Right to Education and Minority Institution Scam

Ajay Bhagat
The Right to Education is recognized as a fundamental right by many countries. Education plays an important role in empowering marginalized adults and children, helping the removal of poverty, social injustice and inequality. India passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act in 2009. It is popularly called the Right To Education Act or RTE. India became one of the 135 countries to make education a Fundamental Right when it was enforced in 2010. This law made education a fundamental Right for every child. It is part of the Fundamental Rights granted by Constitution of India. The right granted by the law, which means people can go to court if authorities do not follow the provisions of the RTE. The main provisions of the Act are:
* All children between six and 14 years of age have right to free and compulsory education till VIII in neighborhood school.
* ‘Free Education’ means that a child admitted to Government schools does not have to pay any kind of fees. This removes expenses which may have prevented a child from getting an education. ‘Compulsory Education’ means that is legal duty of the Government and local authorities to provide education all children in the 6-14 age groups.
* The Act banned unauthorized schools and interviews of children for admission. Schools are forbidden from accepting donations for admission. All the private schools have to reserve 25 per cent of the seats for socially disadvantaged and economically weak students.
* Special provisions were introduced for children with disabilities to be part of regular schools.
* The Act prohibits physical punishment for students. It also forbids mental abuse or discrimination based on gender, class or religion against children.
* No child can be held back in his/her class or expelled until class 8th. Exams have been removed from schools by the Act. Instead, Continuous Comprehensive Evaluations were introduced to assess the children’s learning levels.
* The Act instructs schools to provide proper classrooms, clean toilets and safe drinking water.
* The Act divided the responsibility between the central, state and local authorities.
Domestic Pressure for Right to Education
In the 1990s, India saw renewed interest in free and compulsory education due to domestic pressures and international commitments to provide universal elementary education. In India, efforts from educationist, Government’s initiatives and Supreme Court orders were crucial in the making of RTE. Some factors which renewed interest in the RTE were:
* Primary education was given priority by the Government. It took initiatives not only to build new schools but also to start the Mid day Meal scheme (1995) to ensure that students attend school.
There was also a growing public demand for education.
* Supreme Court passed landmark judgments on the issue of primary education. It declared the right to education a part of the Fundamental Right to Life in the Constitution. It also declared that it is the duty of the state to provide free and compulsory education.
The 86th Amendment of the Constitution of India in 2002 introduced Article 21A, which made education Fundamental Right to for all children between six and 14 years of age. The Right Education Act 2009 is a law made to implement the fundamental right.
Some positive Impacts of RTE are:
* It made education a national priority.
* It led to signigicant increase in the number of children in schools.
“* Schools have been set up within walking distance of children’s residence.
* It promotes inclusive education. Schools have been built in remote areas inhabited by scheduled tribes.
* Admission is not denied and enrolment drives are organized to enroll students.
Minority Institution
No doubt the Right to Education Act was introduced by UPA Government but the Right to Education forum’s reports of 2014 shows less than 10 percent of schools in our country follow all provisions of the RTE Act. Above all the Minority Institutions used Minority status to Bypass SC, ST, OBC, and EWS quotas. In 2010, an order was passed by the HRD ministry (now the Ministry of Education) that the rights of minority institutions are protected while implementing the provisions of the RTE Act. An amendment was made in 2012 to keep minority institutions out of the ambit of the RTE Act. In the recent interview by Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned that nine thousand schools were granted minority status during UPA rule to avoid quotas for SC, ST, and OBCs and also to EWS which is true according to books. The NCMEI Act, 2004 Act allows granting minority status to schools. Initially, fewer than 600 schools received this status annually but numbers surged after 2009 peaking at almost 2000 in 2012, which is now 11 to 15. Many elite schools used minority status to bypass 2009 Right to Education Act which mandates 25 per cent of seats for disadvantaged communities. Schools sought minority status to avoid RTE Act provisions. Orders in 2010 and amendments in 2012 protected these schools from RTE requirements. Even prominent schools like some of the Delhi Public Schools (DPS) have minority status, undermining the RTE Act’s goal and all this happens under the then HRD ministry (now the Ministry of Education) Kapil Sibal of UPA Government.
In its 2021 report, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) highlighted a concerning trend in minority schools. It found that 62.5 per cent of students in minority schools belong to non-minority communities. In Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Punjab, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Daman & Diu, Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Pondicherry, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu Uttarakhand this number is above 70 per cent. There’s only one state where no non-minorities attend minority schools-Manipur. Additionally, only 8.76 per cent of students in these minority schools are from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds. This discrepancy raises questions about the true beneficiaries of the minority status these schools hold and whether it is being used to circumvent the inclusive goals of education policies.
Interestingly, Christians constitute only 11.54 per cent of the religious population, they account for 71.96 per cent of religious minority schools. Conversely, Muslims, who make up 69.18 per cent of the minority population, represent just 22.75 per cent of these schools! This is puzzling, especially when we know that minority institutions mostly have non-minority students.
There is urgent need for appropriate steps to extend the provisions of the RTE to minority educational institutions or to enact a law with a similar effect to ensure the Right to Education of children studying in minority educational institutions.
There is an urgent need also to revisit the exemptions granted to minority institutions under the Right to Education Act. While Article 30 of the Indian Constitution rightly empowers minority communities to establish and administer their own educational institutions, ensuring the preservation of their cultural, linguistic, and religious heritage, this should not impede the objectives of Article 21(A), which safeguards the fundamental right to education for every child.
(The author is Assistant Engineer JKPDD)