Activists formulate ‘Public manifesto’ on education to politicize RTE in 2019 national elections

At least three combinations of civil society groups have come together to impact the next year’s Parliamentary elections with education issues. Right to Education Forum, a network of 10,000 activists and groups from more than 20 states, Campaign Against Child Labor (CACL) and Alliance for the Right to Early Education Development have joined hands to launch a national campaign to demand the right to quality education for all children from birth until the age of 18 years and ensure an end to child labor.

The  campaign which was unrevealed in mid December in Delhi has a charter of demands, which will be taken to various public platforms and relayed to public at large. As part of the campaign, a round of consultative interaction with opposition members of parliament also took place where some parties declared complete support for the demands. The organizers are planning a national level convention in February 2019 in which thousands of people will be mobilized and a final push will be made to make education an electoral issue. “We will evaluate the performance of the present government on Right to Education and place it before the nation,” says Ambarish Rai, national convener, RTE Forum.

NDA government’s effort of making Sec 16 (no detention policy), the repeal amendment of which is still pending approval in the Rajya Sabha and weakening of public education system are some of the flash points on which actvisists and educators have been consistently criticical. The section 3 of Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Act 2016 is another bone of contention where as per activists child labor has been legalized in ‘family enterprises’ and needs to be rolled back.

With 41% of country’s population in the young age bracket, activists are seeking a commitment from the political parties to protect child rights. SDG target 8.7 states ending of child labor by 2025, UNCRC Declaration of which India is a signatory also protects every child from labor till 18 years. With ECD policy 2013 remaining only on paper, campaigners are pushing for inclusion of ECCE as a justiciable entitlement under the Right to Education Act 2009.

Mass closure of government schools throughout the country and tacit support to private schooling is also an area of showdown. People allege that genuine grassroots nongovernmental work is being let down by corporate foundations, which have been manipulating data to push commercial interests in school education in India. They say that in the name of quality education, public education system is sought to be discredited. “Why didn’t any private school close down? Why every incident in a government school is magnified and made a national news? Why is nobody talking about sec 29 of the RTE Act?…” their questions are several.

So, it would be interesting to see if the campaign gathers force and makes any realistic impact on 2019 elections.