Numerous voices have risen this week to praise India’s historic Right to Education Act, which came into force on 1 April. The new law establishes the right to education of every child aged 6 to 14, and addresses India’s need to provide more schools and teachers, and further develop training and curriculums.
The impact of the new law is staggering – it carries the hope of bringing an estimated eight million extra children into school. The act also develops a plan to train one million new teachers in the next five years.
With this law, India joins over 130 countries that have legal guarantees to provide free and compulsory education to children.
In his speech to the nation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered powerful personal testimony of the value of education: “I was born to a family of modest means. In my childhood I had to walk a long distance to go to school. I read under the dim light of a kerosene lamp. I am what I am today because of education.”
The prime minister equally drew attention to the vital importance of reaching marginalized people, including caste and tribal groups: “The needs of every disadvantaged section of our society, particularly girls, dalits, adivasis and minorities, must be of particular focus as we implement this act.”
In the 2010 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, we highlighted the need not only to pass laws guaranteeing education for marginalized groups, but also to combat the stigmatization and discrimination these groups face on a daily basis. The challenge for India’s authorities now will be to translate this ground-breaking law into real changes.