A television is what made all the difference for Periamet's pavement dwellers to catch up on what could change the future of their children forever. The late night bulletin on Thursday, announced that that Supreme Court has decided to uphold the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009, leaving smiling faces all around.
“I was very happy when I heard the announcement,” says S. Sridhar, a daily wage labourer and father of two. “The 25 per cent reservation of seats in schools is like a gift to us and it is a very good thing that will benefit many among us who cannot afford to send their children to good schools.”
The same news was met with disbelief by 24-year-old Mahalakshmi Venkatesh, a slum dweller in Chintadripet, who heard the news late on Friday evening. Her eyes widened instantly. “But what if they refuse to give my child admission? Is this really true?”
The accessibility to private schools has always been difficult for children from poorer sections of society, says N. Paul Sunder Singh, Director, Karunalaya, an NGO working with street children. “Parents want their children to be educated in good schools but they find it difficult to get an application and seldom get a call for an interview,” he says, adding the NGO has provided recommendation letters to several schools to enrol children.
“I don't see anything negative coming out of this announcement,” says S. Yamuna, whose daughter studies at the Chettinad Vidyashram. “In such a young age, children will grow together. The problem lies in the mentality of parents.” Evidently, for such a reservation to be successful, it requires the schools' managements, teachers and parents to be sensitised enough to create an inclusive environment in classrooms.
Some parents of children in elite schools do confess to having exchanged concerns on how this will adversely impact their child's behaviour. “While the good thing is my son will learn about issues faced by others in society, the drawback is he may pick up foul language,” says a parent, who did not wish to be quoted.
Anitha Nagaswamy, whose children study at P.S.B.B. Senior Secondary School, says the reservation is an ill-thought out exercise by the government. “Since most of the children will be first generation learners it is asking too much from the child. The language is not spoken at home and they won't have help at home,” she says, adding the government should take steps to equip its own schools. “I am also concerned about the fees charged for the rest of the children. Reimbursements to schools will be based on rates set by the government.”
Keywords: Free and Compulsory Education Act