Online Education Covered Under Right To Education Act: Delhi HC
Delhi High Court ruled that online education was covered under the Right to Education Act and therefore, the private schools were providing the same as part of their responsibilities under the statute.
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PIL seeks free laptops and mobile phones for poor students
An NGO named 'Justice for All' filed a PIL in Delhi High Court through Advocate Khagesh Jha.The said PIL sought directions from the Centre and the Delhi government to provide free laptops, tablets or mobile phones to poor students so that they can access classes online during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Failure to provide facilities would amount to "discrimination" and create "digital apartheid", says Delhi HC
In its 94-page judgement, the Court directed the private as well as government schools to provide gadgets and an internet package to poor students for online classes. The Court stated that not providing such facility would amount to "discrimination" and create "digital apartheid".
The Court directed the private unaided schools to provide the required equipment and internet pack to the EWS/DG students, and also mentioned that the schools "shall be entitled to claim reimbursement of reasonable cost" from the state for procuring the same under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, "even though the State was not providing the same to its students".
Private schools contend that outbreak of a pandemic and development in technology was not visualized
Private schools put forth the following contentions while opposing the plea:
- The private schools opposed and contended that outbreak of a pandemic and development in technology was not visualized by Parliament while passing the RTE Act and therefore, the Court cannot apply it to the present situation.
- The RTE Act only contemplates providing education by a neighbourhood school in a physical classroom and not online education by digital means.
- Online education was being provided as a social service by certain private unaided schools and not because of any legal or statutory obligation cast on them.
- If the court includes online education by way of interpretation, it would unduly expand the scope of the RTE Act even when the legislature has expressed a narrow intent by using the unmistakably qualifying and restrictive word "neighbourhood" before the word school in the most relevant provisions of the statute.
- The Court could not evolve a legislative intent that is not found in the statute by way of a dynamic interpretation and it cannot legislate under the garb of interpretation.
Right to Education Act can be applied to new technologies
The Bench of Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula rejected these contentions. The judges opined that it can dynamically interpret provisions of the RTE Act according to the evolving needs of the society. The statute can be applied to new technologies like synchronous online learning in the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, even if the Parliament while passing the Act did not anticipate such an "unforeseen and unprecedented situation as prevailing today".
The word education includes synchronous face-to-face real-time online learning
The court also said the tuition fee was payable towards imparting education and "not for a lien on a seat". "Accordingly, the word education includes synchronous face-to-face real-time online education and respondent schools are estopped from contending to the contrary.
The Court said that it is intentional that the word education has not been defined in the Act. It was done so to deal with changes in society, technological advances, outbreak of diseases, natural calamities and a broad range of circumstances that are not possible to anticipate in advance.
"Consequently, the word education is not a static one but an evolving and dynamic concept. The mode, manner and method of imparting education have evolved from time to time and if universal good quality education has to be achieved in future, the mode and method of education have to undergo a complete revolution," it said.
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