By Kishor Kumar Kalita
The Constitution of India has incorporated Education as a subject in the Concurrent List of the Seventh Schedule which clearly indicates that within the quasi federal framework of the country, both the State and Union Governments are able to formulate laws and policies for furthering education in India. It also stipulates that in any contradiction between State and Union laws, the Union law will prevail over the State law.
Along with these defining legislative boundaries, the State has been entrusted with different responsibilities enunciated in a number of provisions of the Constitution. Article 45 of the Constitution made the State responsible to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of the Constitution, free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years. This Article was a Directive Principle of State policy within India, which clearly means that it was within a set of rules that were meant to be followed in spirit, and the government could not be held to court if the actual letter was not followed. However, the enforcement of this Directive Principle became a matter of debate since this principle held obvious affecting and practical value, and was legally the only Directive Principle within the Indian Constitution to have a time limit.
Following initiatives by the Supreme Court during the 1990s, the 86th amendment Act of the Constitution incorporated three separate amendments to the Constitution. The Constitution was amended to include a new article, 21A, which read: The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. Article 45 was proposed to be substituted by the Article which read: Provision for early childhood care and education to children below the age of six years: The State shall endeavor to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years. Another article, 51A, was to additiolly have the clause: ...a parent or guardian to provide opportunities for education to his child or, as the case may be, ward between the ages of six to fourteen years. Similarly Article 46 of the Constitution holds: The State shall promote, with special care, the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and in particular of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of social exploitation.
Along with this Constitutiol journey, India espoused the landmark transformation by adopting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 which came into effect in 2010 after a series of struggles. Apart from provision of free and compulsory education, the Act has introduced some highly progressive measures within the Indian education system to reform the system. The Act, for the first time in the history of education in this country, proposes to introduce neighborhood schools. Such schools were meant to provide an atmosphere of inclusive learning where children from different sections of society went into a common school. The Act also introduced the provision of age-appropriate learning that means that children who were out of schools or had dropped out of schools could be re-enrolled in classrooms appropriate for their age. To make up for the absence of academic knowledge of these children, the Act has provisions for special training to eble these children to be at par with their peers.
The RTE Act also prescribes necessary infrastructural requirements and specifies the Pupil-Teacher Ratio norms. Some unprecedented welfare oriented provisions for the weaker sections of society are also provided by this Act through which it has specified the reservation of at least 25% of the total strength of class in private schools at standard 1/entry level to children belonging to economic weaker and disadvantaged sections of the society.
But never ever did the lawmakers take any initiative to whittle down the basic structure of education in the country by undermining State curriculum and institutions. Education has always been considered a key responsibility for both the Centre and the State and it was thought as the primary device through which federal character of the country could be maintained by allowing the States to formulate their own education policies and institutions. That is why the Union Government never tried to impose a singular institution or mechanism to control the education system of the country.
Instead, the Government of India came up with a policy for mutual exchange of different school boards of the country, as a result of which the ‘Council of Boards of School Education in India (COBSE) was established in 1979 by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). COBSE is a voluntary association of all the Boards of School Education in India. It works in close collaboration with the Ministry of Human Resource Development, other tiol level apex educatiol organizations and agencies like the tiol Council of Educatiol Research and Training (NCERT), tiol University of Educatiol Planning and Administration (NUEPA) and tiol Council of Teacher Education (NCTE).
Unfortutely, for last couple of years, a group of political parties and organizations have been demanding a single curriculum and examition system for the sake of greater unity of the Indian State. They are proposing to abolish all kinds of State education boards, which implies the systematic demolition of diversity of the country by imposing a mono-culture in every sphere of our life, spreading from education to culture. For the purpose of crushing the State education boards and to impose a uniform Central education system throughout the country, a series of organized attempts are in operation by these different perpetrators. If India has to stand as country of unity amidst diversity, every citizen should stand up against such designs to abrogate the federal principle of this country.