The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was introduced in 2009. It was passed by Parliament and came into effect from April 1, 2010. The main provisions of the RTE ACT state that all children of the age of 6 – 14 years have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood government school till completion of elementary education (Classes 1-8).
It directs that private unaided and other types of schools are required to reserve 25 per cent seats for children of the deprived class in the first class of the school, whether it is Class 1, Jr. K.G or Sr. K.G. Children living in the close vicinity of the school, should be given free admission and education up to Class 8. Further, ‘free education’ means no tuition fees, admission fees, exam fees, donations, laboratory/library charges, etc. Schools are also expected to provide educational material, uniforms, shoes, library, computer facilities, playground, sports equipment and other facilities free of cost for these students.
While the RTE Act is a Central government Act, the State government is permitted to devise its own Rules in order to enforce the RTE Act. The Central government specifies that the 25% reservation provision be from the year of entry into any school.
The purpose of this reservation is to ensure that disadvantaged children get the benefit of mainstream educational institutions. The ultimate aim is to minimize the disparity between poor and rich children and to inculcate egalitarian values in all children. In the long run, the implementation of the RTE Act benefits society as a whole. The Act also says that all government schools have to provide free education to all the children living in their vicinity. Government- aided schools have to give free education in accordance with the aid they receive.
The Maharashtra government has decided that children admitted under the 25% reservation provision would not get admission in pre-primary schools. Instead, this provision will be applicable only from Class I.
With the coming of the Right to Education Act, the focus of our efforts have moved towards government accountability in providing quality education to children, especially those coming from marginalised communities. We have been working towards the enrolment into private schools under the Right to Education: As per the RTE Act, all private schools are bound to reserve 25% of seats in the year of entry for children from Disadvantaged Groups or Economically Weaker Sections. Our efforts have been to ensure that deserving children belonging to families of waste pickers are enrolled into schools and the authorities cover costs of the child’s education. This step has been a positive one in a move towards more integrative education.
A study conducted by KKPKP and Azim Premji University, in 2014, shows that the union has succeeded in admitting 53 children, out of 102 families, in private schools under the 25% RTE provision. Of this, 94% of the children have been admitted in English medium schools. Only 6% of these children are in Marathi medium but private schools.
60% of the children admitted under RTE in 2013 according to the survey are males and 40% are females. Had it not been for 25% reservation provision, 68% of the parents would have sent their children to Municipal Corporation School where education is free but not at all good quality.