Some have filled 25% reserved seats, while others say they haven't receive any applications
Most city schools that are affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) have completed admissions for the new academic year. Different schools are responding differently to the clause on 25 per cent reservation that is mandated by the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
While some schools say they received no query from parents of eligible children, others point to the presence of government schools within a 1-km radius. A lot of awareness may be required before the objective of this clause of the RTE Act is realised, say educationists.
The reservation, according to Tamil Nadu's guidelines for the RTE Act, is applicable to students coming from economically weaker sections — where the student's parents or guardians should have an annual income that is lower than Rs. 2 lakh — or from disadvantaged groups that include SC, ST, BC and MBC children, as well as orphaned children, children with HIV/AIDS or disabilities, and children of transgenders or scavengers.
School heads observe that of the applications they received for admission, most were eligible only in the ‘disadvantaged groups' category. Chinmaya Vidyalaya principal C. Sathiamoorthy said: “Hardly five per cent of our applications came from parents with an annual income lower then Rs. 2 lakh. We have reserved 40 seats in L.K.G. for children from these sections.”
In Maharshi Vidya Mandir, out of the 400 seats in pre-kg, 100 seats have been allotted for the reserved categories, according to school principal S. Namasivayam.
In an effort to understand the clause even better, the school education department recently wrote to the Ministry of Human Resource Development seeking clarity on this clause. Based on the response it received, the department has decided as follows — all private schools will reserve 25 per cent of their seats. However, a student from either of the categories — economically weaker section or disadvantaged groups — can have his or her fee reimbursed by the government only if there is no government school within 1 km radius in the neighbourhood. D. Sabitha, secretary, School Education, said: “We will refund the school fee in private schools only if there is no government school in the vicinity. Otherwise, the parent will have to bear the expenses.”
On whether this would benefit children who cannot afford the fee, a senior official in the school education department said: “In Chennai, it might seem like there are several government or local body schools. But when you go to rural areas, there are smaller towns and villages where there are private schools, but no government school in the vicinity. Children in such areas will henceforth not be denied education just because they cannot afford it.”
However, there are some questions that remain to be answered – who will verify if there is a government school within 1 km radius in a neighbourhood? Is it the private school, government or the parent's responsibility? Who will communicate the availability of seats in private schools to parents of students who qualify for admission?
In the absence of answers to such questions, some CBSE schools seem to be flouting RTE rules, defeating the very purpose of the clause. There are schools that are charging fees from those applying for the reserved seats as well. “If the government reimburses, we will repay the parents,” the head of a school in Chetpet said.
Some schools say they have not received any query so far. “We have not have received applicants for the reserved category. We are yet to decide how to fill up those seats,” says Rathi Menon, principal of Pon Vidyashram on East Coast Road. The same is the case with Vel's Vidyashram that has not received a single query regarding the reserved quota. However, in such cases, the schools are expected to put up details of the number of vacant seats available for such students on the notice board.
There are cases when the school head has to use her discretion. Lakhmi Srinivasan, principal, P.S. Senior Secondary School, said: “We had a parent from the ST category who has an annual income of 15 lakh, who demanded free admission. But we thought the seat should go to a family that needs it the most, and so we preferred to give it to a family with an annual income of Rs. 4 lakh.” The school has reserved 40 seats out of its total 160 seats for the reserved.
A few other schools do not seem to know the rules at all. In fact, the head of a popular school in R.A. Puram asked this reporter: “Can you tell me how this whole thing works?” The correspondent of another famous school in T. Nagar refused to share any information on admissions as per this clause, observing, that “the matter is too sensitive to discuss.”