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The Right to Education Act, the landmark piece of legislation passed in 2009, has met with resistance from private schools which are required to reserve 25% of their seats for students from the Economically Weaker Section (EWS). Most private schools in Delhi have now rolled out the welcome mat for RTE, and out of the 25,000 seats available, 10,000 have been filled.
In the National Capital Region, where the act has not been fully implemented yet, private schools are still apprehensive about it. Schools don’t deny the importance of providing free and compulsory elementary education to underprivileged children – the mainstay of the act – but are unhappy at being asked to shoulder the burden.
Their main grouse is the financial stress that the reservation will put on schools. The government had announced compensation for schools implementing RTE norms (the Delhi government is providing Rs 1,190 per child per month as compensation), but private schools argue that it is too low. “After the 6th pay commission, the entire tuition fee goes into paying salaries and maintenance. Where will we find the funds?” asks Nalini Arul Raj, principal, Somerville School, Noida. Many have coped with the added cost by raising their fee.
Before the RTE, many schools ran charitable institutions or separate schools for the underprivileged. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, they ask. “The way RTE is implemented needs to change. There is a system already in place — of having separate schools or classes after school and that should continue,” said J P Gaur, principal, Modern Vidya Niketan, Faridabad. After the RTE was implemented, many charitable schools such as the Shiksha Kendra schools run by the Delhi Public School society shut shop. However, many others continue till this day. But lawyer and RTE activist Ashok Aggarwal argues that such informal schools have no validity in the eyes of the law. And they still keep the underprivileged at the periphery, while the act aims to integrate them into the mainstream.
The RTE Act may be an attempt to erase differences, but schools fear that it may end up throwing them into sharp relief. Schools worry how students from the EWS background will integrate with others. “As adolescents, they will feel the difference. They know what a good tiffin box or bag is and if poorer students can’t afford them, they may develop a complex and turn to stealing,” said Anita Malhar, principal, DAV Public School, Gurgaon.
To overcome such problems, schools are undertaking sensitisation programmes. They have also instituted remedial classes to help these first-generation learners cope with the syllabus, especially the English language, which is their main stumbling block. “But with no one to help them at home, we can’t work wonders,” said Raj.
Not all schools, however, see RTE as an onerous imposition, but as a step which was long due. “Good schools should do something for those unable to access quality education. Students from EWS category may need extra efforts, but given the proper training they can do well,” said Anju Sharma, principal, Ryan International School, Faridabad.
As for concerns regarding mixing students from different backgrounds, Simran Arora, a class 11 student at Eicher School, Faridabad believes it is possible. “At our school, there are students from all backgrounds and we study together, eat and play together. There isn’t any discrimination of any kind,” she says confidently.
Schools will need to work hard to resolve the challenges of RTE, but as Sharmila Raheja, principal of Ghaziabad’s Uttam School for Girls sums up, “I believe if we don’t start now, we will never make a beginning.”