‘Right to education remains on paper’

October 17th, 2008 - 11:39 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Oct 17 (IANS) Despite 20 years of campaigning involving 1.5 million volunteers, a people’s movement for free, compulsory and quality education for all children in India finds that its goal is still far away.”The Right to Education Bill is only on paper,” Rajendra Prabhakar, member of the National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE), now renamed NAFRE Jan Andolan (People’s Movement), told IANS on the sidelines of an event here.

“It seems that the government is not serious about implementing the bill. It is the children of the poor who have been socially excluded from having the benefit of education,” Prabhakar said.

NAFRE started in a small way in 1988, coinciding with India’s 50th year of independence. It has grown over the years and now boasts of 1.5 million grassroots activists across the country.

In spite of its reach, the key people involved in the movement feel it has failed to achieve complete success because of a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government to implement its own rules.

Three years after the Right to Education Bill, 2005, was passed by parliament, 50 percent of children still have no access to education, NAFRE Jan Andolan members contend. Around 40 percent of India’s billion plus population is below the age of 18.

To make the Right to Education Bill successful, NAFRE wants it to be amended to introduce the Common School System on the lines of neighbourhood schools in the U.S. to make education easily accessible to the poor.

The bill says every child between the age of 6 and 14 has the right to elementary education that is free, compulsory, of equitable quality and available in the neigbhourhood.

“The bill was passed in right earnest. But it has failed, as broad consensus was not taken from all quarters to ensure its smooth implementation,” said Kalpana, a child rights activist and member of NAFRE Jan Andolan.

The bill makes it compulsory for all private schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for poor children from the neighbourhood.

This provision has been opposed by a section of private schools on the ground that if they open their doors to one and all, it will dilute the brand value and lower standards. Moreover, there are issues like high fees that some schools charge and their elite culture.

But as Nasrin, a NAFRE Jan Andolan member, pointed out: “A dual education format - sub-optimal Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (Education for All) for some and quality education for others, including private schools for those who can afford it - forms the foundation of divisive society.”

Continuing with its struggle for realising equitable, quality education for all children, NAFRE conducted a three-month-long people’s march early this year in 16 states and altogether 1.5 million people took part, covering a distance of 210,000 km.

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