Three years ago, Rajiv Ghosh switched from a municipality school to Father Agnel School in Bandra. It was like moving to another world. Not only was it strange to be in a new building, with new faces and lessons, the social experience was disconcerting too, for the Class 8 student whose mother works is a domestic help.
“People spoke in English and I didn't understand what was going on,” said Ghosh, 15. "But gradually I fit in."
Archdiocesan Board of Education-run schools such as Father Agnel follow inclusive policies, accommodating students from weaker economic backgrounds and helping with scholarships and fee waivers. Since last week's Supreme Court judgment, schools will have to admit up to 25% students from disadvantaged backgrounds. While the Right To Education Act came into effect on April 1, 2010, implementation of the 25% clause was on hold pending a series of petitions challenging it.
Principals say that socio-cultural implementation problems are likely to dog the legislation.
Language, as Ghosh's case illustrates, is one barrier. There are social and cultural barriers too. “Some problems are that these children use abusive language and aren't sure how to talk,” said Father Francis Swamy, principal of Holy Family School in Andheri. “They come from different backgrounds. Often their parents are not responsible or not involved in their schoolwork.”
Other students will have to be sensitised too, lest schisms develop within the classroom. “The thought is good, but it will be difficult,” said Poonam Arora, principal of Bombay Cambridge School in Andheri. “How will both sets of kids cope? Even simple things like who carries what kind of bag could become an issue.” Arora said they would rope in the resources centre and school counsellors to ease the transition.
Schools have plenty of questions, but the government appears not to have any immediate answers. "The judgment came out on April 12, I cannot comment on anything so soon," said JS Saharia, principal secretary for the school education department.
Where will these students go after Class 8?
Mumbai: Unaided schools will have to accommodate 25% disadvantaged students in their classrooms from next year, but what happens to these children before the age of six and after the age of 14, the limits of the Right To Education Act?
On April 12, the Supreme Court ruled that all private schools (except minority schools) would have to follow the 25% clause in the RTE Act, but principals have pointed out that this will create problems once it is time for these children to enter secondary school. From the next year, schools will only have to take in students at the entry level. The problem is likely to arise eight years hence, once it is time for these students to enter secondary school. The RTE Act covers children from the ages of six to 14.
"What will happen after that?" said Kavita Aggarwal, principal of DG Khetan International School in Malad. "Who will bear the expenses of an international board education after that? Will they move to another board? How will they adjust? The pedagogy is so different in different schools."
Many questions are being raised in the follow-up to the Supreme Court order, and this is one among the practical nitty gritties of implementing the act. With unaided schools subscribing to a variety of boards - IGCSE, IB, ICSE, CBSE and state boards - does it mean there will be an abrupt change in the children's education?
"The execution has not been thought about at all," said Lina Ashar, chairperson of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited, which runs ICSE and international schools. "If these children stay on, who will pay their fees? I actually have no clue how it will work."
The other question mark lies over the fact that the act charts the starting point as the age of six. This means the 25% quota students would enter Class 1 with no previous schooling experience.
"If these 25% quota students have not gone to pre-primary school or nursery how will they manage with the rest of the students when they enter in Class 1?" said a principal of a suburban ICSE school. “It is not practically possible.”