Activists say grey areas such as low awareness levels are yet to be addressed

Sheela*, a resident of a slum in Mylapore’, has been scouting for an LKG seat in an ‘affordable’ matriculation school in the vicinity.

It has been four years since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, came into effect. Still, parents like Sheela are not aware of the provision in the Act which mandates that private unaided non-minority schools reserve 25 per cent seats at the entry-level to provide free education to children from weaker sections of society and disadvantaged groups.

On April 2, schools will have to put up the number of vacant seats under the RTE quota for this year on their notice boards, and start issuing free application forms between May 3 and 9.

However, activists say grey areas such as awareness levels among the intended beneficiaries, and ambiguity about the concept of a neighbourhood school are yet to be addressed.

“Will a big private school admit my child without my having to pay a fee,” asks Sheela. With most matriculation schools having issued forms for the general quota, she faces a dilemma. Should she wait till May to apply for the RTE seat, or pay the fee and confirm the general quota seat in another school, she wonders.

With the schedule for RTE admissions drawing closer, the Director of Matriculation Schools recently sent a circular to inspectors of matriculation schools, asking them to ensure the reserved seats are filled only with underprivileged children this year, and to create awareness about the provision.

In the last academic year, only 40 per cent of the RTE seats were filled in matriculation schools. Also, only 2,600 of the 3,550 matriculation schools had implemented the provision completely, the circular said.

A school education department official, while noting that awareness levels have gone up, said that schools could also create awareness about the availability of the seats. A principal of a matriculation school, who agreed, however, pointed out that the message has not gone across to the intended beneficiaries.

“We received around 11 applications last year of which only two were genuine,” the principal said.

Another impediment, said K.R. Nandakumar, secretary of Tamil Nadu nursery, primary, matriculation and higher secondary schools association, was that schools have not been reimbursed by the government for admissions made in the past two years.

An official said that those with grievances could contact the Directorate of Matriculation School helpline numbers. They can be contacted by phone on 044-28270169, through an SMS to 9442144401/ 9443574633, or email at dmschennai2010@gmail.com.

*Name of the parent has been changed on request

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