Active learning
Reviewed by Sumit Ahlawat

Right to Education: The Way Forward
By Vinay Rai and Narendra Kumar.
Perfect Publications.
Pages 162. Rs 495.

SOMEONE has rightly said, "Education is a companion which no future can depress, no crime can destroy, no enemy can alienate and no nepotism can enslave". Education makes man worthy of himself. It lays the foundation on which the development of every individual and the nation as a whole hinges. Making education available for all in India has also been one of the major challenges for the government. The Supreme Court of India recently in one of its landmark judgements declared that the right to life couldn’t be separated from the right to education. Then, on April 1, 2010, the Right to Education (RTE) Act came into force making education a fundamental right of children between 6-14 years.

This timely book by Vinay Rai and Narendra Kumar participates in the on-going debate surrounding the RTE Act. Within just 150 pages, it nicely sums up the salient features of the Act: its limitations, loopholes, criticisms and challenges before it and also the way forward as how to implement it successfully. The book can easily be called a roadmap for the successful implementation of the Act in right spirit. The authors rightly observes that without universal (quality) education, the great Indian dream of becoming a superpower and acquiring its rightful position on the world stage can never be realised. They also underline the fact that the liability for the implementation of Act lies as much on the civil society as on the government.

The book draws attention to the fact that more funds and resources have to be mobilised, special provisions be made for bringing back the school drop-outs and child labourers and special provisions be made for marginalised sections like Dalits, women, minorities, adivasis, etc. It welcomes some of the innovative clauses of the Act like making it obligatory for all private schools to reserve 25 per cent seats for members of underprivileged section, though the Act does not define in detail as to who makes the underprivileged groups. The book also discusses the innovative idea of public-private partnership, which may help increase the quality of education and reduce the burden on overburdened public schools.

The book carries a simple message: if we as responsible citizens want to see the successful implementation of this Act, then we need to go beyond legislations. Parents, teachers, civil servants, private entrepreneurs, farmers, executive officials, judiciary all need to come together and share the burden. Our civil society must come forward and take keen interest in the debates surrounding this Act. They must also make the officials accountable by filing RTIs and create pressure groups to check the responsible officials. Parents , too, need to come forward and become active members of school managing committees, so that accountability of teachers and government schools is increased.

The book covers almost all the pros and cons of the RTE Act, including its strength and weaknesses. A splendid discussion on RTE is supplemented by two chapters in the end summarising the views of Tagore and Gandhi on education and by some extracts from the Yashpal committee report juxtaposing the Act with the world view of some of the greatest educationists India has produced. However, the question is: have we addressed some of the basic concerns that perplexed Gandhi and Tagore or are we still continuing a false de-indianising education system as part of colonial legacy? In these areas this Act goes no further, as obsession with English still continues and modern schools still resemble modern factories. They aim not to produce rationale, mature, moral citizens but knowledgeable, productive beings who can contribute in increasing the wealth of our nation. 

The book is a must read for all those interested in the Act and its implications and who shares a concern for our society, its progress and for our coming generations.