Monday, April 23, 2012

Supreme Court upholds public education as a right*

Next time I hear an American politician declare that we should be more like India, I'm going to shout AMEN.

Tucked away in the online edition of the Wall Street Journal last week was this nugget by Tripti Lahiri and Diksha Sahni:

India's Supreme Court upheld a law Thursday that supporters say can transform access to education for hundreds of millions of poor children but critics claim infringes on the rights of private schools to admit whom they want.

The Right to Education law, which went into effect in April 2010, requires private schools to give one quarter of their places to low-income children. Two judges of the three-judge bench that was hearing the challenge by over 30 petitioners found that the law did not violate the constitutional rights of those running private schools.

However, they carved out an exemption for private "minority" institutions, such as those run by religious groups, finding that the act "infringes the fundamental freedom" of such schools.

The third judge, however, found entirely in favor of the petitioners, writing in a dissenting order that to compel any private schools "to admit 25% of the students on the fee structure determined by the State, is nothing but an invasion as well as appropriation of the rights guaranteed to them."

The new law makes education free and compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14, and requires schools, even private schools that don't receive any public funding, to set aside places for low-income children, for which they will be reimbursed at rates that cannot exceed spending per child in government schools.

What does this mean?

It means, for one thing, that India's Supreme Court is the mirror-opposite of our own: Two-thirds of its panel agreed that the Indian Constitution guarantees public education as a right to every child, thus upholding a law passed by India's government two years ago, lovingly named the Right to Education Act. That law required every private school in India to hold 25 percent of its seats available to non-paying children.

Only one-third of the panel dissented, arguing that private schools shouldn't be forced to take students they don't want.

Can you imagine if the right to exclusivity were taken away from private and parochial schools in America? It would take away our segregation academies' whole reason for being.

India's public education system is in shambles, plagued by teacher absenteeism and meager resources, and the law was designed to try to ensure that all children have access to learning. The particular provision about private school admissions also had a broader social goal: to minimize the class and caste divisions that persist in Indian society despite years of economic gains.

India's education minister said he was happy with the court's decision.

"What the court has given us today is clarity on the issue so that all controversies are set to rest," Kapil Sabil told the news channel NDTV. "Our vision of education moves forward."

But private schools opposed the provision, saying it placed an excessive financial burden on them and that educational standards would go down.

Damodar Prasad Goyal, the president of the Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan, the lead petitioner challenging the law, said: "The bench recognized that unaided private schools have the right to run education institutions freely and without any interference." But he added, "a section of law recognizes that there are certain reasonable restrictions on the functioning."

Usha Albuquerque, who heads an educational consultancy called Careers Smart, said the schools' reluctance to implement was a reflection of India's deep class divide.

"The class and economic divisions are too stark and thus a lot of schools also opposed" the mixed-income experiment, she said.

Did you catch that?

The individuals and corporate entities who opposed the public education law argued against the law based on "class and economic divisions."

In short, the wealthy do not want to share space, air and resources with the poor. Same as here!

Fortunately for Indian children, their national Constitution guarantees free public education as a right. Ours, sadly, does not.

Another Indian media outlet reported the news this way:

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act, 2009, which mandates 25% free seats to poor children up to the age of 14 in government and private aided and unaided schools (but not in unaided minority institutions) uniformly across the country.

A child who is denied the right to access education is not only [being] deprived of his right to live with dignity, he is also [being] deprived of his right to freedom of speech and expression enshrined in Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution,” the court said.

By a majority view, a three-judge bench of Chief Justice SH Kapadia and Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Swantanter Kumar said the act will apply uniformly to government and unaided private schools except unaided private minority schools.

“The 2009 Act seeks to remove all those barriers, including financial and psychological barriers, which a child belonging to the weaker section and disadvantaged group has to face while seeking admission,” read the judgment.

Wow. A child who is denied the right to access education is not only deprived of his right to live with dignity, but also deprived of his right to freedom of speech and expression. What a powerful declaration.

We'll never see anything so clear and true and right in our own country, and isn't that sad?

The news was so important that the BBC picked it up, too:

A law that makes education a fundamental right and reserves 25% of school seats for poor children is valid, India's Supreme Court has said.

The court ruling follows petitions by some private schools that complained the law violated their autonomy and was a drain on resources.

India's minister for human resource development, Kapil Sibal, has expressed his "happiness" over the court order.

Millions of children aged six-14 do not attend school in India.

Under the law, every child between those ages can demand free, primary school education.
Critics complain that schools run by both federal and state governments are poorly run and badly managed, although several government schemes are running to attract more children to schools.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said enough funds would be made available to ensure that children had access to education.

He said the government was committed "to ensuring that all children irrespective of gender and social category have access to education".

Recalling his own childhood, Mr Singh, a qualified economist, said: "I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am totally because of education."

"So I want that the light of education should reach to all," he added.

"Enough funds will be made available," India's leader said, because "the light of education should reach to all."

Why couldn't it have been America who made that declaration?

1 comment:

  1. Very impressive blog.The present situation of education in India is better than it's past condition but there is a huge scope of improving it.This bill will be a milestone but it has to be rightly executed. The right to Education bill was the need of hour but we are seeking results now.Education boards also helping to improve the condition.