Even as the Supreme Court has upheld the reservation of 25 % of seats in schools for students from economically backward backgrounds under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the issue is turning out to be a social conundrum.
While educationists and child development experts have lauded the Act for its potential to bring about social integration, there are others who feel that rampant discrimination will prevail in schools under this clause.
“This is a landmark judgment. Through such acts, the great divide in society can be bridged,” said Dr Samir Dalwai, development paediatrician at Sion hospital. “Education is now a status symbol - an attitude that has to change. Children can gain a lot from a diverse environment.”
“An integrated classroom will bring about an integrated society,” said Reeta Sonawat, head of department of human development, SNDT Women’s College.
However, there are concerns over how the dynamics of inclusive education will play out in an integrated classroom. Polarisation in the classroom and disadvantaged children developing an inferiority complex are very real concerns.
“It’s not only about sitting together in a classroom. Discrimination and disparities will crop up at every step, from how the children travel to school to what they eat for lunch,” said the principal of a suburban aided school, who did not wish to be named. “A similar socio-cultural environment is best for learning.”
Vaishali Samant, a professor who has researched inclusive education, echoed similar concerns. “While the government will provide for fees and uniforms, how will it help poorer students pay for coaching classes or picnics?”
Experts feel it is critical for parents, teachers and school managements to have a positive attitude to bring about what the Act seeks to achieve.
“I am happy that my child will learn in a more real and representative environment. Children these days are guarded from reality,” said Soumyo Dutta, whose child studies at Dhirubhai Ambani International School, BKC.
“Though it is going to be a Herculean task, it is not impossible to bring about social integration in the classroom,” said Paul Machado, principal of Campion School, Colaba.