the government had come out with a series of drafts Bills and put them up for discussion to the public, each worse than the other.
When the UPA government introduced the draft education bill in 2005, then everyone related to public education criticized the bill. Then the government invited further suggestions and opinions from the state governments, but none of them were included in the bill later. The UPA government thus humiliated the spirit of the people who had suggested improvements in the bill.
The current “Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill” has many lacuna and many criticisms can be leveled against it. But broadly analyzing all the criticisms, we shall reach to two major points.
(1) Allocation of Funds
(2) Age limit and common school system
(1) Allocation of Funds
In financial perspective, Tapas Majumdar committee long back had estimated that there is an additional requirement of Rs 1, 40,000 crore to be spent in a span of ten years (which comprises 0.7 percent of the GDP). The government states that it does not have that much money and is simply denying the responsibility of public education. The UPA government wants state governments to allocate funds for education in respective states. The whole scenario reflects the dual attitude of the UPA government which proudly claims that it is responsible for our country becoming “world’s second fastest growing economy”. The truth of the matter is that it doesn’t want expenditure on public education for the benefit of the masses, in spite of its own commitment to do so in the Common Minimum Program.
(2)Age limit and common school system
Several Commissions have recommended Common School System and Neighbourhood School Policy to integrate the community and provide access to education at the doorsteps of children. This has also been specified in the National Policy on Education. But the Bill makes no mention of the Common School System and while using neighbourhood in some of the clauses has neither defined Neighbourhood nor has accepted the philosophy of Neighbourhood School.
As a signatory to the UN Child Rights Convention, India has accepted the international definition of a child, which is up to age 18. The bill proposes to cover only children from age 6 to 14, clearly excluding and violating the rights of the 0-6 and 14 to 18 year olds. One of the framers of this bill Vinod Raina says “the 86th amendment and its article 21A, which defines the age from 6 to14. As a bill flowing out of the amendment, it is clear that the bill cannot go beyond Article 21A, which makes it imperative that the 86th amendment must be re-amended to correct this anomaly”.
If we raise the demand of 0-6 years, Vinod Raina says “Many argue that the bill should be put on hold till such a re-amendment is passed, but that would be playing into hands of elements who neither want the amendment nor the bill. Such elements do not want the state to invest in education and instead prefer to leave it to the markets”. Instead of positively addressing the criticisms on the Bill the government and its supporters are trying to project that all criticisms are made with an ulterior motive. They hope to hide their mistakes behind such shields.
But what has happened now? The UPA government failed to introduce the proposed bill in Lok Sabha and thus wasting five precious years it was in office. The whole procedure shows betrayal of the UPA government and its failure to address the concerns of the people of India and their genuine demand. Moreover, “Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill” is not only about education. It is about the problem of the class which needs an uncompromised progressive struggle for its rectification.
Recently the spokesperson of Indian national congress came with the statement that Slumdog Millionaire won eight Oscars, because Congress is in power. Yes, Mr. Singhvi, there can be no bigger irony than this. You are unable to do anything substantial to help the people to overcome their difficulties and instead want to claim all the credit for the deeds which are not yours. The entire episode on the right to education bill once again proves that the government is not for the people living in the slums but only for the millionaires.