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Issue No.: 560 | February 2014
 

Implementation- Recognition

Suresh C. Sharma
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This is twentieth in a series, examining the various aspects of the Right to Education Act (RTE).

Private schools lacking infra-structure as per norms laid down in the RTE Act were supposed to close down on 1 April 2013 or pay a fine of Rs 1 lac and Rs 10,000 per day of contravention. This provision will affect 4 lac private schools which have come up in small towns and rural areas due to poor learning results in government schools catering to about 3 crore children. The schools can improve their infrastructure only by increase in fees which may put education of these children beyond the capacity of their parents. Which authority can give an extension has not been mentioned and confusion prevails.

One hundred and fifty schools in Mumbai face closure. It is practically impossible in metros cities to meet the infrastructure norms laid down due to high costs of property and lack of space for play grounds. These schools could be closed down next year. The government has not taken any steps to takeover these schools or establishes new schools for these students. The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation has declared fourteen schools as unauthorized since the trusts responsible for them have not taken the necessary certificates from the education authorities. The vice-principal of one of the schools has alleged that they have to pay bribes to get the schools recognized.

Kalyan Vidya Kunj is a private unregistered school functioning in the narrow lanes of BiharSharif since 1968. Mr Raman, Director of the school happens to be the Secretary, Public Schools Association, Nalanda. The State Government has issued a 40-page norm to all schools for compliance.
 
Regarding RTE implementation, it was feared with certainty that it would be engulfed in corrupt practices. A state level protest was organised in the state capital, Patna, on 19th Nov, 2011 against the proposed de-registration of schools. He said that instead of checking the educational mafia and corrupt donation practices in big private schools, the Government was more interested in de-registration of small schools imparting education at nominal fees but not meeting all the specifications.  

He said that Nalanda is a unique district where the fees of schools are extremely low. The monthly school fees of Bal Kalyan Vidya Kunj start from a mere Rs. 110 for nursery and goes to Rs. 250 for Class X. This fee structure is even less than the amount sanctioned by the Government. The Government instead of encouraging them was more focussed on de-registering them. Among the lower strata of society, it is only the physical proximity to their residences which decides which school their children go to.

Another set of problems faced by the school authorities is the mismanagement of government grants. Some schools are reporting inflated number of students to claim increased grants.    

Twenty one lac students were found to be missing in Maharashtra in a check carried out in 2011. Allotment of funds and allowance for mid-day meals depends on the number of students. Such misreporting could be occurring in other states too. The government has decided to close down schools where bogus students are more than 50 per cent. 248 schools could be derecognized and the services of teachers terminated. This decision is too mild, perhaps because a large number of these schools are run by politicians. The correct course should be to charge them for fraud.

Education Bureaucracy
 

The rules and clarifications on various issues were received after admissions had been completed. The authorities in some states insisted on canceling the admissions and abide by the new rules. This was unfair to the children and their parents were at a loss. If the number of seats is less than the number of applicants, allotment is to be made by lottery and not merit. Besides being unfair, this is counter-productive.

Schools have to raise funds for various activities and facilities. The Government officers interfere in levying fees for genuine activities. For example in 2012, the Director of Education directed a school in Mizoram to refund Rs 1.43 crore collected from 2001 to 2009. He also directed the school to construct toilets on first and second floors of the school building. According to the school authorities, series of complaints were made by the parents of a child who had failed. The education inspector unjustly referred the matter to the Economic Offences Wing who absolved the school authorities of any fraud. The Director Education did not give up and issued refund orders. The school had to get these orders cancelled by the Court who called it a "most curious case.” The education bureaucracy which has failed to organize good universal education is being made responsible to administer the ambitious RTE scheme. We need to change the mindset of the bureaucrats and sensitize them to not indulge in "permit raj.”  

Compulsory Attendance

The RTE Act has provision for compulsory attendance at schools. One of the duties of the management committees is to ensure that all children attend schools regularly. There is no direction as to how they can ensure this. Some children cannot attend due to family circumstances, some due to lack of school in neighbourhood or lack of interest in studies. Parents  will likely cover up for their children when they want to stay home and play video games or perhaps they are staying home to be used as caretakers for younger siblings. Sometimes parents feel they have no control over their children and allow them to make their own choices. 

Schools receive funding per student and as the counts decrease because of absence of students, the budget decreases handicapping schools ability to maintain adequate staffing levels, update technology and purchase textbooks. In Singapore and the USA, children and parents can be fined or even sent to imprisonment for continued absence of children from the school which is good. There is no legal provision in India for such measures. To begin with, let us provide good education to all those kids who want to attend schools. Compulsory education can follow.

BRIG. SURESH C SHARMA (Retd.) is adviser to the telecom
industry and a member of the Advisory Board of Freedom First.
sureshsharma236@yahoo.com
 
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