Online education has become a contested policy arena across the country. The case is the same in Karnataka too. On 15th June, the state government had banned all schools in the state from providing online education to students below primary grades. However, on 27th June, it modified its order and allowed the schools to undertake a limited hour of online classes according to its regulations for students till class 5. Now, the Karnataka High Court has stayed both these orders in response to a bunch of petitions that were filed.
The Court has noted that the state government cannot issue an order under Article 162 of the Constitution that curtails the Fundamental Rights of citizens under Article 21 and 21A.
A division bench of the Karnataka High Court on 8th July observed that “Prima Facie we are of the view that both orders of June 15 and June 27, encroached upon the Fundamental Right conferred by Article 21 and 21A of the Constitution of India”. The observation was made by Chief Justice Abhay Srinivas Oka and Justice Nataraj Rangaswamy through their interim orders. The interim order issued by the High Court has stayed the government order passed by the state government on June 15th and June 27th, 2020.
The other major source of contention has been that many private schools are willing to provide their students with online education during school closures. This would enable them to collect fees from students. In many cases, the regional and national media had reported about private schools compelling students and their parents to pay fees despite the school closures. In many cases, it was also noted that the private schools had charged fees in the name of online education over and above the pre-existing fee structures. However, the justices have also clarified that the orders must not be taken that online education can be made compulsory or will that the schools have the right to charge extra fees for providing online education. It has also noted that it was the government had to ensure that the rights of children not studying in “elite” schools were also protected.
Arguments of the state government
The counsel appearing for the state government had argued that the order was only an interim measure until the government could explore to ensure that no student is deprived of educational opportunities. It also argued that the subject of online education to students of younger classes must not only be viewed from the perspective of fundamental rights but also child psychology.
The order is understood to open up the way for online teaching-learning processes for the students from families that can afford to access it. However, it would create an inequitable educational space for masses of students in the state provided that many students and their families cannot access online education.