Of the 11,700 students admitted to matriculation schools in the city in 2012-13, as many as 10,001 were admitted under the 25 per cent quota mandated by the Act.

The School Education Department seems to have stretched the meaning of the Right To Education Act to its administrative convenience.

Of the 11,700 students admitted to matriculation schools in the city in 2012-13, as many as 10,001 were admitted under the 25 per cent quota mandated by the Act, according to a study undertaken by the Directorate of Matriculation Schools covering 326 institutions in the city recently.

However, students from weaker sections may not necessarily be beneficiaries because even those from 'disadvantaged groups' qualify for the same set of seats reserved by schools. This is because, even though the Act mandates reservation of 25 per cent of seats at entry level for children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups, Tamil Nadu's guidelines interpret it has weaker sections or disadvantaged groups, implying that it would be enough to consider either of the categories and that, precisely, is the cause for the whopping 10,001.

Any child whose parent or guardian's annual income is less than Rs. 2 lakh is eligible for admission in the category of students form 'weaker sections'. But while admitting students from disadvantaged groups – which Tamil Nadu's guidelines say include BC, MBC, SC, ST categories – schools would be seen as admitting students as per “25 per cent reservation”, many schools in Chennai have been doing so irrespective of parental income. Since these students have anyway been given preference in admission, schools do not give them a fee waiver. It also saves them the trouble of getting the money reimbursed.

As per Tamil Nadu's guidelines, applications for weaker section and disadvantaged groups must be identified and segregated at the time of admissions. In case schools receive applications in excess of the quota, a random selection method must be employed to shortlist the students. Despite the seeming boost to the act these figures indicate, the data revealed that close to 85 per cent of the students have been placed under the 25 per cent quota in retrospect.

An official said that initially, when the 326 schools in Chennai and 3,785 matriculation schools in the State were asked to supply their admission figures, several had not filled in the 25 per cent quota. They were then asked to furnish details about all newly-admitted students belonging to SC, ST, BC, MBC categories. These students were then included in retrospect as those admitted under the RTE Act. And so, the 10,001 students include not just those who were rightfully admitted under the quota, but also those who could broadly be included under the ‘disadvantaged group’.

Several measures are now being taken to identify and validate the background of students shown to be admitted under the RTE Act, and also to monitor its overall implementation to meet the March 2013 deadline. According to an official, talks are on to frame detailed guidelines to help schools comply with the provisions of the Act from the next academic year.

“We are also working on the modalities through which schools can claim reimbursement for the children admitted under the quota this academic year,” the official added.

Educationist S.S. Rajagopalan, said that the objective of the government should be to provide quality education in their own schools. “How can they control close to 40,000 schools?” he asked.

A State-level monitoring cell has been set up with the director of matriculation schools, T.H. Chenthamizhselvi as the chief state nodal officer. The chief educational officer will be the nodal officer at the district level. The duties of the chief state nodal officer will include co-ordinating with the various directorates to monitor the implementation of the Act and submit proposals to the government on RTE-related issues.

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