Based on visits by its correspondents to schools in six states of the country, Business Standard brings you a six-part series on how ready or otherwise the system is to implement the new legal guarantee of free and compulsory schooling for all in the 6-14 age group.
Both the governments and school authorities in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh are in a fix over the implementation of the Right to Education Act--that came into effect from April 1 --for children in the age group of six to 14. Although ASN School in Delhi's Mayur Vihar conducted a lottery to select 20 out of the 250 poor children who had applied for admission in the school, it is clueless about how to accommodate these "extra" students. "Maybe, if we are allowed to build a third storey or to run two shifts, then we could accomodate the students," said Madhu Srivastava, in-charge of the primary sections. ASN is expecting the school federation and other umbrella bodies to take this up with the government. "We are waiting for directions from the government," said Srivastava.
However, the Delhi government has not done enough to have a policy in place to implement the Act that would guarantee free and compulsory schooling for all children in the age-group. Rakesh Mehta, Chief Secretary of Delhi, said the government plans to hold discussions with all schools in the city before drafting a policy in this regard. In a meeting held this week, the government concluded that before implementing the Act, it is important to hold talks with schools about a possible fee hike. "We need to decide on an optimum limit and decide on a cap for school fees. That is possible only after meeting representatives of all schools." Schools like Amity International and Indian School, that have completed admissions for the current academic year, have made it clear that the fee hike issues be addressed first before RTE Act is implemented.
The 25 per cent free seats under the law would mean creating additional seats this year, the schools have said. The Delhi government estimate for implementing RTE is Rs 1,500 crore. It is mandatory for schools in the city to provide 15 per cent seats for poor children free following a Supreme Court ruling. The state government at present reimburses the fees to the school where the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) students study. Section 12 of the RTE would now make it compulsory for every school--aided or unaided--to admit poor children from the neighbourhood for 25 per cent of seats in all classes. The fees for these children would be funded by the Government under the Act. While for some schools it is a problem of space, others fear that there will possibly be a lot interference from politicians and "other outsiders".
For minority schools the problems could be worse. "We are for 25 per cent seats for the poor. But who would identify these children?" asks Sister Divya, principal of Father Agnel School, Noida which also has a branch in Delhi. "Section 12 takes away the right of the schools to decide who the beneficiaries are." Under Section 12 of the RTE, a school management committee set up in each school with representatives from local and parent bodies would name the needy children of the neighbourhood. However, this goes against Article 30 of the Constitution that gives minority institutions the right to run and manage their institutions.
Dr Mani Jacob, general secretary of the All India Associaiton for Christian Education, said, "If management committees are not done away with, then we would have no option but to challenge the law in court." The Uttar Pradesh education department officials said the strategy for calculating the expense per child is still being worked out. The RTE, however, does not have a chapter on providing additional support to poor students who get into private schools nor does it consider issues that could affect the morale of the poor students when they sit in the classrooms with children from a sound financial background.
Ashok Agarwal, a High Court lawyer who has dealt with many RTE cases, dismissed talks of children having problems coping with the peer pressure. "This is all propaganda of private schools. One finds that these very EWS students are among the toppers in tenth standard in recent times."