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An overview of Right to Education

Authored By- Gauhar Alam

Keywords- #Right_to_education #International_Instruments #India #Free_and_Compulsory_Education #Fundamental_right #Article21A #Government #Supreme_court #judiciary


Education has always been one of the important factors in all societies. Education not only helps one to earn a decent living but also to improve his personality. Human is a social animal, and the only thing that differentiates a human being from an animal is education. An educated person is only aware of his rights and duties. Supreme Court of India once Observed, “A man without education is no superior to an animal”[1]. All the great revolutions of the world like the French revolutions, the American Revolution, and the Freedom Movement of India were lead by educated people, and these movements and revolutions only got successful due to education. When a person is educated, he starts thinking critically and becomes conscious in deciding right and wrong.

Thus, the right to education is an indispensable human right at present

In this article, the author will trace the right to education both at the National as well as International Level.


The right to education is now considered as one of the basic rights in all civilized states. The right to education has been recognized in several international instruments and conventions like the Universal Declaration of Human rights, International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural rights, etc.

Article 26 of the UDHR reads as follows-

"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on merit. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."[2]

Similarly, Right to Education has got the status of Basic Human Rights in many other International and regional instruments like the UNESCO Convention against discrimination in education, 1960; Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1981

Thus, the importance of the Right to Education is well recognized at the international level.

Right to education in India

Before, the initiation of Britishers in India, there were no planned, and systematic educational institutions in our country, education was imparted in traditional schools called Gurukuls. During the colonial era, many schools and colleges were opened, which systematically provided education. In the year 1872, the literacy rate in India was just 3.2 percent, which rose to 16.1 percent in the year 1941. Thus, by independence most of the population in India was illiterate, and hence, there was an urgent need to improve these figures.

The Constitution of India was adopted in the year, 1949, and it came to force on the 26th of January, 1950.

The framers of the constitution were aware of the importance of education so, they recognized the importance of education under part IV article 45 of the Constitution, which casts a liability on the state to provide free and compulsory education to children upto 14 years of age.

Article 45 of the constitution of India, 1949 states as follows-

Provision for free and compulsory education for children- The State shall endeavor to provide, within ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.”[3]

The duty cast by article 45 of the constitution is not binding on the states as the Directive Principles of State Policies are not enforceable in a court of law.

It means that even after the commencement of the constitution there was no perfectly binding legal framework for education.

Ramamurthy Committee report of 1990 is considered as the first official document on right to education in India.

Right to Education and Supreme Court

Supreme Court is the topmost court of our Country and is also the custodian of the constitution as well as the protectors of the rights of its subjects. The Apex Court has played a key role in the recognition of the right to education as a fundamental right through its various judgments.

Some of the landmark Judgments of the Supreme Court are-

1. Mohini Jain vs the State of Karnataka[4]

This case is popularly known as the fee capitation case. The right to education was recognized as a fundamental right under article 21 of the Constitution and it was held that this right cannot be denied by charging a higher fee called capitation fee.

In this case, the petitioner challenged the validity of a notification issued by the government of Karnataka under the Karnataka Education Institution (Prohibition of Captivation Fee) Act 1984 to regulate the fees to be charged by private educational institutions.

The Hon'ble Supreme Court Observed as under-

“Every citizen has a ‘right to education’ under the Constitution. The State is under an obligation to establish educational institutions to enable the citizens to enjoy the said right.”[5]

“The right to life under Article 21 and the dignity of an individual cannot be assured unless it is accompanied by the right to education. The State Government is under an obligation to endeavor to provide educational facilities at all levels to its citizens.”[6]

2. Unni Krishnan vs State of Andhra Pradesh[7]

This case came before the Hon'ble Supreme Court to examine the validity of the decision given by it in Mohini Jain’s case. The question for the consideration of the court was whether the Right to Education is a fundamental right under article 21 of the Constitution and whether this right is available at all stages. This court by 3:2 majority partly altered its earlier judgment and held that the Right to Education is a Fundamental Right but this right is only available to children until they attain the age of 14 years.

86th Constitutional amendment and Right to Education

The constitution of India was amended by the 86th constitutional Amendment Act, 2002, which inserted a new Article 21A in Part III of the Constitution which guarantees the right to free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 to 14 years.

Article 21A states as follows-

“Right to Education the state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the state may by law determine.”[8]

Right to Education Act 2009 was enacted in the year 2009 which further, augmented this right.


The right to education is inter-alia is one of the fundamental rights of every child in today's time. Denying this right to children is like denying them of their childhood. Supreme Court, as well as the legislature of our country, had from, time to time taken the note of this serious concern and did the needful for the protection of this right.

But, now the biggest challenge before us that we have to improve the quality of education, as well as the infrastructure in state-run educational institutions.

In State of Tamil Nadu vs K. Shyam Sunder[9], it has been observed by the apex court that the right of a child should not be restricted only to free, and compulsory education, but should be extended to have quality education without any discrimination on the grounds of their economic, social and cultural background.

[1]Mohini Jain vs state of Karnataka, 1992 AIR 1858 [2] Article 26 of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights, 1948 [3] Article 45 of the constitution of India, 1949 [4] (1992) 3 SCC 666; 1992 AIR 1858, [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] (1993) 1 SCC 6. [8] Ins. By the Constitution (Eighty-sixth Amendment) Act, 2002 (w.e.f. 1-4-2010) [9] AIR 2011 SC 3470 References-