They can, if they will
The supreme court may have upheld the 25 percent seat reservation for free schooling of economically weaker section (EWS) children in all schools (except minority-unaided ones) in the hearing of a review petition filed by private schools, but the schools seem to be still very far from the implementation of this provision of the right to education (RTE) Act.
The RTE Act was aimed at ensuring inclusion guaranteeing free education for all children up to the age of 14 years. But there is stiff resistance from private schools across the country. Some schools argue that the free seats will lead to "deteriorating standards within classrooms". Private schools in Bangalore stoked elite paranoia telling parents of their students that the implementation of the EWS rule will cause their children to pick up 'filthy habits' that somehow has been assumed in the dialogue as the prerogative of children from slums. But most schools have rallied themselves around the "prohibitive costs" argument — that the cost of having to teach a child for free is too great for them and could be passed on to the students who are required to pay the fee.
Last year the Society for Unaided Private Schools, Rajasthan, and other associations representing various private schools questioned the validity of the Act. They filed a petition in the supreme court which said that the RTE Act, 2009, is unconstitutional and violates their right to run educational institutions. But on April 12, 2012 the court upheld the constitutional validity of the act. It said all government, local and private schools, including minority schools which are either aided or are built on land taken from the government at a subsidised rate, will have to reserve seats at the entry level for EWS children.
The fact that the schools filed a review petition highlights their reluctance to work towards universalisation of access to education in the country. The Act promises reimbursement of costs incurred in educating the children, based on the expenditure per student in government schools or Kendriya Vidyalayas. But the schools argued that they charge much more from other children.
For example, Delhi government will reimburse Rs 1,190 per child per month. The private schools say it is far less than what many schools in the national capital charge.
Schools even said they will have to increase the fee of other children to balance the financial burden caused by enrolling children from weaker section. However, if one were to go by the statistics, most schools don't need an amount above the reimbursement fixed.
In Delhi, schools increased the fee when they were asked to pay salaries to their teachers according to the sixth pay commission claiming that they didn't have funds. But there was no regulatory mechanism available to check this claim, neither with the government nor with the education board. Only after the high court intervened, a committee headed by a retired judge, justice Anil Dev Singh, was formed which found that many schools fudged their books and got various types of certificates from chartered accountants which do not qualify as audit reports. The committee has audited 200 schools out of 1,200 private recognized schools in Delhi. It recommended to the court that 64 schools out of 200 audited should return the fee charged from its students along with interest.
While the sample may not have been adequate or exact enough to make inferences about schools' finances, it can safely be said that schools need not complain about the financial burden of implementing RTE. There are more ways than one than they can adopt to ensure every child's right to education is upheld without taxing themselves.
One suggestion as to how the schools could do it came from the union human resource development minister kapil Sibal. Sibal said that schools can raise funds from corporate houses — both public sector and private — to fund the education of EWS students. He added that there are enough avenues to raise money, as globally people are ready to invest in the sector.
There are many examples around where organizations or schools are educating children from economically and socially weaker section either at no cost or at a reasonable fee.
Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT) university, cross subsidises Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), a free residential educational institution from kindergarten to post graduation for tribal children in Orissa. A part of the earning from its flagship engineering, medical and business management courses is put into meeting the expenses of educating nearly 10,000 such students!
There is another model which is followed by Vidya school, located in the national capital region. The school offers English-medium education just to children from economically weaker section at a token amount. At present, it educates 450 children from classes nursery to ten and runs entirely on donations and financial assistance from corporate houses and individuals.
These are few examples which prove that if the institution is willing it can educate children from economically weaker section and promote inclusion. Once, the principal of a well known private school in Delhi told this reporter that schools fear that inclusion will skew their business model as parents of other children might not like the concept. But it is high time for parents and school management boards to understand that inclusion, be it of children from EWS or of those who are special, will not just help them. It will also help an entire generation to be empowered in a more egalitarian manner. It will help the children from economically stronger backgrounds to grow as individuals who will accept people from other backgrounds and of different needs and make inclusion possible at a larger level. Perhaps, it will can also help in easing the country out of the caste-based reservation model in education also.