Resisting RTE: Public schools practice economic untouchability
- From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 8, Issue 5, Dated February 05, 2011
Public schools practice economic untouchability
BY JS RAJPUT
Former Director, NCERT
PUBLIC SCHOOLS in Delhi are resisting the provisions of the Right to
Education Act (RTE) to admit 25 percent children from economically weaker
sections of society. RTE is now a law and the blatant refusal to adhere to
its provisions on flimsy grounds can only stem from the fact that the
credibility and intentions of those responsible for its implementation are
weak and suspect. Public schools have consistently defied government
provisions and court orders in regard to admissions, capitation fee,
donations, interviews of children and parents in nursery classes. Their
stand is clear: children from weaker sections can't be seated with the
children from the 'elite' section of society.
In this context, the Delhi government's threat to take action against
defaulting schools appears just a formality. The implementation of the RTE,
which came into force on 1 April 2010, is still "under discussion" as
several state governments have expressed their inability to implement it
because of factors including lack of resources. One of the RTE's
pre-requisites was to make adequate preparations in which the improvement
and upgradation of existing elementary schools was a must. Such a process
would have helped generate a positive public response and restored the
credibility of government schools.
Government schools have not taken the RTE implementation seriously. For
them, it is just another of those circulars regularly issued by education
departments. This is what encourages public schools to stand up in defiance
of an Act passed by Parliament. The situation illustrates why regulatory
bodies have lost credibility. If government-funded schools and universities
can remain recognised without adequate number of teachers and
infrastructure, how can private ones be penalised?
The big question is: have public school managements absolved themselves of
the Constitutional provisions that enjoin upon every Indian to contribute
towards providing equality of opportunity and quality to every child? On
their part, successive governments not only ignored the Gandhian philosophy
on education but went on opening schools for privileged sections of its
employees instead of improving existing schools.
Once the concept of neighbourhood schools and common school system was
ignored in actual implementation, the field was wide open for entrepreneurs
to invest in the sector of education that assures uninterrupted dividends.
Those who couldn't fit into the criterion drifted to public schools as the
decline of government schools became far too rapid. Why should there be a
huge difference in norms and structures in schools for the children of a
Central government employee and his brother who maybe a small-time farmer in
Jhabua? Isn't basic human rights guaranteed on the basis of the principles
of social justice, equality of opportunity and equity?
The next decade is likely to see a big drive to provide minimum facilities
in each and every school. If nursery education is necessary, every child
should have a right to that also. The government has cleverly modified the
original Constitutional mandate to provide free and compulsory education to
all children till they turn 14. The RTE restricts it to 6-14 years only.
The arrogance and defiance displayed by public schools are consequences of
elitist policies and neglect of the government system that, for all
practical purposes, is the only alternative available to the weaker sections
of society. It is these sections that deserve the best quality education and
skill orientation. It is an irony that education is widening the social and
economic divide instead of reducing it.