The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) is regarded as a landmark step taken by the government of India, as it recognized education as a fundamental right in the country. The Act aimed at providing free and compulsory elementary education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14, thereby making education accessible to all, irrespective of their socio-economic background.
This paper attempts to analyse the effectiveness of RTE in improving access to education among economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in India. Providing the historical background of the act, it proceeds to outline its features and analyse certain key performance indicators to understand the impact of RTE. It also discusses in length Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act and highlights the legal lacunae and various gaps existing in its implementation. This study concludes that even more than a decade after the implementation of RTE, the goal of creating an inclusive education system remains a work in progress and provides certain suggestions to enhance the effectiveness of RTE in achieving its objective of universalizing elementary education.
Right to education is regarded as a fundamental human right under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”. The Indian Constitution is committed to the ideals of social justice providing education to the citizens is indispensable to accomplish this herculean task. Article 45 of Part IV of the Indian Constitution explicitly mentions that it is the state’s responsibility to provide free and compulsory education to all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. However, it was after several decades of independence that the Indian Parliament finally enacted the Right to Education Act in 2009.
The RTE Act was enacted to provide elementary education to all. It aimed to make education accessible to disadvantaged groups, who were socially and economically backward, thereby empowering them and making them capable of realising their potential to the fullest. With zero tolerance towards discrimination on any grounds in education, it was believed that this act would be effective in improving access to education among disadvantaged groups in India but as the current trends reveal, the education system in India is still far from being inclusive. It is not only plagued with the problem of ambiguous and vague provisions but also an impractical approach to providing disadvantaged groups access to education without considering the ground-level realities.
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