The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act came into force in the country on April 1, 2010. With this, India joined a select group of a few nations where education is a fundamental right. In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced the implementation of the Act. Making elementary education an entitlement for the children in the 6-14 years age group, the Act will directly benefit close to one crore children who do not go to school at present. Nearly 92 lakh children, who had either dropped out of schools or never been to any educational institution, will now get the elementary education as it will be binding on the part of the local authorities and the State governments to ensure that all children in the 6-14 years age group get schooling.

As per the Act, private educational institutions should reserve 25 per cent seats for children from the weaker sections of society. The Centre and the States have agreed to share the financial burden in the ratio of 55:45, while the Finance Commission has given Rs. 25,000 crore to the States for implementing the Act. The Centre has approved an outlay of Rs. 15,000 crore for 2010-11 for the purpose. The school management committee or the local authority will identify the drop-outs or out-of-school children aged above six and admit them in classes appropriate to their age after giving some special training. As per the Act, the schools need to have minimum facilities such as adequate teachers, playground and infrastructure. The State Governments or the local authorities will determine the neighbourhood schools by undertaking school mapping.

The coming into effect of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 marks a historic moment for the children of India. This Act serves as a building block to ensure that every child has the right to guaranteed quality elementary education. The state with the help of families and communities has a legal obligation to fulfil this duty. Few countries in the world have such a national provision to ensure both free and child-centred, child-friendly education to help all children develop their fullest potential. There are an estimated nine million children and young people between the ages of six and 14 out of school. Without India, the world cannot reach the Millennium Development Goal of having every child complete primary school by 2015.

The gains in India’s education system over the past few decades have been tremendous. According to India’s Education for All Mid-Decade Assessment, in just five years between 2000 and 2005, the country increased primary school enrolment by 13.7 per cent overall and by 19.8 per cent for girls, reaching close to universal enrolment in Grade I. The RTE Act provides a ripe platform to reach the unreached, with specific provisions for disadvantaged groups, such as child labourers, migrant children, children with special needs, or those who have a “disadvantage owing to social, cultural, economic, geographical, linguistic, gender or such other factor”. In view of reducing disparities, private schools must admit at least 25 per cent of children belonging to these groups.

With RTE, India can emerge as a global leader in achieving the Millennium Development Goal of ensuring that all children complete their primary schooling by 2015. It is a challenge, but the resources and political will fuelling progress on RTE, not an impossible task. The world is watching India as it positions itself to take its rightful leadership role in education on the global stage. Mill of children will benefit from this initiative ensuring quality education with equity. RTE will propel this great nation to even higher heights of prosperity and productivity, by guaranteeing all children their right to quality education and a brighter future.

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