The Right to Education is a fundamental right and this was formally notified under the Right to Education Act, 2010. Ten years later, the COVID- 19 pandemic is an acid test to prove the fundamentality of the right.
Confusion prevails, as there were press reports banning online education for students Grade 1-5 and below. Many private schools suspended virtual classes, while some schools chose to continue the classes in the absence of a formal education department circular. The schools have also been directed to conduct a survey among parents and the education department is likely to give further orders based on the outcome of the survey, handsome expert recommendations in this following week. Private schools and the parent community wait with baited breath.
In Mahashtra too there seems to be a limit on the number of hours for imparting the online classes.
One must also remember that in 2019 Karnataka passed an amendment to the Right To Education Rules, 2010 barring parents from seeking admission under RTE in private schools if there was a government or aided school in their locality.
A PIL was filed against conducting online classes by schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu, without framing proper schemes and guidelines as prescribed under various rules under the Information Technology Act, 2000.The Madras High Court has declined to issue a stay against the conduct of online classes by schools and issued notices to the respondents to file their respective counters.
In a tragic incident in Kerala, a 9th standard student committed suicide agonising over being left behind in academics while her peers were attending online classes because her dalit parents could not to afford to buy a computer or smart phone. The Kerala High Court ruled that schools are not to charge additional fees for the virtual classes.
On the other hand, the Delhi High Court noted that the virtual learning initiated by schools was a welcome move and refused to stay the charging of fees for imparting the online classes. The High Court recognised that unaided schools, who received no funds from the government, are entirely dependent on fees, to defray their daily expenses. Therefore they cannot meet expenses like salary without charging the fees. Later the Court directed if Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category students in private schools are unable to access classes online during the lockdown due to lack of devices or internet, schools should ensure or provide the same for students.
The National Commission for Protection of Children’s Rights (NCPCR) has directed the Madhya Pradesh government to facilitate education through digital means (online classes) for the underprivileged students of the state.
A PIL has been filed in the Supreme Court challenging the CBSE notification to hold class X and XII exams in July. The PIL highlights the growing concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the risk involved in conducting the examinations at various exam centres. The petition highlights various practical difficulties in holding the exams, such as ensuring safety measures at various exam centres, students from containment zones, unavailability of private vehicles for all students to reach their exam centres etc. On these grounds, the petitioners have sought that the said CBSE notification be quashed and that results be announced on the basis of the examinations already conducted after factoring in the internal assessment marks of the remaining subjects. The PIL is pending with no stay orders yet.
After 35 children were tested positive for COVID-19 in a government shelter home in Royapurum, Chennai the Supreme Court directed the Health and Family Department of Tamil Nadu to submit a report on steps taken to protect children in shelter homes. Directions were also issued to state governments to seek information in relation to care and protection given to children in various shelter homes.
Undeniably, virtual schooling is slowly becoming the norm. The concern remains- whether school education will become more exclusive and accessible only to the privileged?