The constitutionality of the Right to Education Act (RTE) has been upheld by the Supreme Court (SC); this is a positive development in all ways for our country. Call it the first step for providing equality in education, inclusivity and social justice; it’s a judgement that lays the path for change.
The question regarding the constitutional validity of such legislation came around to be because it’s geared at re-orienting the educational scenario of the country at the most basic level. The judgement itself encourages thinking beyond the scope of such narrow and fixed labels like private and public. It opens room for newer possibilities.
It is in view of the reality that it’s impossible to achieve the goal of ‘education for all’ without the cooperation of all educational institutions, public and private. This is the right time that responsibility is shared by all institutions and they develop the will to see the move not as a limitation but an immense possibility. But the current system has been around for so long that resistance to law was unavoidable. Social responsibility seems, therefore, an issue difficult to relate to, let alone come to terms with.
The private schools rued through their petition to SC that the RTE would curb their autonomy and obstruct their striving to be “centres of excellence”. Indeed, with its history and image-in-general, any kind of government intervention is likely to be perceived as a threat to autonomy. But here the case is slightly different. The only major difference in the autonomy of schools will be that they will allow admission to economically disadvantaged children to the extent of 25% of their class strength, and accommodate the same. The state is to take care of the financial viability for their free and compulsory education.
The other argument reflects how these educationists view “excellence”, and how giving an opportunity to the “children of the poor” — often made to sound as though they’re some different kind of children- will hamper the pursuit of it. This only shows a need to rework their understanding of excellence. The focus needs to shift to innovating strategies — pedagogical and otherwise — which can uplift and empower students in spite of their varied economic and social dispositions. Stepping up to meet this challenge would really be the ideal benchmark of excellence, not annual turnovers.
This does not lessen the need for more schools, both government and private. Thousands of primary and upper-primary schools sanctioned by the government are yet to be opened.
There are other issues for deliberation and debate, and implementation will probably be uncomfortable initially but it will deliver enormous benefits in the long term, social inclusivity, economic empowerment, bridging the class divide, to name a few.