Right to Education Bill

February 9th, 2009

Round Table Discussion – ‘Right to Education Bill’ by Dr. Kavita Sharma – Director IIC; Former Principal Hindu College, Delhi University ; Mr. M.K. Kaw – President KECSS; Former Education Secretary, GOI; Prof. A.K. Sharma – Former Director NCERT and Mr. Syed Shahid Mahdi – Vice President ICCR & ExVice Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia University; in ASSOCHAM, Prithviraj Road, New Delhi.

Introduction

The Centre for Public Policy held a Round Table Discussion on “Right to Education Bill” in collaboration with Assocham at Assocham, 47 Prithviraj Road, New Delhi on 27th February 09.

The session was attended by cross section of bureaucrats, academicians, economists, professionals from different sectors and management students amongst others. Dr. Kavita Sharma – Director IIC; Former Principal Hindu College, Delhi University introduced the theme flagging various issues and chaired the session. The Centre had the privilege of having Mr. M.K. Kaw – President KECSS; Former Education Secretary, GOI; Prof. A.K. Sharma – Former Director NCERT and Mr. Syed Shahid Mahdi – Vice President ICCR; ExVice Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia University as distinguished panellists to share their views. There was an extensive discussion and floor inter-action after presentation by the chairman and the panelists.

A background paper by Mr. S.D. Sharma I.A.S. (Retd.) Former Adviser Inter-State Council, Government of India is placed as Annexure.

Issues Discussed

Following issues were discussed:

  • Government Perspective – Mr. M.K. Kaw – President KECSS; Former Education Secretary, GOI
  • Implementation Issues – Prof. A.K. Sharma – Former Director NCERT
  • Access and Inclusivity – Mr. Syed Shahid Mahdi – Vice President ICCR; ExVice Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia University
Deliberations

Welcoming the participants, Maj. Gen. D.N. Khurana, Chairman – Centre for Public Policy mentioned that Right to Education Bill 2008 has been recently introduced in the Parliament. This far reaching Bill puts into effect the Right to free and Compulsory Education to all children in the age group of 6-14 years. It details every child’s right to free and compulsory education of equitable quality, responsibility of the State, Parents, Schools and Teachers as also contents and process of education. The Bill also ropes in the Private Sector by making it mandatory for schools to reserve 25% of the seats in class I every year for children from disadvantaged sections of the society in the neighbourhood.

This important bill which propose to put the country’s massive 160 million out of school children into classrooms, has raised some key issues which need to be discussed and debated. Some of these issues include the concept of “Common School System”, the reservation of 25% free seats in the private schools, assigning of teachers to a specific school and the ability of School Management Committees to improve the quality of schools and learning outcomes of the children among others.

Opening Remarks – Dr. Kavita Sharma

I am extremely honoured to be here with this very distinguished panel; Mr. M K Kaw, Professor A K Sharma and Mr. Shahid Mahdi. Actually I am a little awestruck at being with them and before a very distinguished audience. When Major General Khurana and I were discussing this, we thought we would do a little division of labour. Everybody has their own area; it is such an important and such a vast subject that really no one person can cover it. I thought I would flag the issues right from the beginning because education has been considered the highest priority and there have been a lot of discussions and debates on where to place education, in the Constituent Assembly.

We have also to realise that education has always been a very contentious issue. These discussions and debates are not really new. What does education do? It is a power of ideas. And therefore even from the integral perspective of the nationalist movement, thinkers like Shri Aurobindo, Vivekanand, Gandhi, Gokhale; all of these and Maulana Azad, all these people talked of a national education. What does India want her education to be? Obviously, the colonial education and the colonial set-up had its own agenda to fulfil. Since it had always been such a part of the debate, when we came to the Constituent Assembly, it obviously took centre stage in primary discussions. But then another thing happened. The issue of fundamental rights was also incorporated into various constitutions around the twentieth century and civilised states wanted that there should be some inalienable rights that should be a part of the Constitution, which not only included political rights but also social and economical rights. That’s where we derived the idea of Directive Principles in the Constitution. Because while education was considered a primary social act, could we make it justiciable? There are pages after pages on this in the Constituent Assembly deliberations, that if you don’t make it justiciable, it is never going to be implemented. It was also seen in the backdrop of the Sajan Committee report, which had said that ten years is not enough to be able to spread even the basic education. They advocated putting it to forty years. So what was to be done? Finally, the idea was to make it a non-justiciable right, therefore, put as a part of the Directive Principles. But then there was another strand that worked in this context, that of minority rights. So while education per se was not placed under fundamental rights, the right of minorities to be able to establish and administer and maintain their own educational institutions was placed in the fundamental rights. I did a whole paper on education as a constitutional right. That again is another strand, which has very, very interesting implications and which has been constantly constitutionally debated in the courts.

 

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