Double bonanza for donation-charging schools?

Vague RTE provisions can only add to the graft index


Manoj Kumar | April 16, 2012

When The Hindu published a report on March 23, titled “Schools to parents: pay donation, get admission”, few found anything new in it. Parenting in India means starting to save up for the child’s school admission well before the child is born, as in most cases finding a place for a child in a decent school in the neighbourhood comes at a significant premium.

The provisions of the Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE) are only likely to make matters worse on the transparency (or graft) index. With all due respect to the April 12 judgment of the supreme court, this discussion only seeks to analyse the impact of the provisions of the RTE on this point, i.e., lack of transparency and graft in school admission.

Some of the relevant provisions of the RTE in this regard are as follows:

• All children in the 6-14 age group shall have the right to free and compulsory education in the neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education;
• In this regard, the concerned government departments are required to set up schools in the relevant neighbourhoods within the period of three years where schools do not exist;
• All schools (other than minority educational institutions) are required to admit at least 25% children in each class of weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education to them;
• The government shall reimburse the school expenditure incurred per child or the actual amount charged by the school per child whichever is less;

The inherent vagueness in the provisions of the RTE can only lead to serve exercise of discretion in the admission process with different sheds of irregularities and graft.

Let’s take, for example, the obligations of the school to compulsory admit 25% children from the neighbourhood belonging to the weaker and disadvantageous group for providing free and compulsory elementary education.

The scope and context of the following terms remain vague in the Act:

- Neighbourhood
- Weaker sections in the neighbourhood
- Disadvantageous group in the neighbourhood

While we have seen shortage in availability of schools seats purportedly leading to allegations of high premium/donation charged/paid in the admission process, the provisions of the RTE are likely to make matters worse and take the premium /donation purportedly being paid/charged to a new level altogether as a result of 25% of the seats being taken out of this general pool of seats.

While this may add to the woes of the common man seeking admission of child, those school management allegedly indulging in charging premium/donations can also exercise discretion with respect to this 25% seats by giving room which provide middlemen to trade this seats for consideration other than fees to the school.

After all, all that remains with the school is to interpret vague terms like neighbourhood, weaker section in the neighbourhood and disadvantageous group in the neighbourhood in a manner that can serve such goals.

This can be a double bonanza for such schools, which will on one hand receive reimbursement from the government for these seats and on the other hand the benefits that may accrue to them on account of these very seats being traded by middlemen.

Even the amount of reimbursement is controversial and debatable. While the government is entitled to reimburse an amount equal to its own expense per child in case the same is lower than the actual fee charged by a school, there is no onus on the government to bring about the quality of faculty and infrastructure to the same level as other private school the same can only work towards reimbursing the copper for gold in most cases.

Needless to say, such vagueness and discretion can only lead to further graft unless sufficient transparency and oversight is maintained, which is not so in the present provisions of the RTE

Unfortunately, education as an activity today is not seen as a social responsibility. Most school managements are compelled to work in accordance with a positive profit-and-loss account. Public schools have to work under budget constraints to keep the functioning of such school viable.

The present provisions of RTE:

- on one hand, run the risk of making the operations of most schools that genuinely follow and comply with the provisions of RTE and unviable and almost take them to the blink of closure; and
- on the other hand, these provisions have the potential of giving a stronger foundation to questionable practices and graft plaguing the admission process of the schools.

In the light it will be interesting to see how the implementations of these provisions pan out and the initiative of the government to and to deal with the aforesaid challenges suitably.



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