These are election times in several states. These are bad times for government school children. Their teachers have been frequently pulled out of schools in recent weeks for cross-checking voter lists and election training. Essentially no teaching will take place for a week around the polling date. Earlier this year, the teachers were busy updating voter lists. And then there are panchayat and municipal elections. The private school children of course do not suffer such loss of teaching. Would this discrimination stop when the Parliament passes the Right to Education Bill, 2008, recently approved by the Central Cabinet? Of course not! On the contrary, it will be legitimised since the Bill provides for deployment of government teachers for “decennial census, election to Local Authorities, State Legislatures and Parliament and disaster relief duties.” Government school children will continue to sacrifice their education to keep the Indian democracy alive, while the private school children will receive education undisturbed.
This is certainly not an isolated example of the Bill’s discriminatory character. Take the case of pre-primary education (kindergarten, nursery) considered to be critical for preparing children for elementary education. The Bill indulges in falsehood when it says that pre-primary education will be provided in government schools except “if such facilities are not already being provided, through Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) or other government programmes, in proximity to such schools.” Who does not know that ICDS (or its anganwadis) is not even designed to provide pre-primary education? The Bill will thus ensure that the majority of the poor children (about three-fourth of the child population) will continue to be denied pre-primary education by the clever use of ICDS as an alibi!
The proponents of the Bill, especially the internationally funded NGOs, make much out of the provision of 25% reservation in the private schools for the disadvantaged children. Closer examination reveals a different story. As per the Seventh Educational Survey, about four crore children out of 19 crore in the 6-14 age group are currently studying in private schools at the elementary stage (class I-VIII). The above provision will create space for one crore for which the private schools will be reimbursed for the tuition fees. Assuming that these schools are providing quality education, the provision helps only a minority of the underprivileged. What is then the Bill’s vision of quality education for the remaining 15 crores? They will continue to receive education through