New Delhi: The Delhi High Court (HC) on Friday said that online education was covered under the Right to Education (RTE) Act and therefore, the private schools were providing the same as part of their responsibilities under the statute and not as a voluntary or social service.
The bench of HC Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula said the private schools were charging educational expenses (tuition fees) during the coronavirus pandemic on the ground that they are giving ‘simultaneous face to face online classes.
The bench said, “The neighborhood schools impart synchronous face-to-face real-time online education not as a voluntary or social service but as part of their responsibilities under the RTE Act, 2009.”
The judgment came after a plea was filed by NGO Justice for All. The plea was represented by advocate Khagesh Jha, asking HC to give direction to the Centre and the Delhi government to provide free electronic gadgets like laptops, tablets, or mobile phones to poor students so that they can participate in e-learning during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The HC in its 94-page judgement directed the private unaided schools to provide the necessary instruments and internet pack to the EWS/DG students. The HC said they “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,” reported NDTV.
However, the private schools in their defences said that the outbreak of the pandemic and development in technology had not been visualised by Parliament while passing the RTE Act and hence the court cannot apply it to today’s scenario.
The private schools had additionally fought that the RTE Act just mulls over giving instruction by a local school in a physical study mode and not online training by advanced methods. They had asserted that e-learning was being given as a social assistance by certain private independent schools and not due to any legitimate or legal commitment cast on them.
They had also contended that 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 “neighborhood” before the word school in the most relevant provisions of the statute.
They had further said that 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.
However, the HC rejected these contentions and said it can dynamically interpret provisions of the RTE Act as per the evolving requirement of the society and also apply the statute to new technologies like synchronous online learning in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, even if, the Parliament while passing the Act did not anticipate such an “unforeseen and unprecedented situation as prevailing today”.
The high court further said that the Act “intentionally” does not define the word education as it needs to deal with changes in society, technological advances, an outbreak of diseases, natural calamities and a broad range of circumstances that are not possible to anticipate in advance.
The court said, “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 the future, the model and method of education have to undergo a complete revolution.”
The bench added that the schools were allowed to pick their model and strategy for giving education that fulfills the minimum legal requirement. “Consequently, the concept of synchronous face-to-face real-time online education, like any other alternate means/methods of dissemination of education, in that sense, is covered under the RTE Act, 2009,” it said.