“Education is important for three reasons, first education is a right, second education enhances individual freedom, and third education yields important development benefits.” – John Daniel.
The International Day of Education is observed on 24th January to celebrate the role of education for peace and development. The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution on 3rd December, 2018, to declare January 24 as the International Day of Education. This year’s theme for the International Day of Education is ‘Recover and Revitalize Education for the COVID-19 Generation.’ According to the United Nations, without inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong opportunities for all, countries will not succeed in achieving gender equality and breaking the cycle of poverty that is leaving millions of children, youth, and adults behind. 258 million children and youth still do not attend school, 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic mathematics, less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children are out of school. Recently, the Government of India approved the National Education Policy, 2020, which aims to pave the way for transformational reforms in school and higher education systems in the country and it will also help us to achieve the Goal 4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by India in the year 2015. The National Education Policy 2020, approved by the Union Cabinet, will also help in rebuilding the education structure to create a system that is aligned with the goals of education in the 21st century. Education is important for attaining full human potential, developing a responsible society, and encouraging national development. Right to education has been recognised as a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of India under the Constitution of India. It has also been recognized as a human right and fundamental freedom in numerous international documents. On the International Day of Education, it would be apposite to highlight the various provisions regarding the right to education present in the Constitution of India and various international documents, the need for the effective implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, and our duty to provide quality education to all the children of the country.
Provisions in International Documents Regarding Right to Education
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 include various provisions regarding the right to education, which are briefly discussed hereinafter. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 states that everyone has the right to education and education shall be free in the elementary and fundamental stages. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, etc. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 1966 states that education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, etc. Articles 28 and 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 state that primary education shall be made compulsory and free to all, the development of different forms of secondary education shall be encouraged, including general and vocational education, appropriate measures shall be taken such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need. Education of the child shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, etc.
Provisions in the Constitution of India
Article 21-A states that the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. Article 41 states that the State shall within the limits of its economic capacity and development make effective provision for securing the right to work and to education and to public assistance in certain cases of unemployment, old age, sickness and disablement, and in other cases of undeserved want. Article 45 states that the State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years. Article 46 states that the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation. Article 51-A (k) states that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India who is a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or as the case may be, ward between the age of six and fourteen years. In Unni Krishnan, J.P. v. State of A.P., (1993) 1 SCC 645, the Supreme Court held that the citizens of this country have a fundamental right to education. The said right flows from Article 21 of the Constitution. This right is, however, not an absolute right. Every child of this country has a right to free education until he completes the age of fourteen years. Thereafter, his right to education is subject to the limits of economic capacity and development of the State. The Supreme Court of India, recently, observed that the right to education guaranteed in terms of Article 21-A of the Constitution would envisage quality education being imparted to the children which in turn would signify that the teachers must be meritorious and the best of the lot.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, came into force on 1st April, 2010 to provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years. Under the Act, the Government has various duties to perform. The Government has to provide free and compulsory elementary education to every child of the age of six to fourteen years, ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child of the age of six to fourteen years, ensure availability of a neighbourhood school, ensure that the child belonging to weaker section and the child belonging to disadvantaged group are not discriminated against and prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education on any grounds, provide infrastructure including school building, teaching staff and learning equipment, provide special training facility, ensure and monitor admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by every child, ensure good quality elementary education, ensure timely prescribing of curriculum and courses of study for elementary education, and provide training facility for teachers.
The various provisions present in the Constitution of India, in numerous international documents, and in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, furnish the methods to all of us for providing quality education to our children. It is the need of the hour to effectively implement the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 in its true spirit, so that free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years becomes a reality. The Supreme Court of India and various High Courts have taken some noteworthy steps to recognise right to education as a fundamental right under the Constitution of India and have also played their part in strengthening the education system of the country. It is high time to organize awareness programmes for making people aware about the right of children to free and compulsory education of the age of six to fourteen years. Non-governmental organizations can play a very important role in assisting the children to get admitted in schools and can also help in bringing the drop-outs back to the educational institutions. They can aid the government by keeping track of the educational institutions, their functioning and activities. A duty is cast upon the government to improve the infrastructure of the schools and equip them with the latest techniques of providing education. Concerted efforts are required not only from the government but also from all of us, as responsible citizens of the country, for providing free and compulsory education to all the children of the six to fourteen years and ensuring quality education for all, by remembering the words of Justice Kuldip Singh, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, when he said that the objectives flowing from the Preamble cannot be achieved and shall remain on paper unless the people in this country are educated. The three-pronged justice promised by the Preamble is only an illusion to the teeming millions who are illiterate. It is only education which equips a citizen to participate in achieving the objectives enshrined in the Preamble.
Muneeb Rashid Malik is a student of law.