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Caught in the crossfire

mumbai Updated: Jun 20, 2010 00:38 IST
Yashshri Soman
Yashshri Soman
Hindustan Times
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Manasi Mhatre (9) didn’t go to school last year.

This year too she will stay home.

According to her father Sunil, Manasi has been refused a seat in Class 3 because he spoke up against a 70 per cent fee hike at her school, Tilak Education High, in early 2009.

When the school refused to consider his objection, he filed a case against the ‘arbitrary’ hike in the Bombay High Court.

“I never expected them to punish my daughter for my lawful objections,” he says. “Now, my daughter keeps asking why she doesn’t go to school like her friends and I have no answer for her.”

Tilak Education principal Mrs Jose says there is no link between Sunil’s objection and the fact that Manasi has not been to school in over a year.

But in a private school system where the parent’s role is usually limited to fee-payer and where any objections are seen as an attack on the administration, children are increasingly being caught in the crossfire.

Earlier this month, Class 9 student Adhishree Gopalkrishnan (13) was expelled by Vibgyor High School, Goregaon, a day before the new academic year began.

The official reason: Her mother, Avisha Kulkarni, had filed a “false and unwarranted” police complaint against the school in July 2009, saying she was concerned they would harm her or her daughter because she was mobilising parents against a fee hike.

The new academic year has begun, but, like Manasi, Adhishree is forced to stay home.

Vibgyor has not yet complied with a state Education Department notice ordering them to take back their

student.

Meanwhile, her mother is now torn between standing firm on principle and looking after her daughter’s interests.

“School managements target children for commercial gain,” says Kulkarni, “and then take away their right to an education if we parents raise a voice.”

It’s a lose-lose situation that can only be resolved, say experts, if parents are given an official forum where they can meet and discuss issues with school managements in a non-confrontational set-up.

The parent-teacher associations mandated in all private unaided schools are meant to provide just such a platform, but here too, disputes often turn personal and discussions become confrontations.

“What parents need is access to more forums like the one we have set up, which is open to all and is a platform where parents and teachers from any school can discuss issues and have an open dialogue,” says Arundhati Chavan, president of PTA United Forum, an organisation of parent-teacher associations from across the city.

“That way, schools can be run as partnerships between managements and parents, with both keeping the students’ best interests in mind.”

That is just how Tridha is run.

The alternative school set up in Vile Parle nine years ago by a group of parents maintains a high level of parental involvement and dialogue, both sides agree.

“The atmosphere at any school should always be such that it helps to facilitate an ongoing dialogue between the school management and parents,” says Ruth Mehta, co-founder and mentor at Tridha.

“The child should never suffer as the result of any disputes.”

It was just such a forum that Jayant Jain, now head of NGO Forum for Fairness in Education, had suggested when he was on the government-appointed Bansal Committee, set up to recommend norms for fee hikes in private schools.

“No one paid heed to that,” Jain says.

“Now, several parents have approached me with such complaints of schools that have targeted students. We are considering filing a public interest litigation against the government’s inaction.”