New Delhi: If the Union government’s plan to again try and guarantee every Indian the right to education is enacted into a law, advocates hope a simple but perplexing question will usher in even more reforms: Just what is a school?
If that question is answered, some education advocates see the government then implementing standards, such as the minimum amount of schooling required of a teacher and necessary basic infrastructure such as as toilets and availability of water.
Legal experts say the Bill will give teeth to the 86th amendment of the Constitution, made six years ago, which makes it binding on the state to provide free education to all children.
Debated for at least six years, the latest proposed legislation—still to come before the Union cabinet and then Parliament—is very similar to a Bill drafted in 2005.
That version compelled the government to raise the quality of its own schools, especially at a cost of Rs1.51 trillion over five years.
“We put a lot of thought on how to ensure basic minimum quality that children would have in a school,” said Vinod Raina, a literacy campaigner who was part of the central advisory board of education which drafted the Bill in 2005 and is a member of the working group on the 2008 Bill.
“It will outlaw education guarantee centres running under SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) and para (temporary) teachers.”
The SSA is a government programme to ensure that all children in the 6-14 age group are in school. While clocking high enrolment, it has failed to retain students, evident from high dropout rates.
Some experts have also cast doubts on what children are learning under SSA. Raina wouldn’t elaborate on specific provisions of the 2008 Bill, which is being circulated in various ministries for comments.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government was the one that set aside the previous Bill in 2005 fearing the high cost and the liability of a law that ensures quality education for every child, is now backing the Bill in a year which might see an early election.
The 2005 draft proposed private schools to admit up to 25% poor children with the government making up for fee shortfall.
It would also ban teachers from teaching private classes.