Published on Times Online, by Jeremy Page, Delhi, April 2, 2010.
India enacted an historic law yesterday that makes primary education compulsory in its boldest attempt yet to help an estimated ten million children who do not go to school because of poverty or discrimination.
The new law grants all children between 6 and 14 a legal right to education — regardless of their social status, gender, caste or income — and obliges state governments to foot the bill.
It stipulates that all primary schools should provide one trained teacher for every thirty students, compared with the current average of one for every fifty.
The legislation also forces private schools to reserve a quarter of their places for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, a stipulation that met fierce resistance from some of India’s most prestigious colleges …
… “There are many critical challenges that lie ahead which may make the claim of fundamental right to education a hollow one,” Thomas Chandy, head of Save the Children in India, said. “Ignoring to invest in the earliest years of a child before the age of 6 while talking about elementary education is a mistake.”
He questioned how the Government would find the 1.2 million teachers that he estimated were necessary to increase the teacher-student ratio to 30 to 1.
Ramakant Rai, country head for the National Coalition for Education, a rights group based in Delhi, said that the Government was being dishonest about the number of children not in school.
He said that a national census in 2001 showed that there were 85 million children who had either never attended school or dropped out yet the Government now claimed that there were only 10 million not enrolled.
“We cannot forget 75 million children,” he said. (full text).