Is the Indian government going to perpetrate a fraud through the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill?
The BJP led government in India is trying to gain propaganda value from the passage of a Bill making right to education a fundamental right. It is proposing to bring up this Bill in the form of the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill in the coming winter session of the Parliament. There is a need to look critically at the contents of this Bill, and to expose the BJP hoax. The Bill leaves much to be desired as is evident from a critique prepared of it by the organisations linked to the National Alliance of Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE).
We give below the text of the NAFRE statement on this Bill, as well as a text outlining its major recommendations with regard to this Bill.
1. NAFRE Statement on the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill
The National Alliance for the Fundamental Right to Education (NAFRE) together with other networks and coalitions working for children's right to education express deep concern at the proposed provisions of the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill that seeks to make education a fundamental right. On 18th September, 2001, the Union Cabinet decided to introduce the Bill in the winter session of Parliament.
We believe that the 93rd Constitution Amendment Bill will result in the selective withdrawal of rights available to children through the Unnikrishnan judgement of 1993.
We therefore demand that any Constitution Amendment Bill intended to provide the Fundamental Right to Education to children must ensure the following provisions.
The Bill must include
ECCE: Early Childhood Care and Education for 0-6 years. This must be included as part of the fundamental right to education. It is well established that opportunities for proper care during this most vital period of the child's development will enhance the child’s educational performance significantly. Contrary to popular perception, ECCE also addresses the needs of women and older siblings (especially girls) who have to leave work and school respectively to look after toddlers.
Parent Compulsion: Under the Constitution, provision of right to education is an obligation of the state. No part of this obligation should be diluted or abdicated. By making it a "fundamental duty" of parents, we are opening the way for misuse by those in power. From 1949 to 1970, approximately 15 lakh parents have been prosecuted under similar law prevalent in 19 states of India. We call for a withdrawal of the proposed clause as it goes against the spirit of the Constitution.
Equitable, Quality Education: The proposed bill must include an unambiguous provision for ensuring equitable, quality education for all children.
The clause ‘in such a manner as the state may determine’ gives scope for institutionalising such cheap and unsuitable alternatives. Alternative methods, such as the Education Guarantee Scheme, single teacher schools, recruitment of `para teachers’ (an euphemism for underqualified, lowly-paid untrained teachers) are second-track, parallel mechanisms that, once institutionalised, will end up supplanting the formal system.
Adequate Financial Allocation: The financial memorandum must include the recommendation of the Tapas Mazumdar Committee as a basic minimum. The most crucial recommendation – of NOT establishing cheap second-track options even in unserved areas in rural India – has been flouted for financial expediency. This is despite that fact that the Tapas Mazumdar Committee proved that the requirement was not all that utopian – they demanded for an additional spending of only an average 0.7% of the GDP for 10 years. An adequate expenditure for the age group 0-6 must be added.
Age group: Article 45 (the non-justiciable portion of the Constitution) must address the 14-18 age group.
2. Positive Changes for an Effective Right to Education
The Union Cabinet will amend the Constitution to make education a fundamental right for children in the age group six to 14.The 93rd Constitutional Amendment Bill is to be introduced in the winter session of Parliament.
The aim of the bill is seemingly laudable. It intends to put every child in school…but will it do so? A cursory look at the major reasons of poor educational achievement India will tell us NO. A very large number of girl children are left out the educational system because they have to take care of their younger siblings. Every third child drops out of the schooling system well before completing meagre 5 years in school; Reason? Disinterest in education due to unpreparedness for the rigors of the school. The only way to get them into the educational system is to make Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) a fundamental right, not a pious “endeavour”. The Bill does not grant that.
The Bill in its current form ensure that education is merely a functional fundamental right by excluding the 0-6 category, by providing underpaid, under-trained and unqualified teachers and all this with the poor parent bearing a good part of the cost. It perpetuates the injustice of providing low quality education to poor children. The Bill does not signal the priority that education is getting… ironically, it serves as the symbol of low status and priority that education enjoys in this nation.
We could make the Bill come alive with some positive changes in it.
We outline them to you below.
1. Including Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE):
The bill puts ECCE under Article 45. The state hereby commits only to strive to provide ECCE and it is not obligatory for the state to provide it. In other words, the ECCE will enjoy the same position that education has been ‘enjoying’ before Unnikrishnan judgement. This continues to remain in the Directive Principles of State Policy, which makes its implementation a discretionary decision. ECCE may never see light of the day.
The Unnikrishnan judgement declared education as a fundamental right for all children upto 14 years, including children upto 6 years. This Bill dilutes this judgement and is, therefore, a retrograde step. Not providing ECCE will greatly hinder in our efforts to provide education to children aged 6-14 in the following ways.
Not providing ECCE will result in many children not completing their education in the 6-14 stage. Further, we will loose out many girl children out of the education net without ECCE. So, to deliver their fundamental right, we cannot ignore the early childhood care and education. Ironically, in the year of women’s empowerment, we are taking a step that will leave many girl children out of the schooling system.
2. Providing sufficient financial allocation
Money is a necessary (not a sufficient) condition for achieving any goal. Will the government allocate sufficient funds?
The Union Cabinet appointed GoE (Group of Experts) led by Tapas Majumdar recommended to the Vajpayee government in 1999, that an additional Rs. 1,40,000 crores over 10 years be set aside for educating 6-14-year-olds. This, they said, would just amount to an incremental addition of just 0.7% of the GDP for the next 10 years. It should be noted that the age group 0-6, i.e. ECCE would require additional funding.
This Bill mentions an allocation of less than one third the figure proposed by Majumdar for the purpose. It remains to be seen whether this will actually be realised. Incidentally, the current Budget has allocated only Rs.500 crore for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan!
A disturbing trend in education is settling for ‘cheap alternatives’. The low - cost - low – quality option will be opted for in a large way by the government if it does not go in for an adequate, irrevocable financial commitment. The government has diluted many of the norms that were set by the Group of Experts. The ideal student teacher ratio of 1:30 has been substituted by the current ratio of 1:40. These are undesirable dilutions but they could still be palated. But by accepting de facto the cheap, second rate alternative facilities in the form of under qualified para-teachers, single teacher schools, schools run in a single room etc. (called differently in different regions, but most commonly referred to as Education Guarantee System (EGS), the government has gone totally against the letter and spirit of the Tapas Majumdar Committee Report which had recommended that even in unserved habitations of poor rural India, the way to ensure UEE is to energize the formal village school. This dilution is of a very serious nature and has the potential of making the educational system a farce.
Another disturbing trend has to do with the salary norms. There are indications that salary norms suggested by the Group of Experts will also be diluted. Opting for salaries scales lower than those suggested by the Committee ensures that only teachers of poor quality will enter the system. This deprives children of the most important resource in education - a good teacher. Specifically, many states are hiring siksha karmis or para-teacher who are untrained and underqalified. They are paid at times as low as Rs.1000 as opposed to Rs. 5,000 recommended by the Tapas Majumdar committee. Incidentally, even the pay suggested by the committee is lower than the pay recommended by the 5th pay commission.
If we need to provide education that is characterised by adequacy, equality and quality, an irrevocable commitment of adequate financing is a must. Without financial commitment, without provision of ECCE, and by not taking the responsibility entirely on itself, the bill is a toothless one. For it to be effective and for having every child in school and every child learning, we need to work hard and together to alter the bill before it gets passed.
3. Including a Clause on Equitable and Good Quality Education
A single teacher battling with children of many grades in a tin shed could hardly be called education. But this is a matter of fact, and what’s more, we are in danger of this phenomenon becoming larger by the day. Letting this happen would be an injustice to India’s children and to the most cherished aspiration of the poor parents.
To prevent this injustice from happening, we have to insert a clause that promises that the children of India will receive education that is of atleast an acceptable minimum quality.
Equality has been one of the constitutional goals that our founders found worthy of a mention in the preamble of the constitution. Two of the greatest drivers of inequality are family background and education. Should not a socialist state that strives for equality give equitable education? We are in an era when the importance of human capital is exceeding that of the material capital. The potential of equitable education to bring about equality in this juncture is immense. It is for us to decide if we are going to make use of this opportunity and promote equality or exacerbate inequality in measures unseen by providing unequal education.
To serve the national goals and to satisfy the most cherished aspiration of the poor, we have to include a clause on providing good quality and equitable education.
4. Removing Compulsion on Parents
Between 1951-1971, approximately 10 lakh parents (mainly from the lower economic strata) were prosecuted under the state-level compulsory education acts. (A detailed state-wise break up is available on request).
This compulsion clause must be deleted or suitably toned down, for there is grave danger of this clause being abused to settle personal scores and creating serious human rights violations and ‘state terrorism.’
5. Including private schools in this national endeavour
In an era when the State is withdrawing from its sphere of activities, the role of the private schools in education should not be ignored. The Bill does not talk about the involvement of private schools at all. For the sake of equity and for enhancing the resources for attaining the national goal of UEE, all private schools must be asked to participate appropriately in this national task.
The 165th Report of the Law Commission of India was on Free and Compulsory Education. It has recommended that all private schools affiliated to any government board should be made to provide free education to 20 – 50% of their students. When schools receive various benefits from the government like land at nominal prices and other subsidies, it is only fair to ask them to give due returns by accepting a share of the social responsibilities.
6. Defining ‘free’ in the Bill
The Bill proposes to provide ‘free and compulsory’ education. We need to define what we mean by free. We must define ‘free’ to mean no cost for the parent to educate his child. Government schools are assumed to be free because they do not charge any fee. However, there are many other hurdles (like stationary, uniforms, books, wheelchair for the disabled) that poor parents have to cross to send their wards to school. For example, a labourer in Bihar has to give up 40 days of his earnings to send his three children to a ‘free’ Government school. A change in the definition is a must if we are to have a meaningful constitutional amendment.
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