Students at Mayoor school, Noida. Photo: Mohd Zakir / Hindustan Times
With the 25% reservation for students from economically weaker sections (EWS) students in Delhi schools being implemented from 2012, ( with NCR schools having expected to implement it next year), the reservation debate is back.
The Hindustan Times, along with knowledge partners C fore, conducted a survey of parents and teachers about their concerns regarding this aspect of the law. An overwhelming 3/4ths of parents surveyed feel that the quality of education will go down as a result of the reservation. Over half don’t think that mixing of students of different backgrounds will help their children become less prejudiced. 98% disagree with the HRD minister Kapil Sibal when he suggests that private schools raise funds from philanthropic organisations to meet funding shortfalls.
In contrast, educators surveyed are more optimistic. 57% feel the quality won’t go down, and almost the same number feel that mixed classrooms will help build a better society. De-bunking what naysayers might think, over 60% don’t think it will be more difficult to teach a mixed classroom. But in funding requirements, they side with parents — an overwhelming majority feel that expecting schools to raise own funds is a tough ask.
So much has been written, debated on TV and in the courts about the 25% reservation for EWS students in private schools, that it would be sensible to believe that that’s all the Right to Education law is about. Yes, it directly affects schools across India, but let's put things in perspective.
RTE doesn’t mean reservation
The main focus of the RTE is to improve the quality of government schools, which is where more than 80% of children study. The 25% in the relatively few private schools is at best a drop in the ocean, but it is an important symbolic gesture. The law raised a firestorm of opposition from parents and schools, and it was only a verdict from the Supreme Court in April,2012 which laid the matter to rest.
Parents are definitely worried about the impact the RTE is going to have. “There is a mindset among some parents that is somehow unable to accept that my child and that my domestic help’s child will be sitting next to each other in the same classroom. There is a deep rooted sense of difference that is ingrained in our social consciousness,” said Kiran Bhatty, education expert. But not all opposition is based on prejudices.
“Schools like ours, where the fee structure is low, are facing difficulty,” said RC Shekhar, Director, Gyan Bharti School, Saket.
Concomitant with the need for reservation was a tacit admission that government schools need a lot of help in educating the millions of children in the country. Usha Ram, Principal , Laxman Public School in Delhi, put the whole debate in context. “We have eroded government schools in India. The unions are strong; security of jobs has led to negligence. We don’t have enough schools, no amenities, some don’t even have tap water,” she lamented.
Bhatty is hopeful. “As government schools comply with the norms of both quality and infrastructure, the tide of students preferring private schools might stem a bit and more children might stay back in or even seek government schools, which is the case in Himachal Pradesh and Kerela, because there the quality of government schools has come up a lot,” said Bhatty.
RTE or no RTE, schools have been giving EWS students opportunities. “We have been going to four slums around our school and admitting students for years. Currently, we have 174 students from the EWS category in our school,” said Ram. “This is nothing new to us”.
By and large, educators across the city we spoke to don’t doubt the need for society to help underprivileged children from gaining quality education. The majority accepts the law and wants to make it work. They may not always agree with the 25% seats reservation. “It is a all for a good cause. But other ways to achieve this , such as a system where each private school adopts public schools and is in charge of training, sharing know-how with that school also need to be explored,” said Minakshi Sharma, principal, The Shri Ram School, Vasant Vihar.
The school playground is a place devoid of divisions based on economic backgrounds, race or creed. Be it personal biases or genuine concern on education quality, parents and educators have to accept one thing - the RTE law is her to stay. Time will tell whether this will improve education in India, but naysayers should read our feature story on one such EWS, Preeti Kumari, to see how free education can indeed change lives.