The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has released a report — The “Impact of Exemption under Article 15 (5) with regards to Article 21A of the Constitution of India on Education of Children in Minority Communities” — in which it has assessed minority schools (schools run by minority organisations) in the country.
Minority schools are exempt from implementing The Right to Education policy and do not fall under the government’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Through this report, the NCPCR has recommended that these schools be brought under both RTE and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, amongst a host of other recommendations.
In 2002, the 86th Amendment to the Constitution provided the Right to Education as a fundamental right. The same amendment inserted Article 21A, which made the RTE a fundamental right for children aged between six and 14 years. The passage of the amendment was followed by the launch of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a central government scheme implemented in partnership with the state governments that aimed to provide “useful and relevant, elementary education’’ to all children between six and 14 years.
In 2006, the 93rd Constitution Amendment Act inserted Clause (5) in Article 15 which enabled the State to create special provisions, such as reservations for advancement of any backward classes of citizens like Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, in all aided or unaided educational institutes, except minority educational institutes.
The government subsequently brought the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which centres on inclusive education for all, making it mandatory to include underprivileged children in schools. Specifically, Section 12(1)(c) of the Act provided for 25 percent reservation of seats in unaided schools for admission of children from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups.
As opposed to these Acts, Article 30 of the Constitution states the right of minorities to establish and administer educational institutions, with a view to provide opportunities to children from different religious and linguistic minority communities to have and conserve a distinct culture, script and language.
Subsequently, in 2012, through an amendment, the institutions imparting religious education were exempted from following the RTE Act. Later on, in 2014, while discussing the validity of exemption under Article 15 (5), the Supreme Court declared the RTE Act inapplicable to schools with minority status with the view that the Act should not interfere with the right of minorities to establish and administer institutions of their choice.
Recommendations: After conducting a assessment, NCPCR has recommended to the government to bring all such schools, including madarasas, under the purview of Right to Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The NCPCR also backed reservation for students from minority communities in such schools after its survey found a large proportion of non-minority students studying there.
According to the report Christians comprise 11.54 percent of the minority population but run 71.96 percent schools, Muslims comprise 69.18 percent of the minority population but run 22.75 percent of schools, Sikhs comprise 9.78 percent minority population and run 1.54 percent schools, Buddhist comprise 3.83 percent minority population and run 0.48 percent schools and Jains comprise 1.9 percent of the minority population and run 1.56 percent of schools.
It also finds that 74 per cent of students studying at Christian missionary schools are non-minority students.
The report says that across minority communities – 62.50% of students in minority schools belong to non-minority communities. Further, only 8.76% of total students in minority schools belong to socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Commission has said that state governments need to introduce strict guidelines on the minimum percentage of minority students that these schools need to admit, as well as look at the proportion of schools run by a particular minority community in relation to the size of the population living in the state, before the school is awarded recognition.
The report also finds that only 4.18% of total students received benefits such as free uniforms and books, scholarships, etc. from school.