Right to
Bill 2009 -
CRY's Point
of View

Right to Education Bill 2009 - What's in it for me?
What Indians can expect from the Right to Education Bill

Boston: July 21, 2009: A lot has already been said on the new Right to Education Bill to be tabled in the current session of Parliament in India. Going beyond the academic debate, CRY examined how it would translate on ground for children and others who will be impacted by the Bill.

Nine-year- old Sundari lives with her mother in a slum off the railway tracks in Bhandup, Mumbai. Just across from her plastic shack is a tall residential building, their source for clean drinking water and a livelihood - Sundari's mother works there as a domestic help. Because their slum is "unauthorized", the corporation will not install a drinking water tap near their shacks. Everyone has to cross the railway lines several times a day for drinking water.

Seven deaths have already occurred in the neighbourhood as people negotiate heavy buckets, the slippery grime of the tracks and trains that criss-cross each other at short intervals. Sundari's mother strongly feels that the poverty she experiences is because she dropped out of school. So she puts all her energy into educating her daughter who is enrolled in the BMC school nearby. Mother and daughter are proud of the school and of Sundari's studies.

If the Bill is passed, instead of a better quality government school, Sundari can look forward to a private school. As a "poor" child, she could get admission here as part of the 25% quota reserved for underprivileged children, but her dignity and equality will most likely be assaulted daily, while studying with paying students. In other words, Sundari's poverty, rather than her abilities, will decide her future.

15-year-old Gopal and four-year-old Ketaki live in a village in Orissa's Bolangir district. Since Bolangir is drought prone, the family faces constant hunger. With so much adversity at home, Gopal dropped out of the local primary school. Then a local children's group stepped in with support, persuading and helping the two to re-join school and attend class everyday. With the help of these friends, Gopal finished the Class VII exams and is looking forward, this year, to cycling to the government secondary school three kms. from his village.

If the Bill is passed, Gopal will have to find his own means to fund his education from Class VIII onwards, especially if he expects quality teaching with facilities like computer training. As a Class VII passout, Gopal will not get any assistance in education from the State despite the family's extreme poverty. His sister will have no direct support in the form of kindergarten schooling and will be unable to join primary school.

The ABC Company is part of the Global group, a major player in the publishing business. Their business is profitable (a net profit of 762 million pounds in a year) with a global staff size of 34000. The company's Board of Directors sit in new York and they are listed in both the New York and London stock exchanges. The global downturn has it profitability which is why they keep close watch on growing markets like India. With an amendment in Section 25 of the Companies Act, the ABC Company has hope to invest USD 30 million (165 crores) (with a loan) in the USD 40 billion* (Rs. 160,000 crore) education sector in India.

If the Bill is passed, this company can diversify into school and college education and probably break even in two years. The company's profits will come from middle and upper middle classes who are looking at "better quality". This does not touch the quality needs of the 70% of Indians who are poor. It also underscores the divide between the poor and the rich, by following a policy of '˜if you want quality, pay for it'.

CRY's Point of View:

Two major threats await the 400 million children in India whose school education depends on the Right to Education Bill that will be tabled in Parliament in a day's time. First, the Bill leaves pre-school goers (in the 0-6 age group) and the middle to primary school goers (15-18 age group).
Second, the commitment to improve both the quality of teaching and the school experience is left vague, even as Government schools lose children to poor quality, unregulated private schools.

Child Rights Demands to Make the Right to Education Real:

  • Opening the education sector for investment should not come at the cost of the right of every child to free, quality education. In other words, citizens with little purchasing power cannot be forced to pay for what should come free.
  • Include the pre-school goers (0-6 year olds) and the 14-18 year olds in the right to free quality education.
  • 47% habitations are without even a primary school nearby. Make sure there is a primary school within one km radius and an upper primary within 2 km radius.
  • Define quality to include principles of teaching and learning, access to everyone and including all regardless of class, caste, gender and ability.
  • Spend at least 10% of the GDP on education and health. Because this impacts 40% of India's population today and its population in the future.
  • Introduce the Common School System as per the Kothari Commission's recommendation.

"Education upto middle school is not enough for children's growth. Let us remember that this is the '˜right to education' Bill, and not the '˜right to literacy and numeracy' alone. This selection of 6-14 age group is arbitrary and absolutely contradicts India's promise to its children, of making education available, accessible and acceptable," Shefali Sunderlal, President, CRY America.

Latest government estimates show 70 million Indian children do not go to school. This category comes largely from India's poorest citizens, those who cannot and should not be forced to pay for schooling. "If the current Minister of HRD is proposing public-private partnerships as the 'solution' to India's quality problem, we need to know why he expects citizens to sponsor such quality themselves as well as generate a profit for the private sector. Why make citizens bear the cost of quality, when the government lacks neither resources nor people to bring in quality," asks Majumdar.

Estimates show that the private education sector is valued at USD 40 billion* (Rs. 160,000 crore) in India. The HRD Ministry needs to get Section 25 of the Companies Act amended for this. "The world's most developed economies, such as that of the US, UK and France allocate around 6-7% of their national budgets on public education and health. India by contrast, allocates just around 3% for education and around 1% for health. When we made education a constitutional right, at par with the right to life, it hardly befits the sprit of the Constitution to take such a minimalist approach to children's rights," added Shefali Sunderlal, President, CRY America.

"To make any real impact on children's lives, the country needs to spend at least 10 per cent of the GDP for school education and health. Currently the spending on schooling is 1.28% (the total government outlay is 3.3%) Instead of investing public resources, we as a country are opening up a core sector to private players, a move that goes against both the short- and long-term interests of children.

About CRY America:
CRY - Child Rights and You America Inc. (CRY America) is a 501c3 non-profit organization that is driven by it'˜s vision of a '˜just' world in which all children - regardless of class, caste, gender, color, faith etc - have equal opportunities to develop to their full potential and realize their dreams. With the support of over 500 volunteers and 10,000 donors, CRY America has impacted the lives of over 156,000 children living across 1211 urban, rural and tribal communities in India and the USA.

For more information: visit http://cryamerica.org/

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