It was Jawaharlal Nehru who said that ignorance is always afraid of change. In the light of this, there is no doubt that the Right to Education (RTE) Act is a courageous piece of legislation.
But the 25% reservation clause for poor students in unaided private schools in the Act could end up facing serious operational problems. According to the law, the State will pay the private schools that admit poor students Rs.20,300 per student, per year — the same that the State-run Kendriya Vidyalayas spent on each child in 2010-01.
In 2010-11, nearly 19.31 crore students were enrolled in State-funded schools, of which about 4 crore students are estimated to be in unaided private schools. So if the 25% quota is implemented, the government will have to pay about Rs.20,000 crore to private schools for 1 crore poor students. This amount is bound to increase every year.
A more serious problem is that the reimbursement amount will be paid by states to the schools. In major states, the expenditure per year, per student in state-funded schools is much lower, ranging between Rs.6,000 to Rs.8,000 per student, per year. So reimbursement to private unaided schools at the rate of expenditure of the KVs would increase their expenditure on school education considerably.
Then there is the issue of how to determine who is a poor student. Also, how will states keep a tab on whether the income of a child’s parents is going up or down? In the course of time, there could also be pressure to extend the free scheme for poor students till Class 12, since it would be unfair to expect the child to shift to a government school in Class 11 or pay the full fees. Since huge funds have to be allocated and released to private schools by states, allegations of delays, favouritism and corruption may also crop up. Since the funds would be substantial, there could also be demands for a government audit or that such schools are brought under state supervision.
There could be demands for reservation in all admissions in such schools, and also in the recruitment of teachers and other staff, since substantial funds from the state are being given to them. There could also be a demand that since the reimbursement being given to schools is considerable, they be considered similar to a ‘grant-in-aid’, and recruitment of teachers also be taken over by the government. All this could bring down the private school structure that is qualitatively much better. Many of the issues raised above could also lead to long-drawn litigation.
The government must rethink the policy of 25% mandatory admissions. Since these days everyone wants good education for their children, the government could consider simplifying this policy prescription by reducing the percentage of mandatory admissions for poor students to 10%, and make it part of the ‘corporate social responsibility’ of private unaided schools, and remove all provisions for reimbursement.
It must restrict admission under this category only to children of illiterate or semi-literate parents who are the poorest of the poor. By doing so, the Centre can remove the financial burden of the states and could be encouraged to spend the resources on improving the quality of the government schools.
CBS Venkataramana is a civil servant and worked as principal secretary for school education in Andhra Pradesh
The views expressed by the author are personal