Founder of Social Jurist, a lawyers’ collective, lawyer-activist Ashok Agarwal was largely responsible for the initiative enforced in Delhi way back in 2005, long before the Right to Education Act was passed. Almost 10 years later, Delhi remains the only state where 93 per cent of the seats reserved in private schools actually get filled by children from economically weaker sections. So much so that the poor are migrating to Delhi in search of good education for their children, say activists and officials. Excerpts from an interview with the man who set it off.
How did Delhi do it?
It all began in 1997, when unaided private schools in Delhi hiked their fees from 40 per cent to 400 per cent in anticipation of the 5th pay commission recommendations. The decision to file a PIL was driven by the middle class taking to the streets. We were able to secure a list of 265 private schools which were allotted land by the Delhi government at throwaway prices. These schools, in return, were required to reserve 25 per cent seats for children from economically weaker sections. However, none of the schools were doing so. We took this up in the Delhi High Court and it asked schools to comply.
What has been the impact?
Today when schools hold a draw to pick names of EWS students, it is not just parents but grandparents, relatives and even neighbours who participate. It’s almost like a festival. If a child gets admitted in a school like Delhi Public School, relatives of the family migrate to Delhi so that even their children may study in good schools. In five more years, education will emerge as a key political issue in the capital, one that I suspect will also be used as a votebank.
What has been the government’s response?
The government remains indifferent. When pulled up by the court, it pleads helplessness. Courts, on the other hand, have been extremely sensitive towards the issue of education. Not once in the past decade have they compromised on the right of these children. Private schools have always lost in the courtroom. Courts have also responded positively to our PILs on the quality of education in government schools, recruitment of teachers and lack of infrastructure.
What about other states?
The reservation barely has a significant presence outside Delhi. There is not much enthusiasm about the RTE in other states. Very few are aware of the negative provisions in their states which deny seats to children from EWS. Even fewer are willing to take up the issue. For a significant change to take place, there has to be an active debate, mass participation, courts have to be approached and damaging government orders need to be challenged.
What are the challenges in implementing the Act?
Improving the quality of education in government schools is the biggest challenge. As long as government schools are in a shambles, the RTE Act cannot be implemented in full spirit. In the recent past, the little the government has invested in education has been on infrastructure and construction of new schools, nothing on improving the quality of education. Teaching positions remain unfilled. Few qualified teachers are recruited. Permanent teachers hire proxy teachers to teach in schools with complete impunity as education officers and civil servants do not conduct any check. If the kendriya vidyalayas are doing well and government schools aren’t, it is due to the faultlines in the administrative machinery.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
RTE Does not apply to Private educational institutions that are controlled by trusts of religious minorities. Thus an important law (good or bad is one thing) has been nullified effectively in the altar of pseudo secularism.
By being silent on this, OUTLOOK again proves that it cannot graduate beyond biased propaganda.
Ramki agree the minority schools exempt from RTE was poor choice. I am not sure the wisdom of it. BTW, as I recall this is a gift from the SC - excluding minority institutions (so I wouldn't necessarily blame pseudo-secularism). So there must have been some point of law used for this exception.
Sainiji - Government schools have to be made to work else scaling is just not possible especially for a country of our size.
We at Outlookindia.com welcome feedback and your comments, including scathing criticism
1. Scathing, passionate, even angry critiques are welcome, but please do not indulge in abuse and invective. Our Primary concern is to keep the debate civil. We urge our users to try and express their disagreements without being disagreeable. Personal attacks are not welcome. No ad hominem please.
2. Please do not post the same message again and again in the same or different threads
3. Please keep your responses confined to the subject matter of the article you are responding to. Please note that our comments section is not a general free-for-all but for feedback to articles/blogs posted on the site
4. Our endeavour is to keep these forums unmoderated and unexpurgated. But if any of the above three conditions are violated, we reserve the right to delete any comment that we deem objectionable and also to withdraw posting privileges from the abuser. Please also note that hate-speech is punishable by law and in extreme circumstances, we may be forced to take legal action by tracing the IP addresses of the poster.
5. If someone is being abusive or personal, or generally being a troll or a flame-baiter, please do not descend to their level. The best response to such posters is to ignore them and send us a message at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT
6. Please do not copy and paste copyrighted material. If you do think that an article elsewhere has relevance to the point you wish to make, please only quote what is considered fair-use and provide a link to the article under question.
7. There is no particular outlookindia.com line on any subject. The views expressed in our opinion section are those of the author concerned and not that of all of outlookindia.com or all its authors.
8. Please also note that you are solely responsible for the comments posted by you on the site. The comments could be deleted or edited entirely at our discretion if we find them objectionable. However, the mere fact of their existence on our site does not mean that we necessarily approve of their contents. In short, the onus of responsibility for the comments remains solely with the authors thereof. Outlookindia.com or any of its group publications, may, however, retains the right to publish any of these comments, with or without editing, in any medium whatsoever. It is therefore in your own interest to be careful before posting.
9.Outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for how any search engine -- such as Google, Bing etc -- caches or displays these comments. Please note that you are solely responsible for posting these comments and it is a privilege being granted to our registered users which can be withdrawn in case of abuse. To reiterate:
a. Comments once posted can only be deleted at the discretion of outlookindia.com
b. The comments reflect the views of the authors and not of outlookindia.com
c. outlookindia.com is not responsible in any manner whatsoever for the way search engines cache or display these comments
d. Please therefore take due caution before you post any comments as your words could potentially be used against you
10. We have an online thread for our comments policy:
You are welcome to post your suggestions here or in case you have a specific issue, to directly email us at Mail AT outlookindia DOT com with the subject header COMPLAINT