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Monday, Aug 12, 2002

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`Gaping holes' in education Bill

Ajita Shashidhar


THE National Alliance for Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE), a conglomeration of 2,400 voluntary organisations, has said that there are some holes in the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill which promises to make education a fundamental right for children between six and 14.

Speaking to Business Line, Mr Sanjiv Kaura, National Convenor, NAFRE, said that the Bill proposed to add a clause to Article 51 A of the Constitution, which states: "Who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or as the case may be, ward between the age of six and 14 years."

This clause, according to Mr Kaura, compels the parents to educate their children, which could become an instrument of harassment and penalisation for parents from the lower economic strata and could lead to human rights violations.

"This clause dilutes the objective of persuading and not pressuring the parents to send their children to school. Already, five lakh parents have been jailed under State Acts between 1951 and 1971 in 19 States," he said.

However, a senior official from the Ministry of Human Resources Development (HRD) said the Bill stated that it was the fundamental duty of the parents to educate their children. "Nowhere does it compel them to educate their children."

NAFRE has also recommended that the State should provide free and universal education for all children up to 18 years through early childhood care and education (ECCE) and formal school.

The Bill, which states that the State would provide free and compulsory education for children between six and 14 and provide ECCE to all children till the age of six, is in contrast to Article 45 of the Constitution which recommends free and compulsory education till the age of 14.

"The absence of ECCE will result in many children dropping out in the 6-14 stage and lower retention rate in schools," Mr Kaura said.

On ECCE, the HRD Ministry official said, "Article 45 only recommends free and compulsory education, and by incorporating ECCE we are making sure that the 0-6 age group is not neglected."

The other aspect pointed out by NAFRE is that the Bill lacks any clear financial provisions for the achievement of its goals.

"The financial memorandum must include an irrevocable commitment by the State to spend a minimum of six per cent of GDP on education for the age group up to 18 years or Standard X, whichever is earlier," Mr Kaura said.

He added that the Kothari Commission had recommended spending of six per cent of the GDP in 1966.

On the other hand, the Tapas Mazumdar Committee has recommended that an additional Rs 1,40,000 crore be set aside for educating children between six and 14.

"Lack of financial support will lead to the adoption of cheap alternatives such as the education guarantee system (EGS), which are characterised by under-qualified teachers, single-teacher schools and schools run in a single room."

Defending the Government's stand on this aspect, the HRD Ministry official said that even though financial provisions had not been mentioned, the Government did have a clear-cut policy laid out.

However, Mr Kaura said that the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill would not benefit the 300 million children it hoped to address unless the above-mentioned clauses are incorporated.

He added that there was the need to incorporate a clause that promises minimum quality of education.

Dr S.P. Bakshi, noted educationist, said that elementary education should be made a fundamental right only after revolutionising the education system.

"The education system in our country is a disaster. Our curriculum has not changed for 50 years and our method of training is antiquated. When we don't have resources, why talk about making education a fundamental right?"

He stressed the need to introduce education to enable people to be productive.

"The Government should consider teaching new techniques in areas such as floriculture or sericulture in rural areas along with basic elementary education, which will be in sync with their lifestyle. Make education attractive and people will automatically flock."

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