RTE: Right to Education, Elitism or Exclusion?

Maha delay in notifying RTE Rules: State’s Slowness Has Ensured That Destitute Kids Won’t Get Admission In Pvt Schools This Year.

This was the headline of an article in the Times of India of June 13, 2011, the day all the State Board schools in Maharashtra re-opened. According to the article, along with  15 other states and union territories of India, Maharashtra had yet to notify the norms of the Right of children to free and compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009. The RTE Act, which came into operation on April 1, 2010, has the same legal status as other rights enshrined in the Indian Constitution. Two of the defining rules of the Act say that (i) every child from 6 to 14 years of age has the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school, and that (ii) private schools must take in 25% of their class strength from “weaker sections and disadvantaged groups”, who will be sponsored by the government.

The RTE is a much discussed Act with its share of supporters and critics; one can find many critiques of the Act—you can read an excellent one by Parth Shah here and this blog that is entirely devoted to the RTE. Most of the critiques that I have come across discuss the lack of clarity (particularly with regard to the economics involved) in the rules of the Act as well as its implementation. In an article in Mint Lounge on how an English-medium education is a way out of life in the slums for many, Aakar Patel weaves in how the RTE Act could be used to achieve this goal. He also discusses as well as the possible hurdles in achieving it—hurdles that are not just economic, but social, i.e. those related to caste, class, etc.

In my opinion, the RTE Act is noble and idealistic in intent, but completely un-implementable in letter and spirit. Like Aakar Patel, I too believe that the reasons are not economic, but social due to the class-ridden and casteist nature of our society—a society that very clearly propagates differentiation of an “us” and “them” at every level. I draw from my experience to support this opinion. Let me elaborate.

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