Right to Education Act: A Critical Analysis

RTE, Act 2009 and Sociological Apprehensions

On 12 April 2012, in its historical decision the Supreme Court (SC) of India threw its weight behind the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The court upheld the constitutional validity of RTE Act that guarantees children free and compulsory education from the age of 6 to 14 years of age.

Fayaz Ahmad

The judgment makes it mandatory for the government, local authorities and private schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ of society. The decision has wiped away many apprehensions regarding the future of the Act. It has been welcomed by academicians, politicians, journalists and others. The Union minister for human resources development Mr. Kapil Sibal, articulated, “RTE can be a model for the world”. While there has been enthusiastic praise of the judgment, concerns related to quality, finance, ensuring of 25 percent reservation in private schools and change in classroom structure cannot be thrown into the winds.

The amount put aside by Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is only Rs. 25,555 crores for 2012-13, which falls short of the recommended financial requirement of Rs 1.82 lakh crore. From where will the rest of amount come?

According to Kapil Sibal (2012) more than 90 percent of households will have to enroll their wards in government schools. Thus 90 percent of households’ wards will have poor access to education; if at all they are enrolled in schools, as the quality of education in government schools is a matter of serious concern.

There is no clarity on how 25 percent reservation in private schools will be filled. There may be more than one private school in a neighborhood, so how will they decide who will go where?  How will reservation in private schools be monitored?

The 25 percent reservation in private schools will dramatically change the structure of classrooms in schools. Whether diversity of classroom will create democratic learning environment and enhance teaching learning process or will it put children from ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ in discomfited position?

Concern of Quality Education

One of the primary objectives of Right of Children Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is improving quality education. The quality of elementary education, particularly in government schools, is a matter of serious concern. The quality of school education depends on various variables which includes physical infrastructure, method of teaching, learning environment, type of books, qualification of teachers, number of teachers, attendance of teachers and students and so on.

There has been substantial progress in increasing enrollment with national average now at 98.3 percent (2009-2010) according to official statistics. However, the attendance of pupils in class rooms has declined. In 2007, 73.4 percent students enrolled for Standards I-IV/V were present in class, which has fallen to 70.9 percent by 2011 (EPW, 2012). Fayaz Ahmad (2009) came with the findings that despite lack of staff in government schools, teachers remain absent on rotational bases. He adds that due to vacancies for teacher, absenteeism of teachers and poor infrastructure in government schools classrooms are multi-grade, i.e. one teacher attending to children from different grades in a single classroom. The attendance of teachers and students in schools is directly related with the quality of education.

Furthermore, mere enrollment of children in school does not fulfill the aims of RTE. Amman Madan (2003) argues ‘the question of reform in Indian education has usually been conceived of in narrow ways – putting children in school and getting schools to function efficiently’.

Despite high enrollments in schools 50 percent of children studying in the fifth grade lack the reading skills expected of children in the second grade (Annual Status of Education Report, ASER 2010).

Ensuring 25 percent Reservation

The RTE, Act, 2009 clause, 12 (1) (c) mandates for private schools to admit quarter of their class strength from weaker section and disadvantaged groups 1. The constitutional validity of this clause was challenged in the apex court of country. However on 12, April 2012, a bench of Chief Justice S .H. Kapadia, Justice K. S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar upheld the constitutional validity of the Act.

 In response to the Supreme Court order, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said, “I am very happy that the court has set all controversies at rest. One of the biggest controversies was on whether the 25 percent reservation applies to private schools or not… that controversy has been set to rest.” 2

Reacting to the 25 percent reservation Krishna Kumar (2012) penned down “most ambitious among its objectives is the social engineering it proposes by guaranteeing at least 25 percent share of enrolment in unaided fee-charging schools to children whose parents cannot afford the fee.”  Both Krishna Kumar and Kapil Sibal did not give indepth critical insight to the provision. The questions like, what will be the mechanism of selection process of 25 percent children from ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’.  Some private schools are very reputed and provide very high quality of education and some are either at par with government schools or little ahead. There is a hierarchy of private schools which are stratified in quality education. Who will go where what will be the criteria for that? Furthermore Indian society is patriarchal in nature, boys are even served good food in comparison to girls how one can expect parents or guardians will send a girl child to these private schools, if at all they agree to send a girl child to school.  The reservation benefits will go to a particular gender of society. This will further reinforce and reproduce gender bias and social inequality in society. Thus RTE itself creates a vacuum for “reproduction of culture”. Fayaz Ahmad (2009) underlines, parents prefer schooling for their girl child but prefer government schools for them in comparison to a male child.

The important finding which has been revealed by Fayaz Ahmad (2009) is the enrollment shown in schools was higher than what actually it was. This was done to get mid-day meals for more and more children so that teachers can save some money to bear other hidden expenditures and avoid wrath of authorities for poor enrollment. Despite employment of Resource Persons and Zonal Resource Persons by Jammu and Kashmir government in the department of school education ,who are obliged to ensure smooth and normal functioning of schools, such kind of loopholes are observed, how can the government ensure that private schools will follow the provision of 25 percent reservation.

Change in the Structure of Classroom and Beyond. 

The RTE Act directed all schools, including privately -run schools, to reserve 25 percent of their seats for students from socially and economically backward families. That means, quarter of students in classes will be from marginalized section of the society. This will change the structure of classes.

Krishna Kumar (2012) maintains “a classroom reflecting life’s diversity will benefit children of all strata while enriching teaching experience.” He further adds “classroom life will now be experientially and linguistically richer. It will be easier to illustrate complex issues with examples drawn from children’s own lives.” He rightly articulates that class room will reflect diversity and will be experientially and linguistically richer. But his argument that classroom diversity will benefit children from weaker section of society is hypothetical and ambiguous.

School education can’t be separated from its social context, those who teach and learn carry with them attitudes, beliefs, habits, customs, orientations which differ from class to class.  The elite schools have their own culture which suits to children of upper class. The teaching-learning environment at these schools suits children of upper class while children from weaker section may find themselves alienated from the schools. Bernstein (1971) while examining the mode of communication of working and middle class argues that both have different mode of communication and most of the teachers in schools belong to middle class which gives edge to middle class children in learning. Bourdieu(1977) empirical research in France explores that performance of a child in school on his access to cultural capital. He maintains that children of upper classes are able to understand contents of knowledge better than their counterparts belonging to marginalized sections of society.

The present experience of India with mixed or diversified classroom is not encouraging. The children from marginalized sections of society are discriminated in the classroom on the bases of gender, caste, and ethnicity. Despite Indian constitution strictly prohibits discrimination on the bases of caste and other social backgrounds and makes it a punishable act yet children from marginalized sections are discriminated in schools. How can discrimination of ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections be prevented?

There are various theoretical and empirical studies which have come up with that children from lower classes are at a backfoot in schools in the learning process. They are more vulnerable when enrolled in elite schools.


Indian children now have a precious right to receive free and compulsory education from the ages of 6 to 14 years of age. The government will bear all the expenditures of schooling. The act has mandated for private schools to reserve quarter of classroom strength for deprived sections of society, which will change the structure of classrooms in elite schools to school who are not yet enrolled.  However, there are many apprehensions with regard to achieving desired goals through RTE. By pressing for 25 percent reservation for the ‘weaker and disadvantaged sections’ of society, government has acknowledged poor quality in government schools where more than 90 percent of households in the country will have to enroll their children even if 25 percent reservation is implemented in true sense. This means that there will be further diversification of society in India. There are also concerns whether those enrolled in private schools will cope and adjust with education system and culture of elite schools.  There are many other loop holes which are pressing and challenging in the way of RTE: quality education, funding, teacher skills and enhance of reservation policy are some major concerns.

Despite the flaws in the way of RTE Act, it is important to simultaneously ensure proper implementation of the Act.



  1. The Gazette of India, http://eoc.du.ac.in/RTE%20-%20notified.pdf
  2. Dhananjay Mahapatra & Himanshi Dhawan(2012) Times of India,  RTE:Govt Subsidy to be based on KV expenditure, New Delhi, 13 April.


Ahmad, Fayaz (2009) “ A Sociological Study of Primary Education Among Girls: With Special Reference to Block Hajin of District Bandipora” Dissertation, Barkatullah University.
Annual Status of Educational Report (2010): “Annual Status of Educational Report ( Rural) , assessed 21April 2012: http://www.pratham.org/aser08/ASER_2010_Report.pdf

Bernstein, B (1973): “Class Codes and Control: Applied Studies towards a Sociology of Language”, London, Routledge Kegan Paul.

Boourdieu,P (1977): “ Cultural Reproduction and Social Reproduction”, In Karabel, J and A. H, Halsey, (ed), Power and Ideology in Education.OUP

Economic and Political Weekly (2012): “The Right to learn: Two Years after the Right to Education Act, the government needs to focus on quality”,16 April, Vol XLVII No 16.

Kumar, Krishna (2012): “Let a hundred children blossom: A classroom reflecting life’s diversity will benefit children of all strata while enriching teaching experience.”, The Hindu, Delhi,20 April 2012.

Madan, Amman (2003): Education as Vision for Social Change, Economic and Political Weekly May 31, 2003 pp.2135-2136

Sibal, Kapil (2012): “Admitting kids from weaker sections while not lowering quality of teaching will be difficult for pvt schools, but it can be done: RTE Can Be A Model For The World” The Times of India, New Delhi, 20 April.

About Fayaz Bhat

Fayaz Bhat is a contributing writer and a PhD scholar in the Department of Sociology. He can be reached via email at: [email protected]

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  1. Well written article… Thanks

  2. Mohammad Haroon

    good attempt.

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