The introduction of Right to Education (RTE) and its provisions seems to have disturbed the peace and tranquillity of the growing Indian homeschooling community. A lot of homeschoolers are worried about the legality of their choice after the introduction of RTE though in reality RTE does not seem to be making homeschooling illegal.
The catch is in the usage of the term ‘RIGHT’. Technically, ‘Right’ stands for freedom or entitlement. It essentially means that the person holding a ‘right’ should get what is duly his or her, provided he/she wants it. It is a choice of the beneficiary and it is the duty of the state to provision for fulfilment of the choice, if exercised. Be it the right to employment or right to information or the right to vote, it is all about entitlement. So what is different in the case of RTE – the Right to Education!
The problem seems to arise from the term ‘Right to Free and Compulsory Education’ used by the Government. Usage of the term ‘Compulsory’ along with ‘Right’ actually comes across as a contradiction.
Under all normal circumstances, beneficiary of a ‘Right’ cannot be prosecuted for not choosing to exercise a right. In fact, if one was to read the entire RTE document, the act seems to focus on the duty of the state in regulating education deployed by or through the state. This includes aided and unaided schools which need due clearances from the state to carry out their activities as an organisation. So how can this act snatch away the rights of an individual or a family to homeschool a child?
In fact, the Minister of HRD clarified in 2010 that “The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 wants every child to be in school, but if somebody decides not to send his/her children to school, we are not going to interfere. The compulsion is on the state, not on the parents. Parents are free not to send their children to school, but teach them at home.”
The statement of the minister finds support in Section 10 (4) of the act which outlines the duty of the local authority to maintain data of all children in its jurisdiction. The sub-section states that the data be collected and one of the date field description reads – ‘(f) class in which the child is studying (for children between the age of 6 to 14), and if education is discontinued in the territorial jurisdiction of the local authority, the cause of such discontinuance’. This section or any other section of the Act nowhere states any follow-up action, forget a penal action.
So, from a homeschooling parent’s perspective, RTE outlines their ‘duty’ as a parent but has no objections if one decides to not do the duty in the method outlined by the government.
The alternate line of argument can be that it is the right of the child and that a homeschooling parent is actually denying the right to the child. It is true that a child has rights, but due to constraints of age he or she is unable to claim the rights. Hence the rights of a child are exercised by proxy through the family, society and State. People who think homeschooling is illegal have assumed that the state can solely exercise the right of the child by proxy.
However, this assumption is quite in contradiction with Article 26 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights which clearly states that – “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.” So how can homeschooling be illegal?