Ask six-year-old Kouser how she finds her new school, and she will say she is happy. “I enjoy studying English,” says the Class I student, who has just been admitted to an unaided English-medium school in the city under the 25 per cent quota of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. She did her pre-school in an anganwadi centre.

The backbench

Prod her a bit and ask her if she has made any friends and she falls silent. Her father Nayaz Pasha intervenes. “There are a few children from our locality who have been admitted in the same class. They are her friends even in class,” he says. Asked if the other children don’t mingle with these children and the father says: “She says she and her friends have been made to sit in the backbenches.”

While the idea behind providing reservation to the disadvantaged would bring in the much-needed diversity in the classroom, the possibility of a divide between “RTE children” and regular students has scared many parents — who have admitted their children under the quota — into rethinking the decision. But most say there is no blanket discrimination. Sujatha, mother of Srinivas, said her son has no problems in his new school. “He is learning quickly and is very happy,” she said, sounding relieved.

Complex situation

A majority of parents insists that the situation varies from school to school.

It is up to the managements to handle the complex situation. Given their deprived backgrounds, quota students need some hand-holding.

Invariably, most children admitted into Class I have studied in government schools or anganwadis before.

The language barrier (read English) and lack of preparatory knowledge of the other subjects are major hiccups. Not many schools offer a bridge course for these students.

Many teachers complain, off the record, about not knowing how to bring these children up-to-date.

“How these students should be evaluated remains a big question,” said a teacher who didn’t want to be named.

Nervousness too

Parents and children alike are intimidated by the fact that the school authorities insist on speaking to them in English.

Added to this is the apprehension of parents that their children will be dazzled by expensive accessories their privileged counterparts bring to school.

This is a paradoxical situation as the biggest allure of private education is English as the medium of instruction.

“It feels good to see my son come back and teach me a little English and whatever he learns in school. But he also tells us about the expensive pencil boxes and schoolbags he sees with his classmates,” said a mother.

She added that “dude” was one of the words she has learnt from him.

Asked how she is handling the situation, she said: “My husband is a labourer. There is not a lot we can do. But the joy of him enjoying school pushes us to buy him whatever we can within our means.”