right to education

UNICEF in Schools: Joining hands with government to move from the Right to Education, to the “Right to Learn”

India now has a variety of policies and schemes to lay the pathto quality education. A noteworthylandmark in this journey is the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education(RTE) Act enacted by the Government of India in 2010.

The legislation entitles all childrenaged between six and 14 years to a quality education, based on principles of equity and non-discrimination. Passing the RTE Act marked a historic moment for the children ofIndia and serves as a building block to ensure that every child has his or her right to qualityelementary education guaranteed.

One of the principles underpinning the RTE Act is that education has to be child-centric and child-friendly. Over the years, UNICEF has become increasingly aware of the need to investin quality and child-friendly education that is sensitive to the needs of children in diversecultures and locations. That child-friendly education methods and facilities are critical to the successful implementation of the RTE Actcannot be overstated.

Since the RTE Act was enacted in 2010, some important timelines have been given, including Teacher Education, which has an annualdeadline  in March. For the 2015 deadline, UNICEF is supporting the Indian government through.


Big Picture


Enacted on 1 April 2010, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) 2009 serves as a building block to ensure that every child from six to 14 years has his or her right to get a quality elementary education, and that the state, with the help of families and communities, fulfills this obligation.The act has been described as model for countries in the region and beyond, seeking not only access to schools, but also quality education within them.

By March 31, 2013 – the first deadline for implementation of the RTE – there had been significant resource allocations to the education sector and substantial structural reform, along with countless stories of hope from the field.  Nonetheless, there remains much to be done in order to achieve quality education with equity for every girl and boy across India.

Important facets of quality education in the context of RTE :
  • Schools as inclusive spaces: A key RTE mandate is for schools to become child  friendly, inclusive spaces where all children from diverse backgrounds are welcomed, treated kindly, and encouraged to actively participate in learning through child-centred activities.  
  • Teachers as key change agents:Another important RTE goal is to empower teachers as key change agents in schools, ensuring their competence as professionals able to reflect on and improve their own practice. Beyond ensuring an acceptable Pupil-Teacher Ratio, RTE mandates that all teachers are professionally trained and supported to continuously assess and improve children’s learning.
  • Role of the community:Another key mandate of RTE is empowering communities to take ownership in the effective running of schools through School Management Committees.
  • Strengthened institutions and governance:While there are one-time investments that will make a significant difference in achieving targets in such areas as ensuring a library or a functional toilet in every school, much of the pedagogic transformation mandated by the RTE will necessitate substantial structural reform.

A shift from Right to Education to Right to Learn is required
While the enactment of the RTE has built on great strides in achieving access to education over the past decade, the focus of education in the country now needs to shift towards the “Right to Learn” to really address the core problems of schooling. School completion rates and learning outcomes must be improved by reducing gender and other social disparities, and improving the quality and coverage of pre-schoolprogrammes.

Fewer than half – an estimated 47 per cent – of Class 5 students are able to read a Class 2 text. The National Achievement Surveys  show that the overall national average score for learning levels in language is 257 (on a scale of 0 to 500) and 252for mathematics. This means that many children in school are not learning the basics of literacy and numeracy or acquiring any additional knowledge and skills necessary for their all-round development as specified under the RTE Act.

There are close to 7.72 million teachers in elementary schools in India, out of which nearly 60 per cent, or 4.6 million, are in government schools . However, about 20 per cent of government teachers lack adequate professional qualifications, and many more lack the required skills, knowledge and attitudes to ensure effective learning. In order for the pupil-teacher ratios proscribed in the RTE Act to be met, more than 1 million trained teachers need yet to be appointed.

While the RTE Act makes child-friendly centred, quality education the fundamental right of every child andnational guiding principles for the Child Friendly Schools and Systems (CFSS) programmehave been developed, they must now be rolled out in states.

UNICEF In Action

How does UNICEF support the RTE?

The greatest opportunity to address these challenges is embedded in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act which has been the cornerstone of the ICO Education Programme.

The Education Programme supports and strengthens government efforts to provide quality education by reducing gender and other social and economic disparities at the national and state levels. 

The Ministry of Human Resource Development is the nodal ministry for UNICEF’s Education Programme.  Through a close and productive partnership with MHRD and the Department of School Education and Literacy along with civil society, the Programme has been supporting the government of India’s flagship programme Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All)  to ensure greater access to education, enrolment and improved learning outcomes for the most marginalized groups of children.   

While retaining a focus on elementary education for children aged 6 – 14 years under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), the programme is now covering a wider gamut – starting from early childhood education through elementary and secondary. Child friendly schools and systems are being promoted and capacities of teachers strengthened to ensure children’s right to learn. 

Convergence with other programmes to combat child labour and child marriage, and universal access to improved water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, is also ensured. In partnership with government, non-governmental organizations, academia, media and the private sector, the programme aims to:
  • Improve equitable access to quality early childhood education
  • Accelerate implementation of the Right to Education Act and child friendly schools
  • Enhance capacities of teachers and pre-school functionaries to deliver quality education
  • Mobilize communities to demand equitable access to quality education
  • Expand access to secondary education for adolescents with a focus on reducing gender and social disparities

    This is very much in line with UNICEF’s global and regional strategic shifts towards the Right to Learn and quality education with equity from pre-school through secondary education with the Strategic Plan 2014 – 2017 Outcome 5, “Improved Learning Outcomes and Equitable and Inclusive Education” and the Regional Priority on “All Children in School and Learning.”

    How UNICEF helps

    To move to a “Right to Learn”model, UNICEF has been working with national and state governments and civil society to take stock ofRTE implementation and where progress is being made and where gaps persist in order to work together to bridge gaps. 

    UNICEF is intensifiyingwill intensify its work with government to promote child-centred, child-friendly learningenvironments through community-based school management structures and the development of RTE-compliant school development plansand in making schools RTE complaint in all areas including scattered habitations, civil strife affected areas and urban slums.

    This will involves measures to improve the overall learningenvironment and ensure classrooms free of violence; improved school environment and infrastructure including improved water, sanitation and hygiene and mid-day meal practices; teacher development linked to learning outcomes; and community and civil society participation.

    The integration of the child-friendly framework and tools into state education plans and delivery mechanisms will be crucial. Efforts will also be made to establish norms and standards on early learning with modelling supported in selected states to improve school readiness.

  • Strengthening state level teacher education planning and systems will be critical to ensuring improved teacher preparation and on-the-job support and ensure the mainstreaming of millions of out of school children back into age-appropriate classes.

    Recognizing that teachers are catalysts for social change, they will be central to ensuring an inclusive and participatory teaching and learning process as well as classrooms free of trauma, violence and corporal punishment. In this regard, the National Vision for Girls’ Education in India and the road-map to achieving gender equality in basic education by 2015 will be important tools in supporting girls’ education.

    To this end, UNICEF recommends :

    • Improved identification of children who are out of school and their mainstreaming into age-appropriate classes through special training programmes offered under the RTE Act.
    • The adaptation of curriculumsto ensure inclusive education and teacher training to implement inclusive education .
    • Establishment of robust systems for student assessment, including classroom-based comprehensive and continuous evaluation which feed into teacher education systems in order to improve teaching-learning outcomes.
    • Strengthening state-level teacher education planning and systems to ensure improved teacher preparation and on-the-job support.
    • Integration ofCFS and systems guiding principles into state planning and education programmedelivery since the CFS package can be a powerful tool, both to fulfil children’s entitlements under RTE Act and to provide them a quality education.
    • Inclusive and coordinated planning and implementation of RTE, especially for the most marginalized: Dalits, Tribals, girls, minorities, victims of child labour, children with disabilities and children from areas affected by civil strife).
    • A strong focus be placed on developing language and maths skills as fundamental tools for learning. Early grade reading and math approaches need to be improved. Promotion of instruction in students’ local languages will be crucial for improved reading skills and learning outcomes of children especially in early grades.
    • Strengthening state-level teacher education planning and systems, which will be critical to ensuring improved teacher preparation and on-the-job support. Recognizing that teachers are catalysts for social change, they will be central to ensuring an inclusive and participatory teaching and learning process as well as classrooms free of trauma and violence.
    • Use of information and communication technology (ICT) to expand access to and improve the quality of learning.
    • Increased access to quality ECEprogrammeswhich will lead to improved learning outcomes in early grades.