36,000 RTE quota seats in the State for 2013–14 were not filled

More than one-and-a-half years after the Karnataka government enforced the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, doubts remain if the reservation clause, meant to allow poor and socially-disadvantaged children into private institutions, is reaching the intended beneficiaries.

Many parents, particularly from lower economic backgrounds, continue to remain unaware of the provisions of the Act, which seeks among other things to provide 25 per cent of seats in private schools to students from weaker sections.

When this reporter visited three slums – at Kamakshipalya, Okkalipuram and Mahalakshmi Layout in the city – a majority of parents said they were unaware of the provisions of the Act. They said there were no awareness drives conducted in their localities.

In A.K. Colony in Kamakshipalya, Kemparaju, an autorickshaw driver — who earns less than Rs. 1 lakh and lives in a small single room house which is less than 200 sq. feet — said he admitted his son to a private school last year. When asked if he was aware of the reservation clause where he could obtain a free seat for his son in a private school, he looked clueless. “I spent close to Rs. 10,000 last year for his school fees. Had I known about this provision last year, it would have benefited me.”

H.N. Manjula, an anganwadi worker of A.K. Colony too said she was unaware of the Act. She said most of the people in the locality were domestic workers or daily wage labourers whose annual income was less than Rs. 1 lakh. She said eight out of 35 children in her anganwadi were due for enrolment in schools from the coming academic year. “Even though most people earn less than Rs. 1 lakh and have very little or no savings, they still enrol their children in private schools. If they are aware of the free seats it would benefit them.”

Narasimurthy, a cobbler who lives in Bheemaskathinagar slum near Mahalaxmipuram, who was unaware of the reservation clause said with an annual income of Rs. 60,000 he could not “dream” of sending his son to a private school although he wanted to.

In 2012-2013, 59,000 out of the 1.08 lakh seats under the RTE quota were vacant and the State government spent close to Rs. 29 crore on reimbursement of fees to private schools. In 2013-2014, 36,000 out of 1.08 lakh seats under the RTE quota were vacant.

After the High Court’s intervention, the State government had said children whose parents or guardians have an annual income of less than or equal to Rs. 1 lakh will be given preference for admission in private unaided schools from the next academic year under reservation clause. However, the income ceiling will continue to be Rs. 3.5 lakh.

However, parents and Dalit organisations say the purpose of the amendment in the admission procedure would be meaningless if the State government does not initiate steps to increase awareness, particularly targeting the lower income pockets.

According to officials in the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, RTE training has been given to elected representatives such as gram panchayat and zilla panchayat members at the divisional level as well as district-wise implementation for the BEO and DDPI level. Officials in the department also added that out of Rs. 2.5 crore set aside for media and documentation, close to Rs. 2 crore has been spent on RTE campaign using popular Kannada actors in television, print and radio campaigns. However, no money has been spent on conducting awareness programmes at the grassroots level.

B. Venkatesh, convenor of Dalit Bahujan Movement, who has conducted awareness campaigns in various slums said, “Merely spending money on advertisement campaigns will not help raise awareness. Most of the actually beneficiaries do not even read papers or watch television. There is a need to have a campaign at the community level,” he said.