The right to education being a fundamental right is a duty of the state to ensure its availability to every child. It is mentioned in the Article 21A of the Indian Constitution and is also protected by the RTE Act, 2009. Due to nationwide lockdown, it was a trying time for everyone including the student section of the nation. Added to this was the plight of migrant workers who had displaced themselves and their children were in search of new schools. It is a question to be answered whether the right to education is being infringed with school shut and studies brought to a halt. If is it possible for the State to provide education to each and every student sitting at home. Also, with new virtual learning replacing the conventional learning methods, it is necessary to critically analyze its applicability in the Indian Society. Now with unlock 5, it is a task for the school authorities to come up with methods to ensure proper social distancing practices being followed and studies also happening at the same time.
Under Article 21A, the right to education has been guaranteed as a fundamental right and it also holds the position of a human right in the international forum. In India, it is the duty of the state and the local authorities to ensure that education is being imparted to all students of all ages within 6-14 years of age. The RTE Act was also enacted in 2009, which laid down the guidelines for ensuring the protection of this fundamental right.
But now in the condition of a nation-wide lockdown, where students are unable to attend their schools physically and a substantive part is also unable to attend the online lectures, the question is whether the same right to education is infringed or not.
International Position of Right to Education
The right to education is a fundamental right recognized by UDHR (United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights) as a human right too, in its Article 26(1):
“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit”
The right to education has been reaffirmed in the 1960 UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education, the 1981 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Right to Education in the Indian Constitution
In the Indian Constitution, Article 21A was inserted with the 86th Amendment Act, 2002 and provided that:
“The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such a manner as the State may, by law, determine”
It is a positive right that is available to the minor kids within the age group of 6-14 years. This article strongly asserts that it is the duty of the State to ensure that each and every child is able to gain an elementary education. In the case of environmental and Consumer Protect Foundation v. Delhi Administration, it was also added that schools must have qualified teachers and basic infrastructure. Discrimination is also strongly discouraged under this right. In the case of State of Tamil Nadu v. K. Shyam Sunder, it has held that a child should have a quality education, without any discrimination on the basis of economic, social, and cultural backgrounds.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009
To achieve the objective laid down by Article 21(A), the RTE (Right of children to free and compulsory education) Act was enacted in the year 2009, which came into force on 1st April 2010. The act works on the 4A’s,
Availability + Accessibility + Acceptability + Adaptability
Availability- It had been a wide known fact that due to poor family backgrounds, children of the house were forced to work and do odd jobs to get some money. To ensure that no child is left out, availability means that education should be available to every child without any obstacles. All kinds of finance needed to study, without which they would enroll out of the school, shall be born by the Government. Proper infrastructure and teaching facilities are to be made available for the same.
Accessibility- Many students had to walk for one kilometer to reach their nearest school because of which they would bunk the schools. Accessibility means the education centres should be made available in all localities so that they easily accessible. No student is to be left out just because the school is not easily accessible for them.
Acceptability- Castism and religious differentiation have deep roots in Indian Culture. To not allow them to penetrate the school systems, acceptability means that the value of education must be provided without any discrimination on these grounds.
Adaptability- Society is an ever-changing phenomenon. To help the students keep up with the ever-changing needs of the society, adaptability means that the education provided shall be in accordance with the changing times and norms.
The act lays down the following provisions:
- Right to free and compulsory education for every child, of age 6-14 years. The same should be provided in a nearby school until the completion of his or her elementary education.
- No liability should be levied on the child for paying any kind of fee or charges which may prevent them from perusing their elementary education.
- The appropriate government must provide necessary infrastructure, special training facilities to the teachers to make sure free and compulsory education is imparted to every child.
- The local authorities must ensure the availability of local schools, provide necessary infrastructure, a training facility to the teachers, ensure admission to the children of the migrants and monitor the functioning of schools within its jurisdiction.
- A teacher has to complete the entire curriculum within a specified time and to maintain regularity and punctuality in attending schools.
Effects of COVID on Education
A shock to students
For the student’s section of society, declaration of a lockdown meant that studies had to now go virtual. The final year students along with those who were giving their board examination, for them it was bad news for it meant a postponement of their exams and delay in their next new admissions or placement. The rest of the section of students were confused about how studies would now continue. Studying in a class with the rest of your classmates was no more an option because of social distancing and studying online seemed like the only option.
A mega change for teachers
Even for the teachers, it was a huge change for they had to now shift from conventional teaching methods to a completely new e-learning platform. From learning how to handle these applications to managing the house chores at the same time, it was a struggle for the teachers as well to keep their jobs. Many did even lose their jobs which forced them to take up odd jobs and then fill their family’s stomachs. Reports came that how teachers were selling tea, noodles, doing labor work, and taking private tuitions to support their families.
Unique ways of learning as seen in lockdown
Across the nation, many new and unique ways were sought by the teachers to be in touch with their students. Some were taking virtual classrooms on ZOOM, Google Meet, some were giving online assignments to their students, radios were being used to reach students in remote areas, Television was being used to reach out to kids, teachers were making videos and uploading it on YouTube and even the Government Organisations came up with unique methods of bringing the school to every child’s house. A few of such initiatives taken were:
- SWAYAM, an online learning platform was started by the Ministry of Human Resource Development
- DIKSHA, a digital learning infrastructure for school education which provided help to students of both CBSE and state boards
- E-pathshala, a digital campaign started by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to promote the use of IT in education
The Drawbacks Of E-Learning
But what should also be kept in mind that even with so many steps taken, still 247 million elementary and secondary school students and 28 million of Anganwadi students stay affected due to this pandemic? The situation getting worsen, the following observations can be drawn as a negative impact on the students and their studies:
- As per a report, only 36% of mobile phone users in India use a smartphone. This shows that a very less population of students can attend a class online.
- A high-speed internet connection is still a problem in remote areas of rural India.
- Sitting and staring at a computer or phone screen can have long-term effects like headaches, eye problems, and increased stress. Psychiatrists have even said that prolonged use of these screens is worse than the addiction to cannabis.
- It has resulted in an abrupt change in the teaching pattern for which neither the teachers and parents were prepared. They face trouble in operating these platforms.
- It is no more possible for a teacher to monitor each child’s progress and provide the same attention they used to before.
- E-learning is also not as effective as physical learning. While taking online lectures, students usually end up watching videos on YouTube or scrolling Instagram on their mobile phones.
- It is a plight for the migrant workers as well because now they have to start finding new admissions in schools near the places where they are now living.
- Even the school authorities are suffering. 94% of budget private schools across India have reported that parents are not paying the school fees because of which the schools have come to the verge of being shut-down.
Has the Right to Education been Infringed?
It is indeed true to say that right to education of numerous students during the lockdown was hampered. For those who could afford to study online, they were still able to continue with their education but for those with no resources to continue their studies, the option left for them was to focus on self-study. For the teachers who were left unemployed, they had to find alternate employment to feed their families.
But the global pandemic which has broken down, the situation is was of a sudden one. These trying times were a part of the huge struggle through which the whole world is going through. For the government, the major concern was to handle the increasing number of COVID positive patients. In the measures taken to curb the spreading of this virus, many other sectors of life were left neglected. One of them is the education sector.
What Could Have Been Done?
With so many hurdles in the way, it won’t be too modest to say that every child’s right to education has suffered during this nation-wide lockdown. The steps taken could have been even more planned and organized. Some of the steps could have been:
- A planned and well-organized lockdown- The abruptly taken step of nation-wide lockdown did benefit by delaying the growth of corona positive cases but it also left no time for the authorities of schools and even organizations to plan their steps ahead.
- Migrated students- Students who have now migrated to their villages could be enrolled in their local schools and the local authorities like the village panchayat could ensure that none of the children stay un-enrolled in schools.
- Provision of smart-phones or laptops to the teachers- For the teachers who were unable to reach out to their students because of lack of proper infrastructure, could have provided with the same.
- A national channel for studies- This suggestion comes from the airing of age-old and legendary serial Ramayan. The TV show was loved immensely and had a viewership of 7.7 crores in one day. If similarly, an education channel is also started where teachers from across the nation come and teach the basic syllabus for each class, every day then the studies could have never stopped for children.
Life v. Work
The situation was even more tensed for those sections of society who went jobless and homeless overnight. The parents were forced to remove their children from schools. Earning for food to eat had become more important than studying. For these students, bringing them back to school will be a humongous task and will be as hard as sending them a school for the first time. But what must not be forgotten is that the situation that the whole nation went through was something no one could have ever predicted.
The situation of the pandemic had left everyone confused and in utter silence. The decision was between life or work, whether to save our and everyone else’s life by staying within homes or to start the work and social life by risking everyone’s life. Shutting the schools and going towards e-learning was the need of the hour and for now, it’s too early to judge its applicability in the long run.
- The state of Madras v. Shrimati Champak Dorirajan
It was a landmark judgment which had declared that the reservations in government jobs and college seats, as stated in Government Order, 1927(Madras Presidency) were in violation of Article 29(2) and thereby struck down. This case judgment had lead to the first amendment in the Indian Constitution (Constitution Act, 1951).
- Ms. Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka
This case is famously known as the capitation fee case. The two-judge bench of Justice. Kuldip Singh and Justice. Sahai R. M., had held that the right to education is an essence of the right to life and liberty and directly interlinked with it. Life with dignity can only be ensured when there is a significant role of education in it.
- Unni Krisnan J.P. and Ors. v. State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors.
In this case, the judgment of the previous case was examined by a five-judge bench and it was contended that the right to education also means that the citizen of India can ask the state to provide facilities for education to them, with respect to their financial capabilities.
- State of Tamil Nadu v. K. Shyam Sunder
In this case, the five-judge bench held that the right to education not only confines itself to free and compulsory education to children but also to provide quality education without any discrimination based on their economic, social and cultural background.
With the declaration of a nation-wide lockdown on 24th March 2020, the schools have to come to a halt abruptly. Students and teachers are now supposed to stay home and continue the process of taking and giving knowledge. This article aims to study and analyze the position of this right to education during this COVID-19 lockdown.
Children are the future of our nation so their safety is of utmost importance. Ambarish Rai, National Convenor of Right to Education Forum had said that,
‘This problem (students leaving schools) is most acute where migrants have gone back from cities to villages. The children who have been in private schools are now out-of-school or are seeking admissions in government schools. Our biggest challenge is to get them back to school’
Now that unlock 5 has been unannounced, the Centre has kept it at the discretion of the state governments whether to open the educational institutions or not. It is now time to strategies the opening of schools to make sure that proper social distancing norms are practiced and the safety of the students is also ensured.
 Right to education
 2012 SCALE 243
 2011 AIR 3470
 Section 3(1) of the RTE Act
 Section 3(2) of the RTE Act
 Section 8 of the RTE Act
 Section 9 of RTE Act
 Section 24 of RTE Act
 Report by NISA
 As per a report by NISA
 As per a report by Newzoo’s Global Mobile Market Report 2019
 As per a report by NSIA
 1951 AIR 226
 1992 AIR 1858
 1993 AIR 2178
 2011 SC 0911
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Is the right to education a fundamental right?
Ans. Yes, the right to education is a fundamental right, guaranteed under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. This section was inserted with the 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002.
- What are the duties of the State to ensure the execution of the right to education?
Ans. Under sections 8 and 9 of the RTE Act are the provisions for the duties of the State to ensure free and compulsory education to the children. The State is supposed to provide the necessary infrastructure, a training facility to the teachers, ensure enrolment and attendance of children in the schools, and make sure no discrimination is taking place.
- What steps are being taken by the Government to provide education to children in lockdown?
Ans. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has started numerous e-learning platforms like SWAYAM, DIKSHA, and e-pathshala to ensure that education is being provided to all children even during the lockdown.
- What are the drawbacks of virtual classrooms?
Ans. Virtual classrooms are not easily accessible in areas of weak internet connectivity, has innumerable health effects on the eyes of the child, and is also inaccessible for those who have no smartphones or laptops at home. Even for the teachers, it is a very new concept to get adjusted to.
- What are the important provisions of the RTE Act?
Ans. Some of the important provisions of the RTE Act are:
- Section 3- Right to free and compulsory education for every child age 6-14 years of age and no liability on the child to pay any kind of fee which may prevent him from pursuing his elementary education.
- Section 8- Duties of the appropriate government to provide necessary infrastructure and training facilities to the teachers.
- Section 9- Duties of the local authorities to ensure availability of local schools provide necessary infrastructure, a training facility to the teachers, ensure admission to the children of the migrants and monitor the functioning of schools within its jurisdiction.
- Section 24- Duty of the teacher to complete the syllabus in a specified time.