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Devil in the details

A Delhi University law graduate,Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s initial reactions to The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act raised eyebrows all over.

Written by A.K. Verma |
April 12, 2010 12:51:36 am

A Delhi University law graduate,Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s initial reactions to The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act raised eyebrows all over. The Act would help children of most Dalits,a constituency so assiduously nurtured by Mayawati. Even so,she has a point.

Article 45 of our Constitution required that within 10 years of its commencement,the state should provide free and compulsory education to children. It meant that this law should have been on statute books fifty years ago. Moreover,the 86th Constitutional Amendment,2002 inserted Article 21A which said,“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may,by law,determine.” But,Parliament took seven years to enact this law,and government waited for seven months before enforcing it. When Mayawati calls it a delayed Central response,she has a point.

This delay has helped private institutions for a whole year because they close admissions in March. So 25 per cent seats from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in private schools will have to wait for one more year before getting filled. This law also puts the age of education as 6-14 years,whereas the private schools start admissions at 3-4 years of age. How will this wide gap be filled up without creating age asymmetry in classrooms?

Mayawati’s equally valid objection is about projecting the compulsory education law as the Centre’s bonanza to people. Education is a “concurrent subject” and,free and compulsory education to millions of children puts financial burden on states. Mayawati may have felt hurt because she was not consulted in spite of state governments bearing a direct financial liability.

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The ground realities in education,especially primary education,in Uttar Pradesh are pretty bad. There are a very large number of children in the age group 6-14,and about 30 lakh of them don’t go to schools. The literacy rate is a poor 56.27 per cent,and there is a vast gender gap of 26.60 per cent in literacy (male 68.8,female 42.22). There is huge pressure on 1,21,426 primary schools (76 schools per lakh of population),and 44581 upper primary schools ( 27 schools per lakh). The pupil- teacher ratio in primary schools is 85 whereas the new law proposes a ratio of 40. The total dropout rate in primary education is 24.74.

Enforcement of the new law would require 4,596 new primary and 2,349 upper primary schools and 3.25 lakh new primary teachers. In addition,67,000 new regular and 44,000 part-time teachers would be required in upper primary schools,as per government assessments. Effective implementation of the law against this backdrop means heavy investment in primary education. Fortunately,governments were already giving “education to all” under the 10th plan,through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme that provided education until class five to all children in the 6-14 age group.

The additional financial burden on states in implementing the Act could be mitigated through section 7(3),which requires the Centre to give a certain percentage of expenditure as grants-in-aid to states. There seems to be flexibility in this provision,and the Centre’s share may differ from state to state. Also,there could be better allocation of funds to states in future under section 7(4) of the Act which provides that the Central government may request the President to make a reference to the Finance Commission to examine whether any state needs additional help.

However,the educational bureaucracy together with the political leadership is neck deep into corruption. Hence,pumping huge funds in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians may increase corruption in basic education.

Opposition parties criticised Mayawati for wasting money on statues and unnecessarily crying about a resource deficit. They charged that there would not be a resource crunch had Mayawati not allocated Rs 4,500 crore in 2009-10 state budget for memorials and parks. More,she is making huge investments in creating a strong two lakh force of retired policemen to keep watch over statues of Dalit icons,including her own,in nine parks across Uttar Pradesh. But the kind of constituency that she represents justifies such expenditure to bolster them and give them a sense of elation. And,have others not done the same in the name of Ambedkar,Gandhi,Nehru,Indira,and Rajiv Gandhi?

And there is a flip side of the law. Have we calculated the emotional and psychological problems of a small group of “have not” students rubbing shoulders with majority of students coming from affluent sections? We may give them parity in school,but the economic gulf between rich and poor may generate more problems than we anticipate. And,while we may force rich schools to induct poor students,have we any plans to take affluent children to government schools?

Mayawati may not be sophisticated in reacting to the Centre’s educational initiatives,but she has initiated a debate on the issue. The nation may be infatuated by the new educational law,but,as time passes,we may realise how ineffective legal instruments are in tackling social and cultural evils.

The writer teaches politics in Christ Church College,Kanpur

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