EDITORIAL: Checkmating Private Schools Via RTE

Simple logic and reasoning tell us that there has to be a reason, a plausible one at that, behind any legislation that the Government of the day passes. The same yardstick applies too when there is any amendment in the Constitution of a democracy or any other regime and the erstwhile Soviet Union or the USSR is perhaps an apt example of a Nation which eventually crumbled on the fruits of the seeds on which the very foundation of this country was founded. All it needed was a man like Mikhail Gorbachev and his revolutionary concepts of Glasnost and Perestroika.

To understand the merits or demerits of any legislation, a thorough knowledge of the backdrop in which the legislation has been passed becomes absolutely necessary for it is the prevailing socio- political-economic reality of the day, which influence law makers and by extension, the legislation or Bills that are passed on the floor of the Parliament or a unilateral decision, in the case of an autocratic regime. Ever since India emerged as a Union, on January 26, 1950, many Bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha as well as the Rajya Sabha and all these Bills, which were transformed into Acts, had the unanimous backing or support of the law makers.

Since the Caste system was more prone to inciting violence and regularly led to the oppression of the poor and marginalized people, the Government of India not only abolished the Caste system but also passed the Prevention of Atrocities Act.  This is but just one instance of the Government legislating an Act, which was in perfect sync to deal with the prevailing social reality of the day. It is another matter that there is still a lot of loopholes in the implementation of this Act and Caste continues to play an important role in the lives of all Indians, especially with the brand of politics championed by Lalu Prasad Yadav, which is today infamously known as Caste Politics or Vote Bank Politics.

However it is never a case of all is well and fair, for there have been attempts to pass Bills, which were primarily targeted at the very institutions of democracy and one such instance that we can recall is the Anti-Defamation Bill which was introduced in Parliament during the tenure of the late Rajiv Gandhi in 1988. Earlier there was the Emergency of 1975, invoked by the late Indira Gandhi, which did not reflect the reality of the day. Indira Gandhi was chastised and suffered a humiliating defeat in the next election, while Rajiv Gandhi had to ultimately cave in to the intense campaign launched by the media, notably by The Indian Express group, and withdraw the proposed Anti-Defamation Bill.

If these two cases are now recalled with loathe, there is another story of an Act, which has been passed and enforced without a whimper or even a squeak of protest. In fact the first voice of dissent against this Act, was only raised in the late 70s and early 80s, when the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights approached the Supreme Court of India to challenge the legality and validity of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1948. We have purposely digressed a little bit from our main topic of the day, to ram home our point that though all legislation see the light of day in the backdrop of the prevailing social-political-economic reality, not all the motive can be above board.

So it stands today that the Emergency, the Anti-Defamatory Bill and AFSPA are all anti-people and intensely disliked but there is always the alibi to be found in the prevailing situation for the protagonists of such proposals to base their arguments. At the moment, the attention of the people of Manipur has been drawn towards the Right to Education Act which has been passed by Parliament and implemented by the State Government as well. This Act was necessitated in the face of the changing global scenario, where everything has become knowledge driven. It is no longer natural resources that mankind has to rely on, but human resources and hence the Right to Education Act, 2010.

According to the guidelines laid down in this Act, all children between the ages of 6 to 14 must have access to free and compulsory education; all private schools have also been directed to set aside 25 percent of their intake for children from weaker sections and disadvantaged communities. A look at just the two norms laid down in the Right to Education Act leaves no one in doubt that India desperately needs to educate her children, majority of whom do not have access to any of the basic amenities of life. Primary education and primary health care are core issues, which should feature prominently in the Government’s scheme of things. This is the pan-India understanding of the application of this Act, but at the moment, the Right to Education Act has come to the centre stage in Manipur for a reason, which has more or less pitted the parents and guardians against the private schools authorities.

After minutely studying the ground reality, the Right to Education had clearly laid down that no children or parents should be subjected to any kind of screenings or tests at the time of admission to the primary level. The penalty for any violators is steep and heavy. With the admission season on and parents queuing up to get their children admitted to the best possible schools, this particular clause contained in the Act has come to grab the lime light. The restrictions or ban on screening primarily means students seeking admission in Kinder Garden section and this is where we would also like to point out in a few words. As things stand today, it makes no sense for teachers surrounding a barely 5 year old child and hurling questions at him. There is also no need to screen the parents, for not only does this sound irritably artificial but it is not them who are going to attend classes. Find a way out, such as first come, first serve basis or a draw of lot. The no-screening of students at the time of admission clause as laid down in the Right to Education Act is its crowning glory.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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