The newly passed Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act reserves 25 per cent of entry-level (pre-primary) seats for poor children at fees fixed by the government. While this spells opportunity for small schools, big private schools are miffed.
The Act passed by Parliament on Tuesday — makes its compulsory for private-aided and unaided schools to take in 25 per cent children belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Socially and Educationally Backward Classes and economically weaker sections.
The government would reimburse the fees of such children to private schools, but at a rate not exceeding the per-child expenditure in state-run schools. Calculations indicate the per-child expense is close to Rs 980 a month.
“Unaided schools shall be reimbursed per-child expenditure incurred by the state or the actual amount charged by the school, whichever is less,” said Kapil Sibal, Union minister for Human Resource Development.
For instance, if the Delhi government spends Rs 500 per student in a state school, a private school that charges more than Rs 500 per student would get only Rs 500 as reimbursement. If the fees in a particular private school is less, say Rs 250, then the government would pay only that much.
Big private schools – where existing fees are higher than government rates across the country – are, of course, opposed to this provision.
In contrast, low-budget private schools have welcomed the move.
In Delhi and Kolkata, big private unaided schools have threatened to pass the financial burden on to parents.
Meera Isaacs, principal of Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai said, “This is unbelievable. I wonder why the government is doing it.”
The authorities in other big schools like DAV Model School, Sector 15, Chandigarh, La Martiniere For Boys, Kolkata and Podar World School, Mumbai feel the same way.
But budget private schools across the country are happy. These schools charge fees of up to Rs 200.
“If the government is willing to reimburse, we will happily reserve 25 per cent seats,” said said Harpreet Singh, manager of Dayal Public School, Ghaziabad. The school, which has classes up to Class VIII, charges Rs 120 per month.
The move could transform education for the economically weaker sections of society. “If the government funds it, more and more poor parents will send their children to English medium schools,” said Bala Rangaraju, associate director of the Centre for Civil Society, an independent research and educational organisation.