Though I should be speaking in the South Asian (26.3% of Jesuits) context of the Jesuits for GIAN, I am going to restrict myself specifically on the Indian context. I would highlight the Indian Constitutional attempt and process for legalizing the education especially for children and the educational attempt of the 4,004 Jesuits in the Indian subcontinent, which comprises 23 % of the Jesuits in the world.
Human rights to education is a moral as well as legal right in India today. To call a principle “moral” is to indicate that it is based on a valid moral principle and that certain requirements for action are obligatory. Hence human rights are rights which imply obligatory requirements for action. Besides being moral, in accordance with a country’s improved level of consciousness, some are made legal rights. Education, especially for a child, is such a case in the Indian context today.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, to which India is a signatory, says that everyone has the right to education, and, at least, in the case of elementary levels, it shall be free and compulsory. This was enacted on December 10, 1948. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also reiterates the rights for education as a fundamental right and further elaborates (Article 13.2a) that primary education shall be compulsory and available freely to all. UNESCO has adopted a number of normative documents, conventions and recommendations ensuring the enjoyment of the right to education for everyone.
It is understood in the Indian context that the right to education is part of the right to life as given in Article 21 of Part II of Indian Constitution, one of the best of that kind in the world. The right to education flows from the right to life itself. The right to life under Article 21 and the dignity of the individual cannot fully be appreciated without the enjoyment of right to education.
So, recognizing the importance and significance of the right to education, the Founding Fathers (Mothers) of the nation made it a constitutional goal, and placed it under Chapter IV Directive Principle of State Policy of the Constitution of India. The state was required to make provisions within 10 years for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of 14 yrs according to article 45 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution was passed by the Constituent Assembly on November 26, 1949 as the law of the land. The Government of India by Constitutional Act, 2002 (86th Amendment Act) had added a new article 21A which provides that the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of 6 to 14 years as the state may, by law determine.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 represents the consequential legislation envisaged under Article 21-A. This means that every child has a right to full time elementary education of satisfactory and equitable quality in a formal school which satisfies certain norms and standards. The bill was approved by the cabinet on July 2, 2009. Rajya Sabha passed the bill on July 20, 2009 and the Lok Sabha on August 4, 2009. It received Presidential assent and was notified as law on September 3, 2009 as The Children’s Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been mandated to monitor the implementation of this historic Right. Thus we see it took a long time even to establish as a law the moral right of children for education.
Article 21-A and the RTE Act came into force on April 1, 2010. Thus India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child, and moved forward to a rights based framework that puts a legal obligation on the Central and State Governments to implement this fundamental right of a child as enshrined in the Constitution. It is a historic act in the sense that the right to education will be accorded the same legal status as the right to life as provided by Article 21A of the Indian Constitution, and thus it becomes a right of first category. This is something commendable indeed! Though the elusive goal of providing free and compulsory education until the age of 14 has been reiterated over the past years, no effective steps are taken to achieve it within a limited time frame.
Much long before this legal journey of the moral right to education, the Society of Jesus had entered into the field of education in India. Today in India the Society of Jesus has established 386 Schools, 30 Technical Institutions, 35 University Colleges, and 1 University with 14,000 teachers, educating over 4,00,000 students, belonging to every social class, community and linguistic group. And now it has also pioneered into non-formal education along with remedial teaching of weaker students. This is in keeping with the conviction that every child has a right to quality education. Giving remedial classes and special tuitions for children especially coming from economically weaker sections of the society, the Society, with its Ignatian magis, has already ventured into the margins of society.
John Chathanatt, SJ is a core group member of the GIAN for the Right to Quality Education.