Homeschooling in India is small, but growing, despite of uncertainty on whether it was legal or not. The freedom to homeschooling is now being threatened. The Right To Education (RTE) Act came into force on April 1 2010, and makes it mandatory for every child in the 6 to 14-year age group to be enrolled at a formal school.
This act is now being challenged by homelearner, Shreya Sahai, that has filed a petition with the Delhi High Court. The petition argues that the act treats “education” as synonymous with “schooling”, and that such an interpretation discriminates against those who opt out of the formal schooling system. This petition has caught the attention of the media.
This situation in India is very similar to South Africa. According to art. 29(1) of the constitution, everybody in South Africa has the right to basic education, including children. This also means that everybody has the right to decide whether they want basic education, where they want to receive this education and what the content of this education should be.
In order to ensure that all children receive that basic education to which they are entitled, the government has attempted to make the attendance of schools compulsory. Art. 3 (1) of the South African Schools act states : “... every parent must cause every learner for whom he or she is responsible to attend a school from the first school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of seven years until the last school day of the year in which such learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade ...”.
The problem of a compulsory school attendance act is that limits the right to basic education. Firstly, when you have a right, it means that you have the freedom to exercise that right or not. The right to basic education means that everybody has the freedom to choose to receive basic education or not to receive it. When the receiving of basic education is compulsory, that freedom is lost. Then basic education is not a right anymore, but a duty.
Secondly, by making school attendance compulsory, it means that it takes away the freedom to choose the place where the education is to take place, whether it must be at a school or at a house. In South Africa however, the Schools Act makes provision for home education. Art. 51 (1) of the act states : “A parent may apply to the Head of Department for the registration of a learner to receive education at the learner's home.”
It seems that the RTE Act in India does not have a provision for education at home. It is therefore ironic that the act is called the “Right to Education”, but this act takes away the freedom to choose whether you want education or not, and it takes away the freedom to choose the place where you want to receive education. A right is supposed to provide freedom, and yet the "Right to Education Act" in India seeks to abolish the same freedom it is supposed to confirm.