Adequate funds, mechanism to monitor utilisation must: expert

‘Madurai City Middle School’ reads a name board over a narrow lane flanking a fish stall at Ansari Nagar Fourth Street in Mahaboobpalayam in Madurai. A few steps down the lane lead to a classroom which almost resembles a prison cell.

It neither has windows nor furniture. Its occupants, students of Standard IV, squat on the floor jostling for space with their bags and books and they take in light and air through two grilled iron gates of which one is left open during class hours.

A few steps further take us to a rectangular hall, with a tiled roof, resembling a cowshed. Lighted through the gap between the roof and one of its walls, the hall is used as a mega classroom for children of different classes identified by the direction in which they are sitting.

A large open drum filled with drinking water is placed in the corner of the hall. And adjacent to it is the noon meal kitchen billowing in smoke. If this is the state of the most commonly used areas, the condition of sanitary facilities needs no mention.

Of all, the most disturbing fact is that the school is not run by the government or a panchayat union or the Municipal Corporation criticised often for such poor maintenance.

It is a private school established in 1957 and run with substantial amount received as grant-in-aid from the State Government.

“Today most of the government-aided private schools in the State are in a shambles and the prime reason for their pathetic condition is the slow but steady withdrawal of government grants under various heads,” says advocate Isaac Mohanlal, an expert in the branch of law relating to education.

He recalls that private managements were encouraged to open schools between 1954 and 1963 as the then Chief Minister, K. Kamaraj, was particular in ensuring free elementary education. The managements were lured with grant-in-aid from the government.

Initially, the funds were granted under three heads: staff grant (salaries for both teaching and non-teaching staff), maintenance grant (expenditure towards campus maintenance and purchase of blackboards, dusters and other stationeries) and development grant (acquisition of new lands, constructing new buildings and sports facilities).

Over the years, the subsequent governments began curbing the flow of funds. Between 1986 and 1991, many private schools were granted recognition after obtaining a written undertaking that they would not claim any grant-in-aid from the government.

The insistence on giving undertakings was challenged before the courts of law. After a long legal battle, the Supreme Court in 1999 held that the government could not do so without any statutory basis. Immediately, the then government amended the Tamil Nadu Recognised Private Schools (Regulation) Act 1973.

Section 14A was introduced into the legislation thereby giving statutory effect to the demand for such undertakings and it was given retrospective effect from 1991. “This sounded the death knell for aided private schools that had to collect only government fixed fees. It also led to the mushrooming of unaided schools that began fleecing parents.

“As on today, only schools that were granted recognition before 1991 are continuing to get grant, that too partly as the development aid and maintenance grant have been reduced substantially. How do you expect these schools to run effectively when neither the government is paying nor are the students paying?” he wonders.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 prescribes standards to be maintained by all schools in the country and it includes an all weather building, barrier free access, separate toilets for boys and girls, safe drinking water facility, a play ground and much more.

The success of the legislation aimed at providing universal education up to elementary level to each and every child will depend largely upon providing adequate funds to aided schools and putting in place an effective monitoring system to ensure proper utilisation of those funds, the lawyer concludes.