History Of Development Of Right To Education In India
Education is without a doubt one of the most important instruments of change. As the old Chinese proverb goes, “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” so is education the instrument for making a person, a human in his own right, someone who can fend for himself in the world and someone who is not afraid to apply himself to any trade or occupation he/she wants to pursue. In the 2016 National Policy Education formulated under the Chairmanship of T.S.R. Subramanian, the importance of education as a critical vehicle for economic, political and social transformation has been recognised in the starting paragraphs itself. It is further recognised as a means to enabling a person by providing him with skills and competencies which could further help him in contributing towards the progress of a nation as whole.
Education is a useful and important tool, however, can education be defined? It was Swami Vivekanada who defined education most aptly . According to him education is not the “amount of information” that one attains or what is put into someone’s brains, which then lies undigested all life. It is the process of ‘life-building, man-making, character-making assimilation of ideas. Therefore it is the process by which a person ‘builds’ himself into a human being and does not merely go through life with drudgery but aspires and reaches for higher things in life. Education (particularly elementary education) holds a lot of importance in someone’s life.
In the Law Commission’s 165th Report on the Free and Compulsory Education for Children, the “acculturating role” of education was recognised. It was recognised that education is a “unique investment” for the present times and for the future as well.
Education can be broadly divided into various stages: Primary or elementary, Secondary and Higher or Professional education. Of these stages the elementary stage is considered to be the most important for the development of the human being. It is considered to be the most pivotal in the development of personal, social and ultimately nation development. It is considered that the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic are acquired at this stage, which makes this stage the most crucial one and which is thought to have an impact on the rest of the life of a person. In any nation, elementary education is given the highest priority. There have been many studies which have proven this fact. It has been observed that if the child at this stage receives a good quality education it may help him/ her lead to better, more meaningful and productive life. Hence, this is the stage of education which is emphasized repeatedly and pervasively as being the most important stage. And thus, we come to the concept of the Right to Education.
Right to Education has been recognised, globally as a human right which is fundamental to the life of everyone. As aforementioned, it considered the instrument of changes, of political, social and economic nature. Like food, shelter, clothing are the bare essentials of life, so is education considered to be an integral part of a human beings life. The Right to Education, in India at least, as provided under the Article 21A of the Constitution of India, seeks to provide free and compulsory education to children in the age group of 6-14 years. Thus, it seeks to make elementary education universal among citizens.
This Right has been recognised as the enabling right that seeks to provide a voice to the exercise of other rights. The Right to Education in India it is pertinent to mention was recognised as the Right flowing from the Right to Life (as provided under Article 21 of the Constitution). It was first recognised as being a Right under Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka, where the Supreme Court was seemingly inspired by the decision in the case of Bandhua Mukti Morcha v. Union of India where educational facilities for children was held to be a basic need which allows the right to live with dignity under Article 21, decided there was a Right to Education which was bestowed on every citizen by the State. This decision is considered to be the starting point for the recognition of Right to Education as a fundamental right as it is now. However, the history of Right to Education in India much farther back.
The history of the development of the Right to Education in India dates back to Raj to 1813 when the Charter Act of 1813 was promulgated. It was in this charter that accepted the responsibility of the education of the Indian people under Clause 43 of the Charter. It is considered to be the first legislative recognition of the Right to Education in India as it laid the foundation for education as the responsibility of State. Under the Charter it was provided by Clause 43 that a sum of at least one lakh rupees for each year will be allocated to be applied for the improvement of education and the promotion of knowledge of sciences among the inhabitants of territories in India.
Then in 1838, William Adam, a Christian missionary wrote several Reports which was taken into consideration by the General Committee. He was appointed by Lord William Bentinck to gather information on the state of vernacular education in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. In the Report William Adam was in favour of introducing the concept of compulsory education in every village which has a school. This proposal was however, rejected by the government which resulted in William Adam resigning from his post.
In 1882, one of the most notable efforts were attempted to be made towards making elementary education compulsory was made by the Hunter Commission (Indian Education Commission) of 1882. It was the result of the enforcement of the compulsory education act in England, a similar demand for compulsory primary education law was raised in India by Dadabhai Naoroji and Jyotiba Phule. The Commission however did not per se recommend that elementary education should be made compulsory, although it was in favour of expanding the primary education among people through legislation. The committee also recommended the transfer of administration and functioning of the schools to local bodies as was done in England.
Dadabhai Naoroji made the demand for the declaration that the primary education for four years should be made compulsory, in his evidence before the Commission. Jyotiba Phule submitted in writing to the Commission that primary education among the masses had been neglected for far too long. According to him, the efforts so far in promoting education by and the Christian Missionaries had not been done with a view to improving education rather to serve their own needs. He recommended to the commission to make primary education compulsory upto a certain age, such as 12 years of age.
However, the Commission did not recommend that primary education should be made compulsory or free for that matter. It was considered to be a disappointing document as it could have in its recommendation done more towards making compulsory education a reality. But it did result in educationists and political leaders taking a note of the problem of illiteracy and lack of access to even primary education more seriously.
A very vocal demand came from nationalist leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Being a member of the Indian National Congress (he also eventually became the President of the party) he was a very influential leader. He eventually became a member of Imperial Legislative Council in 1902. Gokhale realised the importance of compulsory primary education and sought or make efforts to make it a reality. He was buoyed by the fact that Maharaja Sayaji Rao of Baroda had already made primary education compulsory and free within his state.
In 1910 he moved a resolution in the Imperial Legislative Council that declared that elementary education should be made free and compulsory. This resulted in the Department of Education being established under the Government and the records of the progress of primary education also started to be maintained by the government. This proposal it is important to note was only for making education compulsory for boys. According to Gokhale, education for girls will for some time in the future remain on a voluntary basis. However, regardless of that fact, it is still considered as one of the significant events in the history of Right to Education. A year later 1911, he also introduced a Bill that incorporated a lot of the recommendations that he made in his proposal to the Council.
The Bill introduced by Gokhale had similar provisions as that of the Education Acts of England. It sought to make education compulsory for boys and girls of age 6-10 years, local bodies were made responsible for the enforcement and the implementation. However, the bill did not demand immediate introduction of compulsory education. It was also felt by that education was basically a charity that they sought to provide for in India and was in no measure a duty that they had to perform. Hence, opposed it and the Bill was eventually rejected.
In 1915 after the death of Gokhale, Vithalbhai Patel renewed the movement for compulsory education when he introduced a Bill in 1917 in the Bombay Legislative Council for allowing Municipalities to enforce compulsion in their areas. Eventually, the bill received the assent of the Governor-General in 1918. This was the first law on compulsory primary education in India. The act was often called the ‘Patel Act’ in honour of the man who envisioned it. The Act was similar to the Bill advocated by Gokhale. In 1919 the Government of India Act was passed which inter alia provided that the control of compulsory education should be with the Indian Ministers. It was a result of the Patel Act. After the Patel Act and the Government of India Act, 1919 several states started to introduce acts for Compulsory Primary Education.
With the coming of the Government of India Act, 1935 more autonomy was given to the Indian Ministers to act on their own. This also allowed for the expansion of elementary education in more regions in the country. Mahatma Gandhi also formulated a scheme for basic education which was reiterated in the Wardha Scheme of Basic Education of 1937 which resolved that free and compulsory education be provided on a national scale and for 7 years.
In the post- Second World War era, a Plan of Educational Development 1944 (popularly known as the Sargent Plan) was formulated. The Sargent Plan recommended that free and compulsory education to all children in the age category of 6-14 should be provided. The plan was phased to be completed in 40 years. This proposal of the Sargent Plan was examined by the committee under the Chairmanship of B.G.Kher, the then Chief Minister of Bombay. The committee accepted the importance of the Plan but it recommended reducing the phase for completion from 40 to 16 years. This was the recommendation that paved the way for Article 45 in Part IV of the Constitution of India.
Post-Independence the Constitution of India provided in its Article 45, a vision, a promise of free and compulsory education for children until they complete 14 years of age. The Article provides that the State has to endeavor to provide, within the time limit of 10 years from the date of coming into force of the Constitution i.e. 1950, for education which will be free and compulsory to children till 14 years of age. However, this was not achieved for at least the next 5 decades. Subsequently, even the judiciary increased the pressure on the State, with the judgment in Unnikrishnan v. State of Andhra Pradesh. Finally, the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act was enacted which included Article 21A in Part III of the Constitution of India, thus making the Right to Education a fundamental right. Article 21A provides that every child in the age category of 6 to 14 years, shall be provided by the State free and compulsory education.
To give effect to the Right to Education, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 was enacted which seeks to provide to every child of age 6 to 14 years with full-time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality and sets out essential norms and standards which the school has to satisfy in order to function properly. The Act further seeks to extend the Right to Education to children belonging to the weaker sections of the society and also to children who belong ot disadvantaged groups. The development of the Right to Education in India will be examined in more detail in later sections.