‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act’ or ‘Right to Education Act also known as RTE’, is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted on 4 August 2009, which describes the modalities of the importance of free and compulsory education for children between 6 and 14 in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution.[1] India became one of 135 countries to make education a fundamental right of every child when the act came into force on 1 April 2010.[2][3][4] The title of the RTE Act incorporates the words ‘free and compulsory’. ‘Free education’ means that no child, other than a child who has been admitted by his or her parents to a school which is not supported by the appropriate Government, shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education. ‘Compulsory education’ casts an obligation on the appropriate Government and local authorities to provide and ensure admission, attendance and completion of elementary education by all children in the 6-14 age group. With this, India has moved forward to a rights based framework that casts a legal obligation on the Central and State Governments to implement this fundamental child right as enshrined in the Article 21A of the Constitution, in accordance with the provisions of the RTE Act.17

What is this Act about?

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 is about a child’s right to education. It ensures that all children get free education from class 1 to class 8. To achieve this, the Act lays down some duties for governments, schools, teachers and parents.

The Act also contains rules on pupil-teacher ratio, teacher vacancies, penalties for conducting screening tests and punishing children.

Does this Act apply to all children?

This Act only applies to children between the ages of 6 to 14. However, children who are more than 14 years old but have not been able to attend school till class 8, can get free education till class 8 under this Act.

How does this Act help children?

  • All children between the ages of 6 to 14 can get free education from class 1 to class 8, in a nearby government school or aided school.
  • Children who have never been to school or have dropped out, can get back to school. They will get admission in a class suitable to their age.
  • Children who are poor or underprivileged in some way, can get free education till class 8 in a private school.
  • Children must be given admission in a school even if they don’t have documents like transfer certificate and age proof.
  • Children cannot be forced to give tests for getting admission in a school.
  • Children cannot be asked to leave school or be forced to repeat a class, till they complete class 8.
  • It is illegal to beat up or harass a child.

Why is the word ‘compulsory’ used?

The word ‘compulsory’ means that it is compulsory for the government to give free education to all children. It does not mean it is compulsory for parents to send their children to school.

How can a child get free education in a private school?

  • Children from ‘disadvantaged groups’ and ‘weaker sections’ can get free education in a private school. These terms are explained below.
  • Every private school has to keep 25% of its seats in class 1 for children from ‘disadvantaged groups’ and ‘weaker sections’.
  • The school has to give free education to these children till class 8.

Please note that both the Central and State/UT Governments have issued rules which may contain additional or modified requirements which have to be followed by schools.