Thursday, August 6, 2009

Again to Jantar Mantar: Education bill 'flawed', will move Supreme Court: Expert

Dear all!

I think we should not be befooled by the false promises of Ministers - who as many say - are hurrying up to finish their 100 days agenda and have been bringing up bills in haste without consulting the stakeholders and without public scrunity!

I am personally not convinced with what media reported today with regard to RTE and disability. Mr. Anil Sadgopal and others have decided to move Supreme Court against the Bill in the present form.

Do you think we can join in the Dharna again at Jantar Mantar and join hands with Mr. Sadgopal & others against the RTE Bill in present form and seek to include disability in to mainstream business. The bill is flawed on many other issues also. And unless these flaws are addressed, inclusive education will only remain an utopia and never be realised!

And I sincerely believe that while we strongly advocate and talk of inclusion in the mainstream schooling system, the sector we work with will also suffer the same issues in these mainstream schools. The following issues concern the education and early intervention of children with disabilities also:

(a) Non - inclusion of children from 3 years to 6 years age group in the bill while the Govt. Schools have started admitting children for pre-school.
(b) No support or talk of community schools concept
(c) No system to tackle fees hike in private schools
(d) No clarity on how govt. will make re-imburse the money spent on students.(e) If it is a bill for rights of children then why children up to 14 are only covered? If the law doesn't consider under 18 to be adult - then why not include children up to 18 and below. Also in case of Disabled it could be raised to 21 from present 18.

Besides this, disability related clauses like can also be included:

(a) Relegating disability to chapter V of PWD Act and not mainstreaming the issue in the bill
(b) Non-addition of Children with disabilities in definition of "Disadvantaged children"
(c) Non-inclusion of Special schools
(d) No system of re-imbursing money to special schools

The MSJE pays a paltry sum to NGOs for running schools, under grants which is subject to reduction by certain percentage every year! Why can't Govt. re-imburse education per child to NGOs also on the same pattern? Why discrimination among disabled and non-disabled children. If the money is earmarked, many NGOs, private institutions & community schools, private and govt. schools would come forward to include children with disabilities.

Also mere statement of Mr. Sibal in the Parliament that disadvantaged children would include disabled children holds no water in the eyes of law. Mr. Arjun Singh had made a very bold statement on the subject few years ago but that remained a statement till date. Therefore, let us not believe on the statements of politicians and we should not rest till it is added in the legislation itself.

Also it is a sufficient ground for review that the bill had been introduced and passed by both the houses without a single public hearing for a legislation with such far-reaching consequences. We had no time to discuss it and its ramifications in its totality and only adhoc issues could be raised in the protest!

Now AISA and All India Forum to Right to Education have decided to hold a public hearing and thereafter go to Supreme Court agaisnt it. Here is the call:

A Public Hearing on the Right to Education Bill
and UPA's Other Proposals Towards Commercialization of Education

August 7 (Friday), Jantar Mantar, 11 am Onwards

Jury Members:
Prof. Anil Sadgopal, noted educationist
Prof. R.K. Agnihotri, Delhi University
Prof. Minati Panda, JNU
Prof. Nawal Kishore Choudhury, Patna University
Dr. Azra Razzak, Jamia Millia Islamia
Colin Gonsalves, Human Rights Law Network
Kedarnath Pandey MLC, Bihar, Teacher Leader
A. Narasimha Reddy, Vice President, Andhra Pradesh Save Education Committee

The UPA government has passed the farcical “Right to Education Bill”: and the MHRD is busy touting this as a "historic" piece of legislation that will finally open the doors of education and empowerment to each and every child of the country. From its title, the Right to Education Bill passed on 20th July by the Rajya Sabha and on 4th August by the Lok Sabha suggests that its aims to make education a basic right available for all. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. The RTE in its present form is a farce in the name of genuine right to education - it designed to keep in place the discriminatory, multi-layered education system that currently prevails. In 1993, in the Unnikrishnan judgement, the Supreme Court declared that from birth until the age of fourteen, children were entitled to free and compulsory education and this was accorded the status of a basic right. This is how the genuine Right to Education is best defined.

In contrast, what the new bill promises is laughable. It states:

Ø That 25% seats in private schools will be reserved for poor students for "free" education in private schools. The government claims that it will pick up the tab for the tuition fees for these children. However, the fact is that the government only promises to provide “vouchers” to poor children equivalent to the admission fees of government schools. Do Mr. Sibal and the MHRD seriously believe that the fees in private schools and government schools are in any way comparable? Also, how will these children from poor families pay ‘picnic’ fees, textbook ‘fees’, sports ‘fees’ and other such expenses that private schools regularly extort?
Ø Even if poor students manage to survive until Class 8, what will happen after this, when the government stops paying their fees? These children will be out on the streets once more, while those of their classmates who could pay the exorbitant fees, will pass Class 12 and go on to enter the hallowed portals of IITs, IIMs or prestigious foreign universities. There is one answer to all these complexities — a Common Schooling System where every school [including the private schools] will be a neighbourhood school. But it is this one solution that all the torturous provisions of the bill could not come close to. The RTE is completely silent on this crucial question.
Ø The RTE is nothing but a blatant attempt of the UPA government to shirk its responsibility to provide universal, affordable and quality education. Instead of handing over education to private schools, shouldn’t the state be working to set up better government schools? We all know how the rising fees of private schools is putting a strain even on middle class budgets. The recent agitations in Delhi against the obscene fees charged by private schools is proof enough.
Ø This is not the first time that the "free" schooling has been promised - residents of Delhi are well aware that private schools in the city were provided land practically free of cost by the government, in return for which supposed to give "free" education to poor children. Exactly how many poor children are able to access these elite facilities is there for anyone to see.
Ø What is also worth noting is the near-consensus in the parliament to support the farce that the UPA is peddling in the name of “Right to Education”.

In both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, the RTE was passed unanimously with no opposition whatsoever. The RTE in its present form has several fundamental, structural problems and ambiguities that shelve it of any potential to really provide fundamental right to education as mandated by our constitution and the landmark 1993 Unnikrishnan judgment of the Supreme Court. What is shocking is that the UPA as well as the NDA government before it are trying their level best to undermine and restrict the scope of the landmark Unnikrishnan judgment of the Supreme Court and the fundamental right of education underlined in the constitution under the garb of this "Right to Education Bill".

The farcical Right to Education Bill however is just part of the larger package of commercialisation and privatization that the UPA government has in store. 100-day agenda announced by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD). Kapil Sibal has promised ‘radical’ reforms in the country’s education system. As you are well aware, the ‘reforms’ in education which the MHRD is advocating are nothing new. They are but a ruse for the government to escape its responsibility towards education and deliver it entirely into private hands. More than a decade of anti-privatization struggles by students have forced Governments to change their vocabulary; to ‘dress up’ their privatization-commercialization agenda in a grand cloak of ‘reform’.

It is in the context of the UPA government's covert plans to sell out our education system to the private sector in bits and pieces that the All India Forum for Right to Education (AIFRTE) and AISA are organizing a Public Hearing on 7th August 2009 (Friday) at Jantar Mantar from 11 am onwards. This pubic hearing will be attended by a wide cross section of society - intellectuals, teachers, students, and residents of Delhi from different sections of society.

We request you to attend the programme.

Ravi Rai, National General Secretary, AISA

Warm regards,
Subhash Chandra Vashishth
Advocate-Disability Rights
Mobile: +91 (11) 9811125521

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