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Right To Education During The Pandemic In India

Crammed up in the corner of their humble abode, four children cower over a single mobile screen and lean into their notebooks to scrawl down whatever they can make out from the constantly buffering lesson in their online school. The previous lack of resources only found its way to the inability to purchase books, but the pandemic had ensured additional obstacles to hinder the educational rights of these children and countless others in the country. The virus has impacted various aspects of life, yes and majorly impeded the paths of the country’s tomorrows – today.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, also known as the Right to Education Act (RTE), is an Act of the Indian Parliament enacted on August 4, 2009, that outlines the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children aged 6 to 14 in India, as defined by Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. Initially, the right to education was not a fundamental right and had been merely constituted as one of the Directive Principles of State Policy in Article 45.

The directive in Article 45 did not apply only to primary education; it also applied to offering free education to children up to the age of 14, regardless of their educational level. The 86th Amendment Act, 2002 played a prominent role in bringing a reform into the education-associated articles of the Indian Constitution. Not only was 21A added to Part III (fundamental rights) of the Constitution, Art. 45 was altered to add early childhood care and the additional Art. 51A mandated the parents or guardians to furnish opportunities for education of their children between the age group of 6 to 14 years. Previously, the Supreme Court had already established the right to education as an offshoot to the right to live in Mohini Jain and Unnikrishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh.[i]

Enter the pandemic. Among the countless countries that fell prey to the infamous corona virus, India is also a victim to the callous treatment that the surge of Covid-19 has meted out to its citizens. With a total of 2,14,85,285 cases and 2,34,071 deaths[ii] reported in the country, it is evident that imperative aspects of life like schooling have currently taken a backseat.

With the pandemic, came the concept of online education. Not an entirely foreign concept, saying that a country like India was unprepared for a situation like this would be an understatement. In a place where one in every four children has access to digital devices and internet connectivity[iii], “online education” felt like a jab to our developmental progress. In a recent 2017-18 survey, the Ministry of Rural Development found that only 47% of Indian households receive more than 12 hours of electricity and more than 36% of schools in India operate without electricity.[iv]

To add on to the statistics, in India, 247 million children studying in elementary and secondary schools were affected by the closure of 1.5 million schools due to a corona-virus pandemic and the resulting lockdowns in 2020.[v] The numbers are exceedingly large due to the lack of significant impact India’s development strides have had on the rural areas. Amenities have been distributed, yes but basic requirements set aside – the governments over the years have failed to encompass the technological needs as necessary for the nation’s citizens.

Over the months, even though initiatives have been taken to enhance learning opportunities for kids from rural backgrounds, what the people in power forget is that the more they stay away from school, the more vulnerable the idea of them coming back becomes.

In the recent times, the Union government has placed its burden majorly on the Bharatnet project that is attempting to increase the availability of broadband to 250,000-gram panchayats through optic fibre. While this is supposed to lend a helping hand for digital education in those areas, the scope for actual percolation of these policies to the underdeveloped regions is still immense.

Because not only do these regions require connectivity, training has to be provided to the teachers and the students in regards with how to actually use the system for an uninterrupted educational experience. There are also the PRAGYATA guidelines which were put forth by the Ministry of Education to provide assistance with the different modes of digital education.[vi]

Ironically, the education ministry's budget for digital e-learning was cut from Rs 604 crore the previous year to Rs 469 crore in 2020-21, the year Covid hit.[vii] The shift in the budget would still be excusable if the money was actually being injected into the betterment of the covid situation in the country. In times like these where constructive policies and planning need to be executed to keep the wheels of the country running, the government’s organization skills have gone for a toss.

Instead of meticulously compartmentalizing the country’s budget for health and education, the cash is being flowed into projects that are futile right now. The same money can be branched out to actual families who are in dire need of support, education and health should both be fastened to the front seat of the government’s plan. The cut for digital e-learning can always be restored given the obvious funds that the central government had received to assist the Covid-19 situation in the country.

Attempts need to be made to fasten the programs that the government has introduced and making sure that the results of the same actually reach the citizens who require them the most.

Education today, is significant beyond measure. Of course, it provides the child lifetime opportunities in terms of a career but it also contributes to the social and artistic growth and development of the student. Moral values are inculcated, a generalized sense of good and bad is established. And something of that level of substance is being side-tracked for so many students not only India but globally as well. While certain countries have declared a zero academic year because they made the choice of delay over quality of education being compromised – the Indian government is thoroughly engaged in electoral gimmicks and testing the effectiveness of their orange blindfolds by displaying utter indifference towards the harangue in the country.

Given the entirety of the situation, it is obvious that the blows that the education statistics have received in the past year or so in the country cannot be ignored. A country that was already struggling to lift its literacy rates has now encountered a situation where its advancement has been thrown off course. The government’s accountability to its citizens surfaces in trying times like these. Its ability to overlook a nation comes to light and quite frankly, it is about time that we segregated the question of what are the government’s apparent plans and what roles the government actually will carry out.

End-Notes:
  1. 1993 SCC (1) 645
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56826645
  3. https://www.unicef.org/india/press-releases/covid-19-schools-more-168-million-children-globally-have-been-completely closed#:~:text=In%20India%2C%20closure%20of%201.5,in%20elementary%20and%20secondary%20schools.&text=%E2%80%9CIt%20has%20been%20nearly%20a,routine%20of%20children%20throughout%20India.
  4. https://gdc.unicef.org/resource/how-covid-19-deepens-digital-education-divide-india
  5. https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/closure-of-15-million-schools-due-to-covid-19-impacted-247-million-children-in-india-unicef-study/article33981143.ece
  6. https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1695152
  7. https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/news-makers/story/20210111-school-of-hard-knocks-1755078-2021-01-03

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