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Gujarat High Court Declares Compulsory Pre-school Attendance for Children Below 3 Illegal

The Gujarat High Court has dismissed petitions challenging the state government’s decision to prohibit schools from admitting children under the age of 6 to Class 1 starting from the current academic year (2023-24). The court ruled that the right to free and compulsory education, as established by the Right to Education Act (RTE Act) and Article 21A of the Constitution of India, is only applicable once a child reaches the age of 6.

Legal Background:

A bench consisting of Chief Justice Sunita Agarwal and Justice NV Anjaria emphasized that the right to free and compulsory education under the RTE Act and Article 21A begins only after a child reaches the age of 6. The court’s judgment clarified that a child above the age of 6 cannot be denied admission to a formal school, and the state is obligated to ensure that such children complete their elementary education without any restrictions.

Dismissal of Parental Petitions:

The court rejected the argument made by several parents (petitioners) that their children should be allowed early admission to Class 1 since they had already completed their elementary education. It pointed out that the RTE Act prohibits enrolling a child in a pre-school if the child has not reached the age of 3 by June 1 of the relevant academic year.

The court stated that forcing children under the age of 3 to attend a pre-school is illegal and that the petitioners were in violation of the RTE Act and RTE Rules. Therefore, the petitioners could not seek leniency or exceptions.

State Government Notifications Upheld:

The court was addressing a series of petitions filed by parents challenging state government notifications issued on January 31, 2020, and August 4, 2020, which were set to take effect from June 1 of the current year. Notably, the children of the petitioners had not yet reached the age of 6 as of June 2023.

The court underscored that the minimum age requirement of 6 for admission to Class 1 serves a purpose, aiming to provide education to children at an appropriate age, as per the RTE Act.

Importance of Early Childhood Education:

The bench also referenced the National Education Policy, 2020, which highlighted that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs before the age of 6. This underscores the critical importance of proper care and stimulation for healthy brain development in the early years.

The court upheld the notifications, stating that they were not arbitrary.

Legal Representation:

The petitioners were represented by Advocates Ashish M Dagli, Nayan L Gupta, Hitesh Gupta, Dilipkumar Prajapati, Amit Chaudhary, and Samir Gohel.

The state was represented by Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, Additional Government Pleader KM Antani, and Advocate Ankeeta Rajput.

This decision reinforces the age-based admission criteria for Class 1 and the importance of early childhood education.


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