Supreme Court judgment has opened the door of opportunities for the poor
The elitist and private schools are all set to be stormed by the needy, neglected and deserving despite the economic barriers. The Supreme Court upholding the RTE Act with regard to reserving 25 per cent of seats in private schools for the economically poor local students will change the very concept of school, if implemented sincerely and monitored strictly without searching for the loopholes.
The landmark judgement has not only opened gateways of opportunities and equality for the poor, but also exposed the closed mindset of the middle-class and the elitist schools that have seriously opposed it earlier on a few frivolous grounds and economic reasons. The ‘merit' and ‘culture' aspects concealed behind their economic and elitist arguments have few takers.
The change everyone yearns for in the society may actually start with these radical changes in the classrooms. The sense of privilege among the urban rich children will now be challenged by those from poor backgrounds sharing the same classroom. Since the integration starts in the first class when the kids are still not prejudiced and their minds open, the ‘culture' argument perhaps becomes null and void.
Fear of some schools that mixing up students from diverse backgrounds and places may not gel is also unfounded, feel many academics. The government residential schools, which were sought-after till the 90s, are classic examples of how students from both urban and rural with extreme economic disparities can co-exist and still excel. These schools produced not only academically acclaimed students but also those with social consciousness.
School system has suffered a lot with the artificial walls created and the ‘haves and have-nots' segregated for long, more so in the semi-urban and urban areas. It has a telling effect on the mindsets of students who pass out from the divisive school system but invariably encounter the ‘poor' at the college and university level. The misunderstandings that often lead to unnecessary confrontations in colleges and universities are perhaps a reflection of the exclusive policies adopted at the school system.
“Inclusiveness at the school, which the RTE Act permits and finally endorsed by the Supreme Court will go a long way in plugging that crucial gap,” argues P. Madhusudhan Reddy, general secretary, Government Junior Lecturers Association (GJLA).
But not all teachers see positive signs of the judgement. Noted academic and MLC from Teachers constituency, Chukka Ramaiah says the judgement has fixed more responsibility on the government. “It just cannot thrust the responsibility on private schools and forget its job. It has to concentrate on improving government schools to provide equally quality education to the remaining.” He raises a few pertinent points. Who will decide on the beneficiaries? How will it deal with issues like school dress, books and other study material which the poor children cannot afford in those schools despite getting admission? The only solution, he feels is creating a common school system at the primary education level.
How will schools that collect Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 40,000 per child admit poor students with the average calculated fee of Rs. 6,000 to be reimbursed by the government? “Corporate schools will invariably look for the loopholes unless the government is strict,” says N. Narayana, president of United Teachers Federation (UTF). “Government should come out with a mechanism to ensure those violating the law are taken to task promptly.”
Former president of State Teachers Union (STU), Narender Reddy asks what happens to the rest of the students who may not get into private schools under the RTE Act. Is the Government serious about their education?” Common school system is the only option, he argues.
How well is the Government prepared?
The Rajiv Vidya Mission (RVM), which is entrusted with the responsibility of implementing the RTE Act, has already done some preliminary survey on the implications of the Act. In the 23,000-odd recognised private schools in the State about 6.5 lakh children are enrolled in the first class. With the Supreme Court's clarity on the 25 per cent reservation about 1.57 lakh seats have to be given to the poorer sections.
Going by the average fee calculations the government has to reimburse Rs. 90 crore in the first year. It will increase every year as the classes increase along with number of students. “These aspects are being studied. A committee has been constituted to workout the modalities on how best the Act can be implemented,” says R.V. Chandravadan, Director, Rajiv Vidya Mission.
The biggest hurdle in the Act's implementation is the quality. An internal study of the RVM reflected that nearly 60 per cent schools are not RTE compliant. These schools neither have trained teachers nor playgrounds in tune with the RTE Act. What is the use of sending poor children to such schools? The whole purpose is defeated. “We have to look out for some means. Grading the schools may be the first step in that direction,” Mr. Chandravadan says.
There are a few administrative hurdles too. While the RVM is the implementing authority the regulatory powers lie with the School Education Department. The Minister for School Education, S. Sailajanath says that the Government will look into all these issues and the officials are studying the modalities. “The government will soon come out with the guidelines on implementing the Act sincerely,” he says. “None should doubt our sincerity since it was our Government's gift to the children of this nation.”
The State government is studying the guidelines of Madhya Pradesh Government that implemented the RTE Act first in the country. As per their guidelines admission process under RTE would be monitored by specially appointed officers. The schools can divide the admitted children into multiple classes but they should comprise 25 per cent of total strength.
As per guidelines of Madhya Pradesh applications for the eligible children would be available at the respective schools and also the district and mandal level education offices. Children from the school's neighbourhood would be preferred first for admission and if seats are vacant then children from the extended neighbourhood could be considered for admission. All admissions would be based on random selection.