Is Everything Alright With The Right To Education Act?
The government has successfully passed the buck by making it mandatory for most private schools to reserve 25 per cent seats for kids from disadvantaged families. A good gesture, indeed, but what about its implementation? Where does a student go when bullied by the organized private school mafia? What about improving education standards in government schools? As you might have guessed, the government prefers to stay mute on logistics!
Halabol happened to talk to the Principal of one of the most prestigious schools of Delhi. Our query was regarding the implementation of the RTE Act. More on our chat with her later, but, in general, there is a lot of ambiguity, and the government hasn’t come up with a solid media campaign to make parents aware of the provisions of the Act. Of course, not everyone goes and reads the bare Act on the parliament website. We did and we had many doubts, even after having talked to a range of stakeholders:
The Act says that the government is to ensure free and compulsory education for all children between six and fourteen years of age.
Very nice; what about the pre-primary and secondary education? Is the government happy to have a population literate till class eight only?
For class one to five, every child will find a school in his neighborhood within one kilometer radius; for class six to eight, this would be applicable within a three kilometer radius. All private non-minority schools will need to admit a 25 per cent of students from low-income group (below 2 lakh per annum) and other disadvantaged categories (SC, ST, OBC, etc.)
Good gracious; is there an appellate body to enforce this distance criterion, if it is applicable for private schools as well? Any private school may refuse an admission based on this very basis. Who goes and measures the distance – the school, the student seeking admission or the government? If there’s such an appellate body, why there is no information/campaign in the public domain? Also, since the schools can admit either low-income or disadvataged category students, who is going to ensure that the former don't get sidelined. This is because according to the bill, the government will bear costs for only low-income category students. Students belonging to disadvantaged categories will pay fee like regular students.
Minority private institutions are exempt from this Act.
Relevant articles in the Constitution are there to provide a shield to minorities so that they can develop their culture and ethos independently. But in most of minority-run schools, majority students are non-minority. So while convent schools have their prayers and Mass, not many who pass out from these schools identify with Christianity. In principle, these schools remain donation-seeking abodes. There must be a stricter rule to guard the constitutional sanctity, while ensuring that these institutions don’t resort to undue profiteering.
The government will decide on the reimbursement to private schools on the basis of average amount it spends on educating students in comparable government schools
Not all private schools follow government-recommended textbooks; generally, the textbooks decided by private schools (by private publishers mostly) are way more expensive. Who is going to pay for such incremental costs? The government may be spending just Rs.10,000 per child in standard six of government schools. Who is going to take care of the abusive and differential treatment that quota-benefitted children might face by such pressed-for-resources and often greedy private schools?
An average student studying in a renowned private school spends a lot on a range of Activities happening in the school – picnics, birthday parties, fancy dress competition, fete, and other such showy events. Who will ensure that quota-benefitted students don’t feel miserable at such obvious comparisons? There are many schools that have banned birthday celebrations on their premises for this very reason. What stops the government from bringing an enabling legislation on this matter, given that anyway kids end up consuming junk during such fiestas!
Adds Mrs Samarth, who sends her daughter to one such school, where there are no such latent expenses:
That’s in line with the idea of uniformity. That’s why you have school uniforms, so that nobody can show off their haute couture from an early age. I am so thankful that my daughter goes to a sane school.
Mrs Barua wasn’t as lucky:
I am really sick of the ways of my son’s school. He’s in standard one, and everyday there’s a new demand by school folks. Teachers tell him what to bring him in lunch for joint feasts; and they tell stuff like Caesar Salad, Baked Beans, etc. We don’t have such food at our place. And you know kids can be really annoying when they throw tantrums.
Coming back to the principal we talked to: she’s quite active in social circles, talking big about child welfare, etc (anything more will give her identity away). We expected a positive response from her; at least didn’t want her to write down the Act completely. What we got to hear confirmed that our faith was rather misplaced -- on shaky quicksand of artificially built public image. This is how she started off, "We are really disappointed with the way this system is being forced on us."
We asked if she was not happy with providing free education to 25% disadvantaged kids; after all, her school got the public land for a pittance years ago, and school management must be quite rich by now. She was ready with her retort:
Look, the government must not shy away from its responsibility. We are okay with taking poor kids, but why should we be told the way it should be done? We can have separate class rooms for such kids; I'm all for supporting these kids at government schools through our faculty. It's a bad precedent. It's dangerous to mix these kids with the general crowd we get. They will have an inferiority complex for everything.
Although, it’s true that comparisons can have a negative impact on tender minds, but tell us one place comparisons are not present at! Even when we used to be in school, not all of us came from families of equal socio-economic standing; not all had a new bag every two months. Then too, we all made friends and continued our education.
Education is a gift that far supersedes any emotional vulnerability underprivileged kids might be exposed to. Anyway, these kids get it everywhere – even when they beg on traffic signals, and blue-blooded, born with silver-spoon children look at them scornfully from their SUV windows. It’s important that private schools don’t shy away from their responsibility, just by spreading such propaganda.
And the crib about different class rooms? Woah, let’s not get back to the apartheid days. Such principals will be obviously motivated to send worst of their teachers to such different class rooms; they will be ghettoes where such kids will be mistreated for having come to ask for their rights. We wish “get well soon” to people with such thinking.
Students coming to seek their right under this quota system are woefully low in number. The government and the citizens alike need to spread awareness, and bring the miscreants to justice. Implemented poorly all grand plans fail miserably, and we talked at the very outset of this article as to how this plan is not so grand! It can be a damper squib, thus, if not tended to in its infancy!
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