A room full of principals confronting three panellists on one of the most controversial education initiatives in the country, the Right To Education Act (RTE) — the dialogue was bound to be interesting.
In the line of fire were: Dr Vinod Raina, a key architect of the Act, Vijaysheela Sardesai who is advising the government on its implementation in the state, and Dr Bindu Rana, head of research and development at Educomp Solutions, India’s largest education consultancy.
The panel discussion was a part of the Hindustan Times Top Schools Conclave 2012 held at the Hilton International Airport Hotel in Andheri on Friday.
The conclave was a culmination of the HT’s Top Schools Survey 2012 — a unique and exhaustive exercise of rating the top 50 schools in the city, including Navi Mumbai and Thane.
And on Friday, the efforts of principals of these top schools were recognised.
Soumya Bhattacharya, editor of Hindustan Times, Mumbai, welcomed the principals and highlighted HT’s consistent and constructive engagement with the city. He also rolled out the HT Scholarship Programme for 2012-13, in which 50 students from Class 5 to Class 9 will be awarded Rs50,000 each.
The panel discussion, which preceded the felicitation, addressed schools’ biggest concerns about the Act — the 25% quota for underprivileged children in private schools and the no-fail policy till Class 8. Our panelists admitted to being intimidated by a room full of principals of the city’s most respected schools, but handled the questions in detail.
Smruti Koppikar, editor, special assignments, HT, who was moderator, initiated the panel discussion calling attention to the difficulty schools were facing because of the Act’s no-fail policy. Principals felt students could not cope with the pressure of exams all of a sudden in Class 9. But Raina ended the debate with, “No civilised country fails children at the elementary level.”
He said, “Children are not taught through the fear of failure around the world. Education has to be without fear, trauma and anxiety to a child. What do you gain when you fail a child? What is the educational value of failure?”
The 25% reservation clause for poor children in the Act in private schools was raised repeatedly. The clause requires private schools to accommodate up to 25% of poor children from the neighbourhood in their classrooms, a clause that has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Principals found support in Rana, who represented the private sector that has been dealing with the implementation of the Act in schools. “The intent of the Act is fabulous,” she said. “It sounds good on paper but at the grass roots we face issues… The government alone cannot implement RTE. It needs private help. We have enrolled students in the 25% quota but have not received the promised funding from the government,” Rana said. Principals responded with loud applause. Pointing out the rationale behind the 25% clause, Raina said it was not for the benefit of those admitted through the quota. “It is for the benefit of the 75% children of the class who have lost touch with this country,” he said. “…the knowledge systems of the 25% must become a part of the school system.”
While Raina explained the rationale of the RTE, Sardesai had to answer questions on the state’s implementation policy. “I am not worried about the 25% clause. What worries me is that every student benefits from the Act and gets quality education. There is a huge variation in quality,” said Sardesai. “The challenge is to ensure schools are on a par. How do we ensure that the quality is of a comparable nature?”
Other challenges, she said, included finding teachers and government’s efforts to train and set up school management committees, as the Act mandates.
The evening ended with Nitin Chaudhry, business head (west and south), HT Media Ltd, thanking principals for being part of HT’s continuing endeavour to contribute to the field of education.