The right to education is one of the core rights of human beings. This intrinsic right does not mean only access to educational institutions, rather it implies a complete education of every person irrespective of race, colour, class, social status, or political opinion. It includes a responsibility to ensure basic education compulsorily up to primary and college level by the government.
This right has been unprecedentedly hampered during the ongoing Covid-19 situation globally. In Bangladesh, the right to education has been enumerated in article 17 of the constitution through a uniform education system that is not judicially enforceable by a court. It cannot be claimed as a right by the people but a principle of the state to guide its policymaking and implementation working as a guiding star.
Bangladesh has a few legal mechanisms to deal with the education of the state apart from the constitution though it still has no act dealing with the right to education. Despite this, the National Education Policy 2010 has provided a multi-layered education system regulated by different regulatory bodies.
Again, Bangladesh has adopted Primary Education (Compulsory) Act, 1990, which ensures any boy or girl aged between six and 10 years to get compulsory primary education at local levels. Our country has different separate ministries and directorates for higher, secondary, and primary education which actively play a role in implementing the constitutional right to education.
On the other hand, the government has taken many policy-level decisions to implement the right to education enshrined in the constitution. The government has ensured free textbooks at the primary and secondary levels. Teachers are recruited for primary schools to ensure the constitutional commitment to protect the right to education every year.
Providing mid-day meals, monthly stipends, nutritious biscuits, root-level games, sports facilities etc., are significant programmes taken by the government on a pilot or permanent basis. The government has already been taking a huge monetary and infrastructural burden to implement these programmes covering more than 75,000 primary schools in Bangladesh.
Now, after 49 years of independence, Bangladesh has to rethink the right to education in the constitution again for multiple reasons.
Incorporating one basic right into a positive right in the constitution means the government has to take proper initiatives to implement the rights as much as possible. It does not mean the right will be a permanent part of the fundamental state policy; instead, there must have a "reasonable time" to turn those rights into fundamental rights. The philosophy behind the separation of the "Fundamental Principles of State Policy" from "Fundamental Rights" has been mentioned by different Framers of the Constitution on different occasions.
The main reasons were a limitation of resources, post-war economy, and reconstruction of the socio-economic infrastructures of the country, which led the framers to formulate two categories- protections and rights. The right to education has been inserted as protection, not right, along with other protections considering the situation of the post-war resources. So it is high time for the government of Bangladesh to change the status of the right to education in the constitution to uphold the moral promise to the citizen.
The government has been performing its constitutional commitment given in Article 17 since its birth. It has taken different root-level programmes to ensure the right to education. On the other hand, the government has taken many policy-level decisions to implement the right to education enshrined in the constitution.
The government has already been taking huge monetary and infrastructural initiatives to implement many programmes covering more than than 66,000 government primary schools. In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the budget allotted for Tk66,401 crore for primary, secondary, vocational, and higher education. As the government is already undertaking a vast monetary and infrastructural investment in the sector, it will not cost much more to make the right to education compulsory.
India, Nepal, and Pakistan can be excellent examples for us among 135 countries making education a fundamental right of every child. As a welfare state, moral commitment to its citizen must be fulfilled in a considerable time limit. Bangladesh has aimed to be a developed country by 2041. It is high time to take education as a compulsory constitutional right for all children to meet the 'Vision 2041', which will help us to fulfil the goals of SDGs.
Md Jahedul Islam is a law graduate from CU Law and Fellow at Teach for Bangladesh.