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India high court upholds right to education law

The Supreme Court of India [official website] on Thursday upheld as constitutional a right to education law that requires most schools to reserve one-quarter of its class seats for poor, underprivileged children. The ruling comes after a number of private schools and organizations, including the Society of Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan [official website] and the Independent Schools Federation of India, challenged the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RCFCE) [text, PDF] arguing it violates their autonomy and will drain their resources. The RCFCE allows any child between the ages of 6-14 to demand free admittance to primary school. The law has the support of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [official website] who assured critics [BBC report] that enough funds will be made available to the schools. Although most primary schools will be subject to the law, the high court exempted private minority-run education institutions that do not receive funding from the government from compliance with the RCFCE.

The landmark right to education law took effect [BBC report] in April 2010. In India, some 8 million children do not receive a full primary school education [World Bank report]. Most of these children come from marginalized and impoverished social groups. When it took effect the law was immediately heralded by proponents of expansion of access to public education in India. An India representative for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) [official website] stated that the law "serves as a building block to ensure that every child has the right to guaranteed quality elementary education. The state, with the help of families and communities, has a legal obligation to fulfil [sic] this duty."

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