It is a day of trepidation for Prakash. A short, gawky man in his early thirties, he is among the several anxious parents waiting at a Bangalore school for the draw of lots to commence, he perhaps more anxious than the others. The process begins finally, in the presence of video cameras, the district education officer and the school principal. Slips are picked up one by one, smiles come and go as each name is called out, signalling the filling up of another vacancy. Prakash is willing his heart to beat a little less loudly. And then...
They call it out: Lavanya. The name of his five-year-old. The one who will become the first to go to school in his family. A milkman’s daughter whose future has just changed forever. Of future generations too perhaps. Prakash lets out a scream of joy, inviting curious glances. Finds himself crying and laughing at the same time. He has had to forgo his daily income of Rs 200 today. But it has all been worth it. His daughter would be going not just to any school, but a private, English-medium, international school. There is no doubt in his mind what a blessing the 25 per cent reservation for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) at the elementary level in private schools under the Right to Education Act is.
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Shock—and reality—descended on the next visit itself. He was asked to pay £48 every month—yes, in pound sterling. Even as the bewildered milkman wondered what that currency was, the school staff—the very picture of patience—informed him that it was in pounds they accepted fees, being an international school. Prakash recovered enough to ask if school education wasn’t supposed to be free for his child under the 2009 RTE Act. Of course it was, he was told, but that applied only to tuition fee; the £48 was for all the ‘other’ fees, Rs 5,000 at the day’s conversion rate, and 90 per cent of Prakash’s monthly income.
Yes, the government reimburses schools the tuition fees. But there are other ‘heads’—Rs 7,000 a year for handwriting improvement and calligraphy in one school, Rs 1,500 for star-gazing, in another day school, among the more innovative ones. Regular charges might include Rs 4,000 a year for computers or Rs 2,000 for swimming. This, of course, in addition to the nearly Rs 8,000 that parents across the country are forced to spend on books and uniform, despite the RTE mandating schools to provide them free of cost to children admitted under the EWS quota.
“From ‘cautioning’ poorer parents about the ‘high level’ of education their children might not be able to cope with to demanding up to Rs 3,00,000 for international trips the schools organise, elite private schools do everything they can to eliminate children from weaker sections,” says Nagasimha Rao, convenor, RTE Task Force in Bangalore.
Elite private schools however are not the only villains in this story. The central act, enforced in 2010, left it to states to frame rules for the implementation of reservation. And what they have often done is cleverly tweak rules to prevent EWS children from getting into private schools, whose fees they would have to reimburse. Few states, with the exception of Delhi, are implementing the 25 per cent reservation clause. Promised under Section 12 of the Act, this quota was aimed at providing equal access to quality education for children from socio-economically backward sections. However, four years down the line, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act has made education neither ‘free’ nor ‘compulsory’ in most parts of the country.
Even Karnataka—which, at 83 per cent, has a relatively high enrolment rate—issued a notification in June this year which is expected to drastically bring down the enrolment of EWS children in private schools across the state from the coming academic year. The June 18 notification is an amendment of a July 24, 2012, one whereby a school can now be certified as a minority institution if just 25 per cent—as opposed to the earlier 75 per cent—of its students are from religious or linguistic minorities. This may bestow minority status on some 8,000 schools, and free them from the mandatory obligation to admit EWS students, as minority institutions are exempt from implementing this provision. “There are five schools in Frazer Town in Bangalore, surrounded by three major slums in the city,” says Nagasimha Rao. “All five have claimed minority status. Of what use then is reservation to poor families when they are allowed to approach only private schools in their neighbourhood?”
State of education Anandiben Patel in an Ahmedabad school. (Photograph by Mayur Bhatt)
Implementation is worse, if it exists at all, in many other states. The recently bifurcated states of Telangana and residuary Andhra Pradesh top the list, with not a single seat being allotted to children from the EWS category in private schools over the past four years. “Most private schools are ready to induct children as the government will reimburse them. But for the government, it is primarily a financial issue,” says an official of the Telangana government, by way of explanation. “Implementing the provision would mean spending Rs 3,407 crore in the initial year. This will go on multiplying while enrolling 57,000 new students every year. Besides, the government has to maintain government schools, where the enrolment may come down if children are admitted to private schools.”
The situation is equally dire in Uttar Pradesh which, according to the figures with the department of education, admitted just 60 children despite the 6,00,000 seats freed for EWS children in 2013-14. A government order (GO) issued in 2012 stipulated that children from EWS sections could be admitted to private schools only after all seats in government or government-aided schools had been filled.
CM Prithviraj Chavan in Mumbai school. (Photograph by DNA)
“There is immense pressure on the government from private schools,” says Samina Bano, education activist and chairperson of the Bharat Abhyudaya Foundation at Lucknow. “While the government has allotted Rs 450 per child to be reimbursed to private schools as monthly fee, private schools charge anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000 per month. They do not want to admit EWS children as this would reduce their revenue and profit.”
Gujarat has been no less ingenious in circumventing the provision. Turning the central act on its head, it is the only state which is implementing the RTE on an ‘experimental’ basis. “This is meant to help elite schools keep away ‘unwanted’ children,” says social activist Mujahid Nafees. “In 2013-14, a hundred schools were arbitrarily identified from thousands of private schools across the state. This did not include any of the big private players such as the Delhi Public School or the Eklavya Foundation. In 2014, this number was increased to 200, again without any transparent criterion.” The state, like several others, has neither a functional grievance redressal mechanism nor a body that would monitor implementation.
Siddaramaiah in a Bangalore school. (Photograph by KPN)
Maharashtra’s ‘innovation’ lies in making EWS admissions online. With many EWS families unable to access the internet or understand the process, the admission rate of EWS children came down from 44 per cent in 2013 to 36 per cent in 2014, when the online system was first introduced in just two cities, Mumbai and Pune, points out Harshad Barade of the Kagad Kach Patra Kashtakari Panchayat in Pune.
The opaque, unaccountable online provision has also granted private schools a degree of immunity. “Even after children received allotment letters online, they have not been given admission by schools. This is in contrast to the offline procedure, where admission had to be given on the spot,” says Dr Sudhir Paranjpe, co-convenor, Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti, Mumbai. The organisation has filed a PIL against the online process in the Bombay High Court. “Less than 20 of the 3,000 allotment letters have been rejected by the schools, but the majority of them have not been honoured either. Schools simply sit on the applications till the admission season is over as there is no rule that makes them accountable,” says Paranjpe.
Study circle Chandrababu Naidu with schoolchildren
Just 312 of the 3,000 schools marked out for EWS admissions in Mumbai have allotted seats. Moreover, state rules do not lay down any procedure for implementation of the reservation in government-aided schools, which form over half of the total private schools in the state.
With the states reducing the Act to such a farce, will inclusive education and equal opportunity to all children remain nothing more than fond hope? Will ‘achhe din’ remain the privilege of the elite? One hopes not.
For more information regarding admission of EWS in private schools: http://www.25percent.in/.
Mail for queries on admissions: firstname.lastname@example.org
That picture on your cover says it all. Of course, the frequency with which we see this sight might have inured us all, but it is as much our—the society’s—failure and the government’s that this should be the state of affairs for so many of our children even to this day (An Unequal Childhood, Sep 8). Bullet trains and business corridors can wait. Making education available to each and every child in this country should be our priority.
V.S. Prakasa Rao, Hyderabad
It’s a sad reality that many middle-class Indians don’t care about others as long as it doesn’t cramp their style. It would make such a difference if every individual, along with the government, took the initiative to improve the literacy rate in the country and felt responsible for it.
Surabhi K.S., Tumkur
Not every unaided private school is dishonest, anti-student or puts undue pressure on students and their parents. There are plenty of in-between schools which provide quality education at a nominal fee. In Delhi alone, some two lakh students are studying in such schools. Parents send their wards here simply because government schools often do not have the teachers and they don’t have the money send their children to elite private schools.
L.D. Kansil, New Delhi
Since the politicians could not enforce quality education in government schools where the teachers did not come to school—schools that did not have toilets and classrooms—they imposed RTE on private schools.
Krishna Kumar Saboo, on e-mail
Given that the problem itself has multiple facets, how can 25 per cent reservation in private schools solve the problem of mass illiteracy? Even if some schools received undue benefits from the government, this is no solution. In fact, it is a typical Indian babu solution.
M.K. Saini, Delhi
Instead of making way for an egalitarian social order, the provision of 25 per cent reservation for EWS children in private schools is merely reinforcing the discrimination between the elite and the underprivileged, as has been brought out by the instances of shoddy treatment children receive in schools. Tuition fee constitutes just one part of the overall cost of education and hence a waiver under that head might not be enough to allow a poor child to continue his/her education in that school. Unfortunately, as in the many other government schemes, the intentions are definitely noble, but the implementation is faulty.
Vijai Pant, Hempur
Quota for EWS children in private schools is a farce being played on hapless parents by stakeholders. The management of these private schools consider these children a drain on their investment. It would have been a much better idea to improve government schools themselves by employing sincere and qualified faculty, getting their syllabus on par with top private schools, giving teachers and students incentives for good performance. The real development of existing government schools is the only solution for a proper RTE application drive, not a quota in private ‘teaching shops’.
L.J.S. Panesar, on e-mail
Looks like there won’t be achhe din for education anytime soon.
The poor exist in India to be counted once in a while and for economists to hold forth on poverty lines. They are meant to be invisible otherwise.
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
Injustice and inequality are a fact of life, they cannot be eliminated, but can definitely be fought against and reduced. And that is a job that calls for serious collective action.
Atul Chandra, Mumbai
Why should the poor be charged at all? The 75 per cent rich kids should subsidise them.
Shelly Rahman, London
Adding an empowerment law in the statute book sounds noble but doesn’t automatically empower the people; it has to be implemented sincerely.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
The lack of primary education will be an albatross around our neck sooner than later. So we’ll need more than nice words, election slogans and creation of rights on paper.
Arun Maheshwari, Bangalore
It pays for politicians to keep illiteracy and ignorance going. And your story talks only about cities where private schools exist, not villages which don’t have any schools to speak of. The meagre budgetary allocations, the education cess paid by the taxpayer do.
M.A. Raipet, Secunderabad
Apropos your earlier cover on the rte and the ews quota within it (An Unequal Childhood, Sep 8), such a high cost it comes, for ‘education’, which is the right of each and every child in this nation. As it is, the poor hesitate to send their children to school, but if this is the price they have to pay if their children do get into a school, there is no hope for this country. Private schools are playing with children’s lives.
This refers to the cover story An Unequal Childhood (Sep 8). Little wonder that India is home to the maximum number of unlettered people in the world. To make India a literate country, it is necessary to implement the Right to Education Act. But it won't be possible until the expenditure on health, education and transport is also enhanced.
I don't see any "Achhe Din" in the field of education .Neither the central government nor the state government has taken any care to implement EWS .Every child has a right to get educated whether he is poor or rich .
The poor exist in India to be counted once in a while and for economists to hold forth on poverty lines. They are invisible otherwise. How do youthen expect the state to see them, for education or for any other purpose? It is no wonder that the country is losing its advantage of demograpohic dividend.
The lack of primary education will be the "albotross" across our neck sooner rather than later. Plenty of signs already. Since the poor and powerless are at the receiving end of this, other than nice words, election slogans and creation of rights on paper, we aren't making a dent.
RTE is of course an important part of the solution (so a necessary part) but by no means sufficient. Sufficiency can come in ONLY if government schools are made functional (George of London - English isn't the reason they are dysfunctional).
For me the only effective and quick solution to functioning Government schools is to mandate that if you work in the Government (politicians, bureaucrats) your progeny much attend the nearest Government school (of course if you don't want this mandate you are free to not work in the government and free the space for someone who is fine with the mandate; a side affect might be minimum government too). Ask yourselves by Kendariya Vidyalayas work.
As regards RTE, I agree with Atul that for "rights" to work they will have to be fought for - only the paper on which it is typed comes on a platter and even more so in an extremely unequal society like ours (only we can think of a iit-iim-matrimony.com) - we are near perfect heirarchical beings - it is not just about caste - we can create heirarchies of discrimination at the drop of a hat. First thing is to reduce ways for schools to wiggle out of. Allowing for minority schools to be exempt is the first hole to plug.
Make English as the medium of instruction in all government schools in India. This will help the poor who cannot afford the fees in private schools.
Poor should not be charged at all. The rich children, 75 percent, should subsidise the poor. Increase the tuition fee, or take money under poor fund, but please, do not make the poor pay. A man who earns 5000 will hardly manage to feed his child. How can you expect him to pay mony?
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