The Right to Education Act

GS 2 – Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Source : The Deccan Herald dated 19/06/2021


The Right To Education Act (RTE) brought new dawn upon the human capital of a rapidly developing country like India. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018 states that substantial improvements are visible, over the 8 years since the Act came into being, in the availability of many school facilities as mandated by RTE.
Unfortunately, the output of the intervention hasn’t quite been as desired.


Right to Education Act (RTE) provided free and compulsory education to children in 2009 and enforced it as a fundamental right under Article 21-A.

Constitutional angle

  • Article 45 and Article 39 (f) of DPSP –  had a provision for state funded as well as equitable and accessible education.
  • 1990 Ramamurthy Committee Report – First official document on Right to Education
  • 1993 Unnikrishnan JP vs State of Andhra Pradesh & Others- SC held that Education is a Fundamental right flowing from Article 21.
  • 1999 – Tapas Majumdar Committee – suggested insertion of Art. 21- A.
  • 2002 – The 86th amendment to the constitution of India provided Right to Education as a fundamental right in part-III of the Constitution.
    • Inserted Article 21A which made Right to Education a fundamental right for children between 6-14 years.
    • provided for a follow-up legislation for Right to Education Bill 2008 and finally Right to Education Act 2009.
Features of the Act
  • The RTE Act aims to provide primary education to all children aged 6 to 14 years.
  • It enforces Education as a Fundamental Right (Article 21).
  • The act mandates 25% reservation for disadvantaged sections of the society where disadvantaged groups include:
    • SCs and STs
    • Socially Backward Class
    • Differently abled
  • It also makes provisions for a non-admitted child to be admitted to an age appropriate class.
  • It also states that sharing of financial and other responsibilities between the Central and State Governments.
  • It lays down the norms and standards related to:
    • Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs)
    • Buildings and infrastructure
    • School-working days
    • Teacher-working hours.
  • It had a clause for “No Detention Policy” which has been removed under The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Act, 2019.
  • It also provides for prohibition of deployment of teachers for non-educational work, other than decennial census, elections to local authority, state legislatures and parliament, and disaster relief.
  • It prohibits
    • Physical punishment and mental harassment
    • Screening procedures for admission of children
    • Capitation fee
    • Private tuition by teachers
    • Running of schools without recognition
Achievements of the act
  • Mean years of schooling and expected years of schooling:
  • As per the 2019 Human Development Report released by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), between 1990 and 2018, mean years of schooling increased by 3.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.7 years in India.
Findings from ASER 2018 survey
  • Increased school Enrollment: now crossed 97% with the proportion of children in this age segment who are out of school falling below 3% for the first time.
  • Decrease in girls out of School: In 2018, all India proportion of girls in the age group 11 to 14 who were out of school has fallen to 4.1% and in the age group 15 to 16 has decreased to 13.5%. 
  • Stable Private School enrollment: The proportion of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private school is almos  unchanged at 30.9%% in 2018 which indicated overall trust in public schooling. 
  • Improvement in school infrastructure:
    • Percentage of schools with girls’ toilet reached 66.4% in 2018 compared to 48% in 2010.
    • Proportion of schools with boundary walls increased from 51% in 2010 to 64.4% in 2018.
    • In 2018, every 8 out of 10 schools had a playground available for students either within the school premises or nearby.

There is no focus on quality of learning, as shown by multiple ASER reports, thus RTE Act appears to be mostly input oriented.

  • Marginal Improvement in Reading Abilities: 50.3% students in Class V can read texts meant for students three levels below showing a meager 2.2 percentage point growth.
    • About 73% students of Class VIII can read Class II text, which is unchanged since 2016.
  • No Improvement in Mathematical Ability: All India figure for children in class 3 who are able to do at least subtraction has not changed much, from 27.6% in 2016 to 28.1% in 2018. For government school children, this figure was 20.3% in 2016 and 20.9% in 2018.
  • Gender-gap in mathematical ability: The Proportion of girls who can read atleast a Std II text is very similar to that of boys at 77%, although girls outperform boys in many states. But in basic arithmetic, boys seem to hold a substantial advantage.

One of the fundamental and characteristic provisions of the RTE Act has been the reservation of 25 per cent seats for underprivileged children across all schools, i.e government-aided and private schools.

But only about 1/3rd of the seats available via RTE are filled each year, which indicates that 2/3rd of the seats go empty.

  1. The absence of a feedback mechanism
  2. Lack of participation by states
    • Five States namely Goa, Manipur, Mizoram, Sikkim and Telangana have not even issued notification regarding 25% seats for underprivileged children of society under the RTE.
    • This is largely due to the centralised nature of the Act which doesn’t see the state government playing an active role.
  3. No provision of a cluster-wise list of potential schools for beneficiaries 
  4. Non-standard quality of admission tests for students across the grade level
    • In many schools, admission tests are designed separately for children who wish to avail admission via the Act. The rigour of the admissions tests would at least be two grades higher to reject a student based on poor performance. This has worked in two ways: 
    • A) Beneficiaries haven’t been able to avail the benefit of the Act at a school where the child could have studied and made a future
    • B) Indicated to underprivileged students that they may in fact not be at par with the other students in the other students in the school and therefore should not attempt to seek equity in education.
  5. Lack of a mechanism to measure the learning outcomes of children who have availed RTE
  6. Lack of a dynamic dashboard that updates the status of reserved seats in each school
Way forward
  • Gearing the system towards learning outcomes:
    • There is a need to rationalize public school structure. School integration or clubbing of small schools with low enrolment, along with improved transport facilities for sparsely populated regions would result in both higher quality and savings of human, financial and infrastructure resources.
    • We need to move from Right to Education to Right to Learning. States should codify learning outcomes for each class.
    • A mechanism for individualized tracking of learning outcomes of students should be put in place through National Educational Registry to increase survival rates and prevent dropouts. It would also help to focus better on children from socially deprived groups / disabled sections
    • Remediation process (e.g. bridge programmes) should be run concurrently with the regular classes, so that no child is left behind.
    • Emphasis should be put on Continuous & Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE)to achieve defined learning outcomes.
  • Revamped governance system to improve monitoring and accountability:
    • The regulations on teacher qualifications, teacher absenteeism and learning outcomes must be effectively enforced. Learning outcomes must be regularly assessed by independent bodies. 
    • Teacher Training: Improving the quality of teaching is an integral aspect of improvement in school education.
  • Flexibility in education stream and vocational education:
    • Credit based examination system (credits for each subject & minimum number of credits to be eligible for a grade’s final exam) should be introduced to facilitate better tracking of learning outcomes.
  • Curriculum/syllabus: It should be designed on a skill/competency-based continuum & should include practical learning.
    • E.g. developing school readiness at pre-primary level, multi-level learning at primary level, and smooth transition to vocational learning

In this light, the New Education Policy was approved by the Union Cabinet

Features include:
  • More focus on vocational studies and skill education even in school level: According to Indian Labour Report, in India only 4 % of the young labour force receives formal vocational education and 6 % in the informal sector.
  • Allocation of 6% of the GDP in Education sector: Indian education is far behind the global standard. India spends 4.6% of its total GDP on education and ranks 62nd in total public expenditure on education per student
  • Restructuring of School education:
    • Provisions such as including Anganwadi/pre-school, the ECCE within the ambit of formal schooling and extension of Mid-day meals and the breakfast facilities to ECCE segment etc. would help achieve a nutritious and educated India.
    • Internships and experiential learning opportunity provided in the curriculum will give a flip in harnessing the critical thinking, creativity and innovativeness of the learners.
    • Examination reforms shall be brought in laying weightages not much on the rote learning but on application of knowledge as a part of holistic development of the learners.
  • The three language formula for school education:
    • The learning of the students in mother tongue or local language will become faster and it will provide avenues to familiarize the various cultural diversities of the country and at the same time these Indian languages shall remain relevant and vibrant
    • In fact, all the languages are closely linked with the arts and culture of the speaking community and as such, NEP-2020 spells various activities for preserving the local arts and culture associated with the languages. It is an opportunity for the proper preservation of the endangered languages too.

The global education development agenda reflected in the Goal 4 (SDG4) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by India in 2015 – seeks to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.

Such a lofty goal will require the entire education system to be reconfigured to support and foster learning. Hence reforming the RTE Act with consultation from all stakeholders is the need of the hour.

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