Right to Education Act: A Critique

Friday, 30 April 2010
Parth J Shah and Shreya Agarwal
CFO Connect

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (RTE Act) came into effect on April 1, 2010. Most people know that the Act is important, but otherwise understand very litle of what it says. To understand it really requires some background knowledge which this article attempts by providing a historical narrative, an outline of its key features, and a description of its serious flaws. It then suggests recommendations to address these flaws. Our assessment is that the RTE is a mixed bag, with some good and some really bad ideas. It requires our sustained engagement to improve its design and a proper implementation.

Historical narrative

Post-independence, Article 45 of the newly framed Constitution stated that the State shall endeavour to provide within a period of 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution, free and compulsory education to all children until they complete the age of 14 years.

As is evident even after 60 years, universal elementary education remains a distant dream. Despite high enrolment rates of approximately 95 per cent, 52.8 per cent of children studying in the fifth grade lack the reading skills expected of children in the second grade (Annual Status of Education Report, ASER 2009). Free and compulsory elementary education was made a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution in December 2002, by the 86th Amendment. To translate this into action, the `Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ was drafted in 2005. The the unresolved financial negotiations between the National University of Education Planning and Administration, NUEPA, which has been responsible for estimating RTE funds, the Planning Commission, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Development (MHRD). From an estimated additional Rs 3.2 trillion to Rs 4.4 trillion for the implementation of the RTE Draft Bill 2005, over six years (Central Advisory Board of Education, CABE), the figure finally set by NUEPA now stands at a much reduced Rs 1.7 trillion over the coming five years. Most education experts agree that this amount will be insufficient. Since education falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution, financial negotiations were also undertaken between the central and state authorities to agree on sharing of expenses. This ratio has now been agreed at 55:45 between them with the centre bearing the larger share; though states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar continue to argue that their share should be lower. It is interesting to note that the financial estimates prepared by NUEPA provide four different scenarios of expense sharing between the centre and the states (85:15, 75:25, 65:35, and 50:50), none of which is the 55:45 share estimate which has now been agreed upon.

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