The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 provides the right to education, atleast on paper, for children between 6 to 14 years of age. Elementary education is a necessary right for all children, but it is insufficient to provide them with the necessary skills to become a productive member of today’s modern society. The government has been arguing that it doesn’t have enough funds to provide free secondary education to all children who want to complete this stage of education.
It is not true that the government cannot afford to make secondary education a fundamental right. Public expenditure on education is still around 3.2% of GDP, much less than the established global norm of 6%. In the recent budget, the Finance Minister allocated 1,47,000 crores for the defence sector, a totally unproductive sector. As compared to this, the plan allocation for school education is only around 27,000 crores! The current status of secondary education in India is abominable. If we take first the issue of access to secondary education, there is a 40% point gap in secondary enrolment rates between students from the highest and the lowest expenditure quintile groups (70% versus 30% enrolment, respectively). This means that access to secondary education is highly unequal, and students coming from a poor family have to stop with elementary education and enter the labour market. In addition, there is a 20% point difference between rural and urban secondary enrolment rates, and a 10% point difference between secondary enrolment rates of boys and girls. The gender gap is very large in states such as Rajasthan, UP and MP as shown in the graph below. It is the duty of the government to provide education to all. But the proportion of public secondary schools has actually declined over recent years. Now only 40% of secondary schools are government run schools. The rest are private aided and private unaided schools as shown in the graph below. There is a huge difference in gross enrolment rates between states, reflecting the uneven development of the education system across India. States such as Bihar and Jharkhand have very low levels of secondary enrolment. Such is the sad state of affairs in the secondary education scene in India. All these facts relate to access to secondary education. There are quality and management issues as well, which I will talk about in a later blog. It is clear that the government doesn’t recognise education as a fundamental right in the real sense. If it were a fundamental right, then the right will belong to all children of India irrespective of their gender, region or status. But this is not the case. The central and state governments do not treat this as a right but as a privilege given to certain sections, or as an election gimmick. The situation can be changed only when all those who are stakeholders in the secondary education system – the children, parents, teachers and educationists – assert their views and take united action to enable the right to education for all. The right to education is a universal and inviolable right. Let’s make this happen.