The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 has its fair share of critics, including legislators and government school teachers who claim that the mandatory 25% reservation of seats in private schools for underprivileged children has led to a decline in government school enrolment. The end result, they argue, is a drain in the government’s budgetary resources.
Data collected over the years shows that only a small percentage of the overall budget of the Department of Primary and Secondary Education was being spent towards reimbursing private schools for the reservation of seats.
More importantly, the rate of decline in government school enrolments in class one in Karnataka was steeper in the years preceding the implementation of the RTE Act, though there has been a steady decline with each passing year.
The percentage of enrolment in government schools for class one had fallen much before the 2012-2013 academic year — when the RTE Act was implemented in Karnataka. The academic years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 saw the steepest drop. It stood at 74% in 2007-2008 but declined to 70% in 2008-2009. In 2009-10, government school enrolment dropped to further to 66%. Since then, enrolment has dropped by 1 to 2% every year to stand at 55% for the academic year 2015-16.
In their response to the arguments against reservation, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan officials, along with the researcher who analysed the data, pointed out that the decline in enrolments could also be attributed to the notion that government-run schools lack infrastructure and subject teachers. They also identified that the lack of English as a medium of instruction in government schools was a crucial factor in making parents opt for private schools.
The data threw up other salient trends. For one, only a small percentage of students have availed of the RTE Quota. For the year 2015-16, the total enrolment in class one across all schools — government and private — was 11.36 lakh. However, only around 50,638 students were admitted under the RTE quota in class one that year, barely 4.45% of the total number of students. That year, the government spent ₹204 crore as reimbursement to private schools, which was 1.2% of the budget for the Primary and Secondary Education Department.
Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Professor, Azim Premji University, said that the drain on financial resources towards reimbursements were a minuscule part of the overall budgetary expenditure on education. He, however, pointed out that there was no evidence to establish that parents who were denied admission under the RTE quota in a private school would send their children to government schools. “They may choose a low-cost private school instead,” he said.
‘Sensitise teachers to handle diversity in classrooms’
Data collated over the years show that 25% reservation of seats in private schools was ‘partial’ and had not met the key objectives of social inclusion and justice. There have been instances when students under the RTE quota have been mistreated, said Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan officials, who suggested sensitisation training for teachers to handle increased diversity in the classroom.
Another recommendation made by the report was to include more students from the weaker sections of society defined in the State rules, which includes orphans and street children. In the year 2017-2018, for instance, only 23 children were admitted under this category. It was suggested that the Primary and Secondary Education Department create more awareness among these groups and also support them by setting up multiple booths.