Supreme Court on Right to Education: A Working Report on
10 Years of the RTE Act,
By CERT and SIO, December 2020.
2020 marked ten years of the contentious, yet highly valuable Right to Education Act. Jointly released by Students Islamic Organization (SIO) and Centre for Educational Research and Training (CERT) and published by White Dot Publishers, the report is an overview of many Supreme Court interventions into the RTE Act and provides a comprehensive reading of the legal history of the Act.
The report establishes the wider context of the RTE Act in the space of education and the struggle it entails. Drawing upon the Qu’ranic paradigm of the act of being taught and the act of being a student, learning, unlearning and spreading knowledge, the preface lays before the reader the need for education in a society like ours. The question of access to education is marked by rigid social exclusion and control over who gets to access knowledge. This is reflected even in today’s higher educational spaces for instance, where we have lost people like Dr Anitha, Payal Tadvi, Fathima Lateef, and many such students to institutional discrimination. Schooling too is marked by these very same inequalities. In 2018, Zebunnisa, an 8th standard student at the Navodaya Minorities School, KR Pete, Karnataka committed suicide after being harassed on gender and religious lines by a teacher. All these instances of institutional violence make the need to ensure education is accessible and equitable even more urgent. In this light, a review of the past ten years of a major landmark in education policy – the RTE Act – is timely.
As the report argues, the RTE Act has evaded “meaningful realisation” and this crisis has only been deepened in the light of last year’s New Education Policy. Apart from the legislative discussions around RTE, judicial interventions are also important in understanding why RTE has not been implemented substantively and some of the flaws built into it. The introductory chapter “The Right to Education: A Promise Unrealised” offers a textual introduction into the Act, as well as introducing the report’s reading of twenty judgements around RTE. The introduction highlights some major issues: the lack of appointment of the state advisory council, the lack of attention given to Section 35 (1) of the Act which pertains to notifying children living with HIV/AIDS as disadvantaged children without any discrimination towards them, the imposition of language and questions of appointment of teachers, poor infrastructure and so on.
Further attention is required from all fronts with regards to the political, social and economic implementation and consequences of the Act particularly in the light of the NEP-2020. This document is a step in this direction in the form of a working report but leaves the reader wanting a more theoretical and detailed investigation into the life of the Act at a ground level.