Sandeep Pandey: A Uniform School System before Uniform Civil Code

Magsaysay award winning activist Sandeep Pandey says that while the PM and Government invoke the Constitution for a Uniform Civil Code, Constitutional guarantees on education seem to matter little

Photo by Arun Sharma/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Sandeep Pandey

The Government has launched a Skill India programme to develop skills. But there is no explanation how it expects youth who are uneducated, under-educated or ill-educated, a large number of them having passed their examinations using unfair means, to develop any useful skill to contribute to the national economy.

At the same time the Government appears far more keen on boosting the morale of our soldiers at the border, in invoking the Constitution whenever a discussion on Kashmir crops up and vowing that it would not allow Muslim women to suffer from triple talaq. The Prime Minister righteously declared that it was the responsibility of the Government to ensure Muslim women their rights according to the Constitution. He couldn’t allow lives of Muslim women to be ruined, he added.

The question is what is more basic—a Common School System or a Uniform Civil Code? Is the misplaced priority of government deliberate? Can Narendra Modi allow the lives of half the children in India to be ruined?

A government which considers Constitution sacrosanct when it comes to resolving the problem of Kashmir doesn’t give a hoot to it when its basic provisions are violated in implementation of fundamental rights of children. When will the children of India get their Constitutional right?

Quite clearly political expediency determines when the sanctity of Constitution is to be invoked and when it is to be junked.

Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Photo by Manoj Patil/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Kavita Sopane teaches the children of ragpickers the alphabet in their makeshift classroom in Durgawadi slum at Mulund Dumping ground, Mumbai

India needs A Universal Public Education System

From the experience of countries around the world, the only way in which all children can receive equitable quality of education is when a common school system is put in place. But the government is doing everything but this.

The Prime Minister will do a favour to the Indian education system if he visits the schools within the country and motivates the teachers and students in classrooms. Nationalism is not just going and expressing solidarity at the border. It is also a national duty to ensure that every child is in school.

While there is a ‘Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ in existence since 2009 it may not be very difficult to verify the veracity of ‘free and compulsory’ part of it as one ventures out into Indian streets or workplaces.

A government which considers Constitution sacrosanct when it comes to resolving the problem of Kashmir doesn’t give a hoot to it when its basic provisions are violated in implementation of fundamental rights of children. When will the children of India get their Constitutional right?

At least 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections are entitled to free education from Class I to VIII in all schools now. But while this is not being followed everywhere, this alone is not sufficient if all children are to be ensured access to education of equitable quality. No government in the country so far has been willing to fulfil its Constitutional obligation of providing resources necessary for universalisation of elementary education.

Right to Education should be A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT

Even though Dr BR Ambedkar wanted the Right to Education to be included in the Fundamental Rights of the Constitution of independent India, he had to be content to keep it as part of Directive Principles due to stiff resistance from the elite members of Constituent Assembly. It was in Unnikrishnan vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, 1993 judgment that the Supreme Court first pronounced the Right to Education to be a fundamental right till the age of 14 years.

Central Government appointed the Saikia Committee in 1996 to examine the feasibility of making elementary education a fundamental right. The committee recommended that free elementary education be made a fundamental right through a Constitutional amendment.

Tapas Majumdar Committee was formed in 1997 to look into financial requirement for implementation of this idea. The same year 83rd Constitutional Amendment Bill was introduced but it faced opposition because it had diluted some of the provisions of right to education. For example, it restricted the right only to age group 6-14 years.

A lot of changes in the government’s outlook towards education in this period took place due to interference of international financial institutions in the education policy. In particular, government’s commitment to the cause of universal elementary education was diluted and a clear shift towards privatisation was perceptible.

The Bill was finally passed as 86th amendment in 2001. But the then government failed to get Free and Compulsory Education Bill passed in spite of making three attempts in 2003 and 2004 due to opposition. One of the objectionable provisions was to allow extra-Constitutional bodies to take over the education programme with no guarantee that they would work within the framework of Constitution.

Finally during the Manmohan Singh government Kapil Sibal got an opportunity to draft a fresh Bill. Principles of equality of opportunity and social justice were ignored in his exercise. The draft presented in 2005 in the Central Advisory Board of Education was vociferously questioned by educationist Anil Sadgopal and others. Eventually another draft Bill was introduced in 2008 which became an Act in 2009.

A universal and common public education system has eluded India for nearly 70 years, perpetuating class divisions. One would like to think that this is as important, if not more, than the Uniform Civil Code.

Sandeep Pandey is a social activist and a recipient of the Magasaysay Award

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Published: 14 Dec 2016, 12:11 PM