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Compulsory education in India

Compulsory education in India

(this post was written in 2010. has anything reallu=y changed)

The Directive Principles of the Constitution had a provision for compulsory education for all children up to the age of 14. Nothing much came out of this directive in common with all other Directive Principles which were intended as pious statements rather than plan of action. It pleased the framers of the Constitution and they felt good about it. This is true not only of the Directive Principles but many other provisions of the Constitution. Anyway, we are here discussing the status of Compulsory Education.

Some bright person with an eye for drama suddenly thought of bringing the Right to Education into Fundamental Rights from out of Directive Principles. The intention must have been pious, as it usually is.

Later with much fanfare, the Parliament passed a law for the Right To Education. Whether this will be followed by appropriate allocations in the budget, only the future will tell. But with the money being available in plenty thanks to the disinvestment of PSUs and auction of 2G and 3G spectrums, it would not be difficult. Already with cess on income tax and corporate tax for education and imposition of service tax on all and every conceivable service, the money has been used to float the programmes for universalization of primary education through NFE and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. These schemes have shown good results also.

It has been a general impression that before 1947, the compulsory education was not considered. and it was a welcome change in the situation and expresses concern for the children. This would not be entirely correct. As early as 1893, State of Baroda, then Under Sayaji Rao Gaekwad had introduced compulsory primary education in one of the divisions. Encouraged by it success in the division, it was extended to whole of the state in 1906.

In the same year - 1906 - a bill for compulsory education was introduced in the legislature of Bombay Presidency by Gopal Krishan Gokhale but was rejected. The British Government had discussed this issue of compulsory education but expressed its preference against compulsion.

The issue was raised before the Indian Education Commission in 1882 but was not accepted. This was odd because the elementary education was made compulsory in United Kingdom in 1881. Of course, it must be said that this was much later than what had been in other European countries. In 1647, a county in Scotland - Massachusetts - passed a Deluder Satan Act which said that Satan was deluding people from reading the bible and therefore elementary schools should be set up to counter this trend. In Sweden, a royal decree was issued in 1723 to make education compulsory. Prussia, Austria also had their statutory provisions.. Japan was the first Asian Country to introduce compulsory education in 1872.

In 1918 another attempt was made in Bombay Presidency to make education Compulsory. A bill was introduced by Vithal Bhai Patel authorizing the Municipal Committees to make primary education compulsory. This bill was passed and necessary directions issued. Thereafter every state passed a similar Act and by 1935, it was part of statute all over British India. These Acts authorized the Municipal Committees to make education compulsory but did not compel them to do so. When the control of the education was handed over to Indians in 1921, only eight towns had made it compulsory. By 1937, it was compulsory in 167 out of 2700 urban areas. Only a handful of rural areas joined in.

Kerala leads the country in the matter of literacy. The foundations for this was laid in the State of Travancore. Persuasion preceded the compulsion here. Scheme of grant to backward communities was introduced in 1935 and the mid day meals scheme in 1940. When the literacy reached 80 %, then only education was made compulsory in 1945. Perhaps the pattern is being followed through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the RTE after sixty years or so.

Most of the state acts permit the local authorities to make education compulsory but there are some exceptions. Mysore Compulsory Education Act of 1961 says that the State Government can declare the areas . where education will be compulsory. It was followed by providing a set of rules specifying how it is to be done.. These provide for appointment of attendance authority, enumeration of all children in the area, registration of names and date of birth of children, notices to guardians and finally penalties for not sending children to schools. Assam Elementary Education Act 1974 makes similar provisions. In contains the provision "the State Government may, by notification, declare that elementary education shall be compulsory up to certain age, to be prescribed, in any areas or areas of the State as specified in the notification. In such an area of compulsion, the guardian of every child resident in such area shall be bound to cause the child to attend a recognized Elementary School in such area."

What is the reason which made the state governments to pass such legislation but not notify areas where it would be followed. Similarly the local bodies were not interested in making use of the authority vested in them to make education compulsory in their areas, In the areas where it is made compulsory, there is hardly an attempt to follow it up with opening of enough schools, appointment and training of competent attendance authorities, prosecution of those who are not sending their wards to schools. The reason most cited is the lack of finance. But this is not the only reason. This reluctance is more deep seated. A high drop out ratio can be discerned. According to the education survey in year 2003-04, the enrollment in class one is 3,24,38,654 and in class four, 2,11,53,469. Even taking into consideration the rise in the persons in the age group going to class 1, the drop is still at a very high level. The reason may be lack of interest in education or the need to go for child labour for economic reasons. No serious study has been done to find the underlying causes and taking steps to remove them.

What was the provocation for the Government to suddenly awake to the need for compulsory education till the age of fourteen. After all it was in the harmless part of the Constitution for a long time and no one was really worried about it. But the situation developed in such a way that Government was in a dilemma where either way it was difficult to walk out of it. The Supreme Court, which has embarked , instead of deciding the cases pending before it, on the laudable path of making India a model state ruled in 1993 in Unnikrishnan Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh that Article 45, which is concerned with compulsory education had laid down a time period of ten years. No other directive principle had such a time limit. There were no such conditions as the economic and development which were stated explicitly in Article 41. The Court also held that the right to education is inherent part of the right to life, included in the Fundamental Rights in the Constitution. It distinguished other directive principles on the ground that it is not necessary to do so.

After this judgment, it would have been possible for any person to go to the Supreme Court and say that he was being deprived of his right to education. The credit would have gone elsewhere and this is what can not be allowed in democracy. Hence it was considered opportune time to amend the constitution to formally transfer the right to education from directive principles to fundamental rights. And due credit should be taken for what was already a fait accompli. this was followed by the law on the same grounds.

Would this change the mentality of the Government? As every one know, it is more difficult to force Government to grant a right as is made out at the time of legislation. The Child labour is prohibited, in the Fundamental Rights, under the age of fourteen in hazardous industries but who would deny that it exists. It would be noted that it took Government twenty five years after the promulgation of Constitution and an emergency to make law about the bonded labour. Whether this solved the problem or not is another issue. Nevertheless it is better to have something than nothing. A basis has been created and we should be optimistic that this will lead to some speedy action in the matter of elementary education.


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