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Parents must unite to fight against exploitation by schools

The problems reflect the absence of strong parents’ unions that can give voice to their opinions and ensure that they are heard. Pushpa Girimaji writes.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2013 02:13 IST

Parents in India, it seems, do not have much of a say in the affairs of the schools in which their children study. I often get letters from parents about schools insisting on their buying uniforms (highly priced and poor quality) only from particular shops (anti-competitive and restrictive trade practice), about schools not refunding “caution deposits”, about certain highly discriminatory practices adopted by schools (such as categorising students into different sections on the basis of their marks) and about unsafe water provided on the campuses.

The problems reflect the absence of strong parents’ unions that can give voice to their opinions and ensure that they are heard.

In Ireland, for example, the National Parents’ Council has a say on every issue concerning their children’s schooling – from the quality of teaching, school inspections, mistakes in examination papers and school safety to rising costs of school books and education. And educational institutions have to listen to them. The council was set up in 1985 as the representative organization for parents and received statutory recognition in the country’s education act in 1998. Similarly, the European Parents’ Association, representing over 150 million people, works to give voice to them in the development of education policies and decisions at the EU level. It promotes active participation of parents in all important decision-making processes.

It’s time parents in India too became a force to reckon with. That needs active involvement of parents and encouragement from the department of education at the state level.

Urmil Sen: I am most unhappy about the quality of the bus and the driver employed by the school where I have admitted my children. The driver is rash. When I complained, the principal said I could admit my children in some other school if I had complaints. Since this is not an easy option, I had to keep quiet. What is the way out?
Answer: Since this is a matter of safety, you cannot lose even a day and have to take immediate steps to stop that driver from ferrying children. First, write a letter to the principal demanding that the school change the driver immediately. Draw the attention of the school to the mandatory Supreme Court guidelines on school bus safety and say that the school will be hauled up for contempt for failing to follow it.

As per the Supreme Court guidelines, every school bus has to have a speed governor (obviously this bus does not) and any driver who has been challaned even once for the offence of speeding, drunken driving or rash and negligent driving, cannot be employed for driving a school bus.

Send a similar letter to the department of education and the transport department, which is supposed to enforce the Supreme Court guidelines

In S Somasundaram vs the Correspondent, Sri Chakravarthy International Matriculation Academy (FA no 518 of 1994), the apex consumer court said: “A school’s responsibility does not end with providing quality education. Safety of the students is as much an integral part of the service provided by it.”

It also made it clear that schools will be held responsible for any negligence in the matter. Remind the school about this too in your letter.

I would suggest that you talk to other parents and if you go in a large group and make it clear to the school that they cannot take the safety of students lightly, it will be forced to listen to you. You can demand some additional safety features, too. Remember, there is strength in unity and there can be no compromise on the safety of children.

First Published: Aug 11, 2013 02:11 IST