The Gujarat government issued two notifications in 2020 prohibiting schools from admitting children who have not attained 6 years of age to Class 1, effective the current academic year 2023-24 onward.
That kicked up a social storm in the state in which parents complained against the government being too hard on them and interfering in matters it should not.
In the form of a myriad of petitions by parents, the matter reached the Gujarat High Court and was recently heard by a division bench of Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice NV Anjaria.
To the utmost chagrin of the tens of hundreds of parents, the bench dismissed all petitions, saying the right to free and compulsory education under the Right to Education Act (RTE Act) and Article 21A of the Constitution of India is available only after a child attains 6 years of age.
“The right conferred upon a child by the constitutional provision of Article 21A and the RTE Act, 2009 begins after completion of age of 6 years. A conjoint reading of various provisions of the RTE Act, 2009 makes it clear that a child above the age of 6 years cannot be denied in a formal school and the State is mandated to take all necessary measures that such a child who falls within the definition of ‘child’ under the RTE Act, 2009, completes his or her elementary education without any rider,” the judgment said.
The Court, therefore, rejected a contention by several parents (petitioners) that their children ought to be allowed admission to Class 1 early, since they had already completed their elementary education.
The High Court noted that the RTE Act prohibits the admission of a child to a pre-school if the child has not completed 3 years of age as of June 1 of the relevant academic year.
“Three years ‘early childhood care and education’ in a pre-school prepares a child to take admission in 1st standard in a formal school. The children who are before us, have been admitted in a pre-school by their parents before completion of age of 3 years, prescribed minimum age for admission in a pre-school in the RTE,” the Bench observed.
The court said the petitioners could not seek any leniency or indulgence, as they were violating the RTE Act, 2009 and the RTE Rules, 2012.
“Forcing children to go to a pre-school below the age of 3 years is an illegal act on the part of the parents who are petitioners before us. The contention that the children are school-ready as they have completed 3 years of elementary education in a preschool having been admitted in the Academic Session 2020-21, therefore, does not impress us at all.”
The two notifications were issued on January 31, 2020 and August 4, 2020, which were to take effect from June 1 of this year.
The Court upheld the objective of the RTE Act 2009 to provide education to children at an appropriate age and thus the rationale to prescribe the cut-off.
The National Education Policy, 2020 states that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6, accentuates the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in the early years in order to ensure healthy brain development and growth.
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