When C.T. Sekar, a 53-year-old resident of Muthannankulam here, heard of Right of Children To Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, he was ecstatic. For, it gave his three-and-a-half-year old granddaughter the opportunities that he never had as a young boy.
This landmark legislation mandates private schools to keep 25 per cent of their total seats reserved for “children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups” in their locality.
Mr. Sekar, who studied only up to Standard VII, dreamt of putting his granddaughter through a good private school, which unlike the Government ones in his locality, will have teachers for all subjects and the infrastructure to impart a quality education. However, he was in for a rude shock. When he took his granddaughter for admission to LKG under this RTE Act quota, the school told him to pay a princely sum of Rs. 15,000 for admission besides Rs. 5,000 for educational material and uniforms.
“I gave the school all the certificates they asked and they said I will get a call later. When they called later, I was told to pay the money upfront,” he says. Echoing similar opinion, Malar Vizhi, a house wife, says she was not even given the application forms for the reserved seats as schools demanded payment of fees before issuing application forms. “We all had high hopes. Now, we have taken our children back to government schools.”
M. Vijayalakshmi, a mother of two, says a private school asked all the applicants to take entrance examinations. This practice is prohibited under the RTE Act. “The schools are admitting only the students who perform well in the entrances. If this is the case, where will the weak students go,” she asks.
The parents said they had complained against the schools with the education authorities. They alleged that instead of pulling up the schools, the authorities asked these people to admit their children to government schools. M.S. Velmurugan, a former councillor of the Coimbatore Corporation, alleges that neither the School Education Department nor the district administration is willing to speak up for the applicants of reserved seats.
“In my ward alone, 15 families have unsuccessfully tried to get RTE Act quota seats. Many of them were even unable to get the application forms. Most of them belong to the marginalised sections and they need the assistance of the Government machinery to secure their rights from private schools, many of which are influential,” he says.