Edit/Op-Ed

Right to Education Act and Disorientation in Quality Education

Rameeza A Rasheed for Beyond Headlines

Education and health are the two important components of human resource development. Among them education is accepted as the most effective tool of empowerment of the under privileged sections of the society. Therefore, there is a universal acceptance of the RTE Act of 2009 which gives recognition to the fundamental right of every child born in India to have education between the ages of 6 and 14. Certain features of the Act such as prohibition of certain unrecognized schools from practice, collection of donation or capitation fees, conduction interview of the child or parent at the time admission, expelling a child before the completion of elementary school level etc., are all welcome and not subjected to national debate With this Act India has joined the league of 130 countries which provide for legal right to free and compulsory schooling to children.

But the much debated feature seems to be the reservation of 25% to the children of BPL families in the private aided and non aided schools. This provision is criticised for two main reasons; first not having any consultation with the stakeholders in this matter, before including it as a provision of the RTE Act and the second for infringing the rights of private and religious minority schools in managing their schools. The major concern seems to be regarding the loss of revenue that would accrue to these schools which charge annual fees between  Rs 20000 to 800000 per year per student. The government promises to compensate for uniform and text books and the balance has to be borne by the private managements. The filling up of the revenue deficit is their major concern although the HRD minister has conveyed through media interviews that talks will be held with stake holders in this matter and the government is ready to compensate to a certain extent and the remaining deficit can be managed by the school managements either by tapping the funds of the corporates set-aside for corporate social responsibility or by collecting more from the affluent parents. These arguments are not acceptable to the private managements and they fear deterioration in the quality of education they had been rendering so far, due to revenue loss and also due to the difficulty in pulling up the educational standard of the reserved category of students and the resulting, increased work burden on the teachers. The other arguments put forth by the affluent parents and the managements on the basis of the assumed behavior of the poor children are born out of hatred for poor and arrogance of richness and hence merit total dismissal. .

The Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan approached the Supreme Court of India, arguing that the provision of 25% reservation for BPL children in their schools is unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court declared the provision as constitutional, but exempted unaided private minority schools and boarding schools. They may go for appeal and with only two months are available before reopening of the schools, confused situation and uncertainty will prevail in the school scenario till the final verdict comes as it happened in Tamil Nadu in the matter of common uniform syllabus.  It is very strange that the HRD minister is busy giving interviews on all the news channels about the justification of reservation of seats in private schools and not discussing about the upgradation of the government schools where majority of the BPL children study. In the absence of clarity regarding compensation for the revenue loss to the private managements, the private managements will find loopholes to dilute this provision of reservation of 25% of their seats to the BPL children.

The government and the private managements have forceful arguments in favor and against the provision of reservation. But no one seems to approach this problem from the student’s angle. There are many questions for which answers are not available. The HRD Minster admits about the low quality of education provided by the government schools. Yet no plan to upgrade them is spelt out clearly.  If  25% of BPL children alone would be allowed entry into private schools, what about the remaining 75% of BPL children? It is alright for them to study in roofless, class rooms less, toilets less, teachers less, teaching aidless, atmosphere? The problems of government’s schools are serious in nature. Every state government wants to ape one another in giving laptops to the government school students to be part of the digital revolution. But, they do not think that, it is necessary to appoint computer teachers to reach this goal. Many government schools, especially in the rural areas are run in a very shameful manner. The government is silent about upgrading them to render quality primary education. When will justice be rendered to the majority of the BPL children who would continue to study in ill equipped government schools? It seems that private management’s are likely to benefit by way of reimbursement from the 25% reservation provision as the central government has to spend about Rs 50000  crore a year to implement RTE in India. Is it not possible for the government then to allocate some amount to improve the quality of government run schools?

More over, it has to be borne in mind that not all the private schools give quality education. There are a number of mediocre private matriculation schools where the teachers are inexperienced, untrained, paid very low salary and lack English communication skill. Students who come out of such schools are neither proficient in English which is the medium of instruction nor in their vernacular languages. They come out of such schools unfit for higher education due to lack of communication skills and mporeover lack of subject knowledge.  Hence the assumption that, all the private schools are good is a glaring misconception. In fact some city corporation run government schools are better in quality since the teachers working there are trained teachers, paid well, enjoy job security and get retirement benefits. Hence these schools have a pool of experienced teachers who are well versed with the background of the students entrusted to their care. They understand the difficulties of the poor parents and the home environment of their students. Hence, they are familiar with suitable pedagogic methods that are to be practiced to impart education to such children. It is not fair to deny the BPL children such a non competitive and tension free atmosphere of learning in the name of creating equity in elementary education in an artificial and illogical manner.

The real victims in this whole exercise are the children who are going to get admission in the   elitist schools.  Imagine the psychological trauma; the BPL children will go through   in the non familiar and posh environment. The class room, the uniform, the syllabus, the text book and the buildings and the teachers might be the same for all the children. But the economic class differences would be very visible in matters of the products the well off children use, such as the packed food for lunch and the sancks or the ordered food and drinks in the canteen, the commuting methods, the expenditures that are to be incurred on schools excursions, cultural events and the periodical donations etc., Even in the parent teacher meetings the marked class differences would be visible giving the BPL parents inferiority complex. Is it fair to expose the tiny tots to the reality of social injustices that dominate in this country? If any question arises in the children’s minds regarding their poverty and the affluence of others and the social injustice of denial of basic human needs to them, who is going to convince them with suitable explanations ? Are they be told that , India is a nation where the top 20% has cornered all the benefits of growth and the bottom 40% live in misery due to the failure of the successive governments  to deliver economic and social justice to them?

Surely the  BPL children admitted in private schools through reservation would be exposed to traumatic experiences because of the posh environment, unacceptability, insensitive treatment by the teachers, inability to cope up with others in academic  matters due to lack of additional coaching rendered by the tuition teachers or educated parents. Has the government given the guidelines to conduct workshops for the teachers of private schools to face the challenges of the new task and to sensitise them about their social responsibility? More over, the more serious concern is about student’s fate after 8th standard, when the government would stop compensating the revenue deficit of the schools. What happens then? Are these children expected to go back to government schools or drop out due to the difficulty in getting admission in government schools for 9th standard or due to the difficulty of continuation in the same school by paying the higher fees?

Let the children of India learn in their comfortable environment, gain knowledge in a discrimination and tension free atmosphere. Let the government schools be given the required attention regarding quality, where majority of the BPL children study.   Uprooting them from their natural environment and plant then in an elite environment with the imagination of rendering social justice would render more harm to the children of India than the supposed benefits. The motive of emphasising the adverse psychological effects on BPL children who are going to be admitted in the private schools is not to deprive them of quality education but to make the government think about it’s social responsibility to render quality education to all the children of India. Let the government concentrate more on bringing the standard of the government schools equal to the standard of academically better off private schools. Let not the government concentrate on artificial nurturing of the poor children. Pragmatism is better than idealism in sensitive matters like human resource development in which psychological and emotional matters also play important roles along with physical factors.

(The author is a Chennai based academic and a retired Professor of Economics with specialization in gender and Indian economy.)

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