India on Tuesday joined a select global club with the passage of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill, setting in motion an ambitious, if much delayed, scheme of providing education to every child in the age bracket of 6-14. The law is unique because while providing compulsory education, it would not fail any student till Class VIII while enjoining upon all government and private schools to provide 25% quota to “disadvantaged” children. The law provides for building neighbourhood schools in three years whose definition and location will be decided by states. The legislation, which has already been passed by the Rajya Sabha, will soon be enacted after getting the assent from President Pratibha Patil. In an indication of the importance that Congress attaches to the law, party chief Sonia Gandhi sat through its passage on Tuesday while observers speculated if she would speak. In the event, she chose not to. But her presence was expected to help Congress’ efforts to put its stamp on the seminal law. Sonia’s was no token presence, however. She was attentive and even prodded HRD minister Kapil Sibal to switch from “disabled persons” to the politically correct “differently abled”. Replying to the discussion on the landmark legislation, Sibal clarified doubts on the rights of disabled persons, raised by some groups. He said disabled persons were part of the category of “disadvantaged sections” who would get reservation. He added that the Disability Act, which was part of RTE, was being amended to include cerebral palsy and autism, and the amendment would automatically bring within the law’s ambit children with these disabilities. A lingering doubt, however, remains on the Bill not exempting minority institutions from reservation. MIM MP Asaduddin Owaisi warned it could be challenged in court as violative of the Constitution. Sibal, however, said minority institutions could give quota to disadvantaged sections among the minorities. Crucially, the Bill aims to do away with the practice of schools taking capitation fees before admission and subjecting children or parents to any screening procedure. The RTE would empower the seven-year-old 86th Constitutional amendment that made free and compulsory education a fundamental right. The RTE Bill sets down guidelines for states and the Centre to enforce this right.
RIGHTS REVIEW :
25% reservation for ‘disadvantaged groups’ in neighbourhood schools
No child would be failed till Class VIII
No capitation fees, no screening of parents for admission
No private tuition by teachers
School management committee to have 50% woman members