Around 200 of Mumbai's 1,703 schools have been banned from conducting classes this academic year after they were found to be flouting rules under the Right to Education (RTE) Act that relate to campus safety and student-teacher ratios.
However, the BMC’s education department, worried about the impact of shutting down so many schools, has asked the state government to relax some of these norms, saying they are almost impossible to comply with in a city as crowded as Mumbai.
Under the RTE Act, 2009, no school can be established without a certificate of recognition from a government authority. And this recognition cannot be granted to schools unless they follow certain normal and meet standards specified under Section 19 of the RTE Act.
Among other things, the act stipulates a student-teacher ratio of 30:1 for Classes 1 to 5, 35:1 for Classes 6 to 8, and one classroom for every teacher. But many city schools have as many as 60 to 70 students in each classroom. “If we ask them to follow the stipulated ratio, schools will have to increase the number of classrooms, and there is no space for that,” said Sambhavi Jogi, a BMC education officer.
Another RTE rule – that schools must be secured with boundary walls on all fours sides – is also hard to implement in congested areas, Jogi added. “In areas such as Malwani, Deonar, Mankurd and south Mumbai, schools are surrounded by slums and other buildings, leaving no room for a boundary wall,” she said.
In light of these limitations, Jogi has asked the state’s school education department to consider relaxing the norms on student-teach ratios and compound walls for Mumbai schools. “The RTE norms can be simplified by the state or central government to make them suitable for the city,” said Jogi. “We have submitted the list of schools to them and have started discussions on what can be done.”
Schools currently in violation of RTE norms include prominent institutions such as St Stanislaus High School, Bandra; Don Bosco School, Wadala; SIES School, Matunga; Vile Parle Mahila Sangh School; Hansraj Morarji Public School, Andheri; and Anjuman-I-Islam’s Saif Tyabji Girls School and Ahmed Sailor High School, Byculla. Many of these schools claim that because they are minority-run institutions, they are exempt from the RTE Act.
The schools were earlier given till April to meet the conditions and receive official recognition, but 210 schools – both aided and unaided – are yet to do so.
Though the RTE Act specifies a fine up Rs 10,000 to Rs 1 lakh a day for schools that aren’t officially recognised, the BMC has taken a sympathetic view.
However, the BMC Teachers Union has filed a petition in the Bombay High Court against the state for not complying with the RTE Act, and is demanding strict action against schools that don’t conform. “The number is much higher than what the BMC is letting on; we suspect there are 334 aided schools alone that have not got recognition,” said Ramesh Joshi, head of the union. “And none of these schools are giving free and compulsory education, which they have to do under the act,” he added.