The challenges of online learning, both for teachers and students, should be collectively overcome to ensure education and learning as envisaged by the law are practised.
An old Sanskrit adage states: That is Education which leads to liberation – liberation from ignorance which shrouds the mind; liberation from superstition which paralyses effort, liberation from prejudices which blind the Vision of the Truth [Unni Krishnan, J.P. and Ors. Vs. State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors. MANU/SC/0333/1993]. Malcolm X had rightly stated that Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
Mohini Jain Vs. State of Karnataka & Ors (MANU/SC/0357/1992) is amongst the first cases where the Supreme Court of India held the Right to Education to be a Fundamental Right; stating that “right to education”, therefore, is concomitant to the fundamental rights enshrined under Part III of the Constitution. The State is under a constitutional mandate to provide educational institutions at all levels for the benefit of the citizens.
From 1 April 2010, Right to Education was read into the Constitution of India as a fundamental right available to all children in age group 6-14 years. Article 21(A) of the Constitution of India requires every State to provide free and compulsory education to such children in a manner as the State, by Law, may determine.
Now the Directive Principles. Article 45 of the Constitution of India provides that the State shall endeavour to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of 6 years. Article 51(A)(k) casts a duty upon every citizen of India, who is a parent or guardian, to provide opportunities for education to his child or ward between the ages 6-14.
The Parliament has enacted the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act) to provide free and compulsory education to children between the ages 6-14. The Act is a statutory recognition of education as a fundamental right and specifies minimum norms in elementary schools.
Section 3 of the Act provides that every such child shall have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till the completion of elementary education. Section 4 of the Act further enforces such right.
Section 8 of the Act assigns duties to appropriate government to ensure provision of free and compulsory education to every child in a neighborhood school. “Compulsory education” means the obligation of the appropriate government to provide free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education.
Several private schools had challenged constitutional validity of the Act (Society for Un-aided Private Schools of Rajasthan Vs. UOI AIR 2012 SC 3445), the primary challenge being to the mandate to private schools to fill 25% seats in Class I with children from weaker and disadvantaged groups, as an unreasonable restriction on their right to carry on trade or business under Article 19(1)(g). The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of the Act, holding that Article 19(6) permits the State to impose reasonable restrictions and that the 25% reservation obligation on private unaided schools is a reasonable restriction. It was held The object of the 2009 Act is to remove the barriers faced by a child who seeks admission to Class I and not to restrict the freedom under Article 19(1)(g)…The constitutional obligation of the State to provide for free and compulsory education to the specified category of children is co-extensive with the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(g) to establish an educational institution.
In further effort to ensure maximum attendance, various incentives like mid-day meals are being provided. With these laudable efforts, India has achieved literacy of over 74%.
Even prior to Right of Education being made a Fundamental Right, to enhance enrolment, retention and attendance and improve nutritional levels, the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE) or the Mid-Day Meals Scheme (Madhyaahn Bhojan Yojana), a Centrally sponsored scheme, was launched on 15.08.1995; and improvements have been made from time to time for greater effectiveness.
In 2009, for improved implementation of the scheme, food norms were again revised to ensure balanced and nutritious diet; and cooking costs were increased to fortify serving meals of prescribed quantity and good quality. From 2016-17 more than 25.25 lakh cook-cum-helpers have been engaged for preparation and serving of mid-day meals to children in elementary classes.
The scheme aims to avoid classroom hunger; increase school enrolment; increase school attendance; improve socialisation among castes; address malnutrition and empower women through employment. The results have been positive and encouraging. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme has been continued even in these trying times of the pandemic with the relentless efforts by the State.
Technological advancements and changing needs of the society pose a continuous need and demand for appropriate changes to the education system. The Covid-19 pandemic has posed an enormous challenge to the education system. Across the world, schools have been shut thereby posing a threat to learning and education of children.
In these trying and troubled times, it is imperative that all participants in the education system, namely, Central/state/local authorities, publishers, technology and educational professionals, become the saviours and join hands to ensure adherence to Right to Education.
In the present situation, where one cannot step out of home, online teaching and learning or the virtual classrooms with the aid of video calling facilities has emerged a good solution. Although online learning cannot substitute regular schooling for all-round learning, the virtual classrooms can, however, ensure continuation of learning in these trying times. Important alternative mediums of learning, which can be used, are radio and television, e-mail groups, messaging group, WhatsApp groups and local volunteers from neighborhood. It could help to design apps containing the entire year’s curriculum.
The need for online system to reach students from EWS and those in remote and rural areas is urgent and immediate. The problem and the challenge are much greater for these children since they may not have internet connectivity, e-learning tools etc; and for small age group children whose parents, if illiterate, are not able to support them for e-learning. Promoting personal interaction through telephone by teachers to such students and local volunteers could help.
There are challenges, both for teachers as well as the students for internal assessments, online corrections etc. However, whatever be the problem, once the collective effort is made with the strong will and determination, the education of the children, which is the backbone for growth and development of any society must continue.
The Covid-19 challenge has made it imminent to not only create and maintain but to also continuously update the online educational data. Efforts should be made to make the children aware and tech-savvy and e-learning should be integrated into their daily learning routines. This may require counseling of both the children and parents so that e-learning tools are used for right purposes. The need has arisen to create and continuously upgrade the online e-learning infrastructure. The pandemic is a reminder to all to continuously adapt to the changing requirements and to ensure that education and learning remains a continuous process, and not merely a dead letter of law.
Students of a Delhi government school in the city’s West Vinod Nagar on February 22 this year. Photo: IANS