New Delhi, March 19: Sonia Gandhi has asked the government to make a more focussed effort to check discrimination in schools based on students’ learning outcome, language, caste, religion and economic background.
In a letter dated February 14, the UPA chairperson has requested the Prime Minister to consider the recommendations of the National Advisory Council for a discrimination-free school environment and a robust mechanism to address grievances against Right to Education Act (RTE) violations.
“Successful implementation of right to education requires, in addition to other measures, focussed effort on ending discrimination in schools and strengthening monitoring, accountability and grievance redress mechanism,” the letter says.
The NAC discussed these issues on January 28 and suggested measures to check discrimination. Discrimination could include children being seated at the back in isolation or in segregated groups, name-calling by caste, religion or parental occupation, referring to children by disability and so on, the NAC said.
It also mentioned physical abuse, kicking and mental harassment of children by humiliating them for giving a wrong answer.
The council said instances of teachers suggesting that some children do not need high marks because of reservation were not unheard of. Nor were things like children of certain sections being asked to clean classrooms or toilets.
Under Article 21-A of the Constitution and the RTE Act, which came into force on April 1, 2010, every child between six and 14 years shall have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school without any type of discrimination.
The government has to prepare a code of conduct for schools and create mechanisms for children to engage with issues of diversity and learn non-discriminatory behaviour, the NAC said.
“Caste-based discrimination is very often witnessed in government schools. The Dalit children are made to sit separately, have mid-may-meals in different utensils etc. This discourages them from coming to schools,” NAC member N.C. Saxena said.
He said there were hardly any grievance redress mechanisms in states, which meant that students and parents had to bear with injustice such as denial of admission or discrimination.
Sonia has said there should be a grievance redress architecture from the local to the state and national levels.
HRD sources said the ministry has already taken measures on some issues. In February last year, it issued guidelines asking local authorities to put in place a grievance redress mechanism. Those unsatisfied with the system can appeal to the State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
Last October, the ministry also issued guidelines to check discrimination in schools and asked state governments and local authorities to take steps to ensure all schools immediately adhered to them.
The guidelines said children from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups should not face financial extortion from schools. All children should be allowed to participate in cultural programmes, sports events, and other school activities.
Lawyer Ashok Agrawal, who has filed several petitions on RTE Act violations in various courts, claimed the HRD ministry operated like a post office without any sincere effort to check problems of discrimination.
“The ministry is good at sending customary, routine letters to states asking them to take measures. Has it ever reviewed the actions by states? I doubt because the cases of discrimination are going on as before,” he said.