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Vinod Kumar had dreamt of sending his youngest daughter, three years-old Suhavi, to a private English medium school.
He has three children and his two elder sons are studying at a government school in Trilokpuri in East Delhi. When the admission process for the economically weaker section (EWS) started in January this year, he had applied in 12 schools including Ahlcon Public School, Evergreen School, Salwan Public School in the area.
He ran from pillar to post to get the necessary documents and to submit the application to private schools.
But some schools rejected the application form, saying they only admit children living in one km radius. Some schools asked for the income certificate as a proof for EWS category. He had applied for the certificate and had the slip as a proof but schools refused to accept it and rejected the application.
In Dashmesh Public School, the authorities asked him for a medical certificate from a government hospital. The common application form for admission under the RTE Act for EWS, issued by the Delhi government, said that the medical certificate is necessary only in cases where the child has special needs or disabilities.
Vinod, keen not to lose the opportunity, arranged the money with great difficulty to obtain a certificate. “I had to pay Rs 200 to get the medical certificate. The school refused to accept the form otherwise,” he says. The school, however, did not ask for the medical certificate from children seeking admission under the general category, he adds.
But despite all his efforts, his daughter’s name did not appear in any list.
“I really worked hard and put money during the admission process but my child didn’t make it to the lucky draw,” says a distressed Vinod, who is a daily wage labourer and earns less than Rs 200 a day.
But Vinod did not lose hope. And today he is again standing in the queue to submit the application form for his daughter’s admission. “Both my sons are not getting good education. In their school, teachers don’t teach children at all,” says Vinod, wiping beads of sweat on his forehead. He adds, “I want my daughter to get good education so that she gets a good life. We never had this opportunity, but today government is providing it and we want to avail this.”
Under the economically weaker section (EWS) quota of the right to education (RTE) Act, unaided recognised private schools have to reserve 25 per cent of their seats in nursery (entry level) for children whose families have an annual income less than Rs 1 lakh. But for many parents like Vinod, who want to give their child an education that they, otherwise, could never have even dreamt of, the right does not come easy.
Delhi was the first state to implement the EWS quota, much before the RTE Act was implemented. A total of 394 schools which had got land at concessional rates from the state government were required to reserve 20 percent of their seats for students from poor families. With the RTE Act, all private schools, even the unaided ones, are required to admit children from the EWS category.
The implementation of the law guaranteeing their right, however, has been patchy. Most parents faced problems at almost each step of admission.
Most schools were reluctant to admit EWS candidates and they left no opportunity to make the process difficult for their parents, says Thomas from Josh, a NGO working in Trilokpuri’s (east Delhi) resettlement and slum clusters to enforce the RTE Act. He says the system is opaque and is not people-friendly.
Thomas explains, “The schools never disclosed the number of seats available with them, not even on their websites. As per orders by the Directorate of Education, no income certificate was required if the parents had the BPL card, but schools still demanded that. We had lot of complaints but the biggest problem is that there is no mechanism to resolve grievances.”
Kailash Devi can empathise with Vinod. Getting her youngest son admitted to a good school proved both humiliating and harrowing. She had sought their admission at many schools, but only two accepted forms. She too spent Rs 200 for getting a fitness certificate for her son. “He did not get admission anywhere; I thought I’ll have to send him to a government school only,” she says.
But a PIL filed by Social Jurist through advocate Ashok Agarwal, which highlighted that the unaided private schools of Delhi are not complying with provisions of the RTE Act with regard to EWS admissions and the Delhi government is not taking any action against the schools, came to the rescue of Vinod and Kailash. To its reply, the Delhi government told the high court that after the first round of admissions for children from EWS, 9,835 seats in 1,186 unaided private recognised schools were vacant for 2012-13 sessions. The government also assured the division bench comprising acting chief justice AK Sikri and justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw, that the admission process will again be started and will be conducted by the deputy director of education itself and not by the schools.
The admission process was started again on May 7.
The bench also asked the DOE to include 'orphan child' in the definition of 'child belonging to disadvantaged group' within the meaning of RTE Act, 2009, so that the orphan child also becomes eligible for admission under 25% EWS reservation.
“When court pulled the government, then only they declared the vacant seats. It shows sheer negligence on their part and that they are not interested to implement the act effectively,” says Ashok Agarwal, an advocate and civil rights activist, who has filed many petitions in the Delhi high court seeking government action against private schools who are flouting the rule.
He adds, “Transparency is definitely required but it has to be ensured by the government. In Delhi, there is still some public activism and court’s intervention but in other states the situation is worse. Even after two years of the RTE Act, Rajasthan has almost zero admissions in the EWS category.”
Private schools from the very beginning have rejected the idea of reserving 25 percent seats for EWS. It is treated as an obligation and most of them had denied admissions on one or the other pretext.
In 2011, a batch of petitions by Society for Unaided Private Schools, Rajasthan, and a host of associations representing various private schools, had questioned the validity of the law on the ground that it impinged on their rights to run the private educational institutions under Article 19(1) (g) which provided autonomy to private managements to run their institutions without governmental interference.
The petitions had contended that the RTE Act was "unconstitutional" and "violative" of fundamental rights.
But the supreme court, in April, upheld the constitutional validity of the RTE Act, 2009, which mandates 25 percent free seats to the poor in government and private unaided schools uniformly across the country.
A three-judge bench of chief justice SH Kapadia and justices KS Radhakrishnan and Swantanter Kumar said the law will apply uniformly to government and unaided private schools except unaided private minority schools.
Schools are also against the reimbursement of Rs 1,190 per child per month by the government.
“In fact, schools should charge this amount even from the children from general category. They are already charging too high from them. The amount is not less at all,” says Agarwal.
The court’s intervention did start the admission process again for the children from EWS but Thomas says, most parents are tired, have lost hope and are not willing to try for the second round of admission.
Sultana Jahan is an example. Living in a one-room house in Sanjay Camp, a JJ cluster in Trilokpuri, with her five children and husband, she had wished to send her youngest son, four years old Subhan to an English medium school. She had applied in six schools and three schools had refused to accept the form. In the other three, her son’s name did not appear in the draw. She had spent money to collect the documents and to submit them but all her efforts were in vain. She lost hope and admitted her son in a nearby government school. “We faced lot of problem, the school authorities did not treat us nicely,” she says. “They did not behave well with us, how they will ensure our children will be treated equally in their school. In a government school, education is not good, but my son will not face any trouble,” says an angry Sultana.
The supreme court’s ruling and the PIL filed by Social Jurist has brought some relief for the parents who dream to send their children to an English medium school, but experts feel it will take time for schools to accept their responsibilities.
“Schools will always try to escape from their responsibility,” says Vinod Raina, a member of a subgroup on education in the National Advisory Council and the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE). He adds, “Schools have no value for the 25% children of the economically weaker section. It is only a burden for them. But the question is how strong will be the department of education and the Delhi government in monitoring the implementation. They will have to ensure that schools at default taken to court and are given notices. Then only you will see the change in 2-3 years time.”
He says the agencies like the Delhi government, Delhi commission for protection of child rights and the department of education will have to work hard to ensure that schools do not get away from their responsibilities.
Nirmala Sitharaman, the BJP spokesperson who is also known for her work in the field of primary education and is one of the founder directors of the Hyderabad-based prestigious Pranava-The school, feels changes will come but it will take time. She says, “Schools knew that they have to admit children from weaker section but, I think, they were waiting for the final word from the supreme court.”
She adds that schools will have to give admissions because it is the law of the land but all schools will not have the same approach. “Some schools are rich in resources and will be easily able to accommodate children. Some schools are just meeting their budget after paying salaries to their teachers, and there are some who lack fund because they have really poor fee structure.”
Sitharaman believes that schools will require time to restructure themselves to build a child friendly schools. “Schools have a different academic level and children coming from the weaker section are coming from the background where parents are not exposed enough. These children will have differential learning potential and different learning inputs and schools will have to make up for it. The government will pay them only for the fee but schools will need extra support mechanism for these children so that they can be integrated. Even in IITs children coming from the rural background are unable to cope up and face cultural shock,” she said.