If something is better than nothing, then Deepak Singh, a shopkeeper’s son, a student at the Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalay (RPVV), Dwarka, is doing very well. In RPVV — which admits ‘kids with potential from lower economic backgrounds’ — Singh is exposed to classroom teaching with hi-tech educational aids. He even gets extra coaching in zero periods.
Singh’s aspirations, however, remain old-school: the police, the standard job of choice for many from the economically weaker sections (EWS). “To be a doctor, or an engineer, needs money,” he says. “I don’t dream dreams my parents can’t fulfil. After Class XII, who knows what will happen,” he said.
Deepak Singh’s case is, in fact, not the norm. Elementary education waivers vary from state to state says educationist Anil Sadgopal. “Even where free education is given, including up to Class VIII, it’s limited to exemption of tuition fees, often requiring the child to pay many ‘non-tuition’ costs,” he said. “The (Right to Education) Act itself does not guarantee free education. On the contrary, it reserves the right to levy charges as long as these shall not prevent a child from completing elementary education.”
There has been a steady decline in government investment in education. According to the HRD ministry data, budgeted expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP has remained virtually static -- at around 3.5 % – between 1993-94 and 2005-06. Delhi’s Directorate of Education, for example, closed down 53 government schools, many of them in Old Delhi, in 2003-4.
Elsewhere, it’s the same story. This July, the Brihannmumbai Corporation decided to hand over city corporation schools to private bodies. In August, the Karnataka government-appointed Govinda Committee recommended in its report that the 2,820 higher primary schools in the state be ‘merged’ with nearby schools. ‘Mergers’, according to activists, are euphemisms for ‘closures’.
Shantha Sinha, chairperson, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), says the safeguards are “evolving” and that a regulatory body needs to be in place to see that 25% EWS reservation in private schools as per the RTE is “enforced in letter and spirit. We keep getting complaints of hostility from parents and teachers”.
Private schools say that the government has passed on the burden to them. Amit Singla, director (education), Delhi, refutes that charge: “Many private schools have been given land at concessional rates. They have an obligation in enforcing the reservation.”That responsibility is being skipped, says Thomas, a coordinator with Josh, an NGO helping EWS children of Trilokpuri and Kalyanpuri (two resettlement colonies in East Delhi) get admission in private schools nearby. According to their data, of the 163 forms filled up for admission under EWS quota in 2011, 34 students got admission. This year, the number is even less. Of the 146 applications accepted, 31 children have been admitted.
What’s happening? EWS applications have been rejected for reasons ranging from frivolous to deliberate. As an example, for not being within the 1 km-radius of private schools, which is difficult anyway as no slum is situated that close to a private school; or not providing both income certificate and the BPL ration card as supporting documents, despite the DOE saying either one will do.
“EWS parents feel humiliated by the admission process. These parents are uneducated and live in unorganised clusters. The couriers get lost, by the time they come. They say they were better off trying in government schools”, says Thomas.
Extracts from the Act
* Access to schools within 1 km of a habitation
* In a school with less than 60 students, there must be atleast 2 teachers. In Schools with 150 or more, there must be atleast 5 teachers plus one head teacher.
In large schools, with more than 200 students, the Pupil-teacher ratio cannot exceed 40.
* Each government school must meet certain minimum requirements vis-à-vis facilities. For example:
* An all weather building with atleast one classroom for every teacher.
* Separate toilet for girls and boys.
* Safe drinking water facility for all.
* A playground
* A boundary wall or fencing
* A kitchen where the mid-day meal is cooked.
* There shall be a well-stocked library in each school.