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Ambarish Rai

RTE activist Ambarish Rai passes away

April 24, 2021
-Dipta Joshi

Education activist, Ambarish Rai (61), passed away Friday morning at Delhi’s Dr BR Ambedkar Hospital suffering from COVID-like symptoms. His death is a blow to the implementation of the Right to Education 2009 (RTE) – a constitutional amendment guaranteeing free education for every child through age 14, that he championed for so fiercely.

As the National Convenor of the Right to Education Forum (RTE Forum) since 2010, Rai was the force binding a coalition of 10,000 not-for- profits, educators, teachers’ associations, networks and community members from 20 states -to work towards full implementation of the RTE Act. Each year, the Forum published reports tracking the progress of RTE implementation by states. The Forum has campaigned to expand the RTE Act’s mandate to include higher secondary education and increase government spending on education to ensure primary education for children coming from marginalised families. The  RTE Forum envisioned “public provisioning for equitable and quality education for all children” through “systemic reforms in the Indian education system.” Rai wanted the ground breaking RTE law that mandates only eight years of compulsory education to be extended saying “Every child must have the right to 12 years of safe, secure and quality education irrespective of their social or economic background.” 

Rai’s open support for the ‘no detention policy’ that banned children from repeating a class till class 8 (the policy was later revoked in 2018) was based on the belief that the country’s education system had failed to provide students with the basic requirements of the right learning infrastructure and learning environment. In a post-budget 2021 article for online news portal, Scroll, Rai listed existing deficits in infrastructural gaps that made implementation of RTE difficult, “There were nine lakh vacant teaching positions in elementary schools and 1.1 lakh (vacant teaching posts) in secondary schools that needed to be filled. There were infrastructural gaps in relation to drinking water, functional toilets, hand washing facilities (46 percent do not have these facilities) that needed to be addressed. Only upon fulfilling these deficits can the Right to Education be said to be implemented.”

Holding the government accountable for failing children, he advocated increased public funding and participation in education. He rued the fact that any decrease in budgetary allocations for school education would hurt children and especially girls from marginalised communities. Though shadowed by his enormous work in the field of RTE, Rai’s involvement  in the advancement of girl’s education was recognised and appreciated. In 2018, Rai was designated as an ‘Education Champion’ by the Malala Fund. Founded by Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai, the fund invests in a global network of  education activists who implement targeted projects to promote girl’s education in their communities.  

Realising the greater threat to girl’s education in the absence of a robust public education system, he pressed for a common school system ensuring uniform quality of education to all and the effective functioning of a ‘Gender Inclusion Fund’, as promised in the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, to provide quality and equitable education for all girls.

Rai was also recognised as one amongst 50 leaders key to revival of Indian education in EducationWorld’s June 2020 issue. Outlining his plans for the sector, he had stressed on sensitising policymakers about the public education system and mobilising stakeholders to make government accountable for not achieving universalisation of education.

Born in Mau, Uttar Pradesh, Rai who graduated in law from the Lucknow University was involved in several other democratic and human rights issues during his student days too. He is survived by his wife and son.

Also read: 50 Leaders who can revive Indian education – Ambarish Rai

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