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RTE: A work in progress

A lack of clarity and persistent problems with implementation are preventing the Act from achieving its main objectives, report Mugdha Variyar and Sucharita Kanjilal.

india Updated: Sep 19, 2012 02:24 IST

At Bhavan’s AH Wadia High School, Andheri, students in the nursery section engage in all their class activities together, from learning the alphabets to eating their snacks.

This year, 20 children were admitted to the school’s nursery class under the 25% quota for the underprivileged under the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

As per the Act, private unaided schools have to reserve 25% of their entry-level seats for students from families that have an annual income of less than Rs1 lakh and live within a radius of one kilometre from the school.

While the Andheri school had a positive story to share, principals, educationists and activists have been unanimous in claiming that problems outweighed the benefits in the implementation of the Act this year.

"At the beginning of the year, we were told to put up a notice inviting applications from students for the quota seats, but none showed up," said Mallika Kotian, principal, MET Rishikul Vidyalaya, Bandra. "We don't mind filling the seats up, but if nobody approaches us, what are we to do?"

Avisha Kulkarni, who has been helping beneficiaries seek admissions under the 25% quota through her not-for-profit Desh Seva Samiti, said a lot more needs to be done.

“One of the biggest challenges was the lack of clarity about the Act,” said Kulkarni, who has helped 23 students get admission under the 25% quota in several schools in Goregaon. “Most parents were not aware of the benefits of the Act and did not know how to go about securing admission for their children,” she said.

Several parents also faced an ordeal during the admissions, with some complaining about screening processes — which the Act disallows. Goregaon resident Ahmed Sheikh, an autorickshaw driver, was relieved when his three-and-a-half-year-old son received admission to a neighbourhood English-medium school. But what followed deterred him from sending his son there.

“My wife and my son were called to the school after his admission process, and they were made to wait for four hours. When they finally met the school principal, my son was too tired and couldn’t answer the principal’s questions,” said Sheikh.

“The principal then made comments about how my son was not fit to study in the school, and how it was financially burdening other parents. We then decided not to admit him there,” said Sheikh, who now sends his son to another Goregaon school.

The objective of social integration is also a problem. "While the 25% rule has been implemented, no guidelines have been laid down on how to integrate children. More focus should have been given to implementation and the resulting issues," said PC Chhabra, the principal of Delhi Public School, Nerul.

Another aspect of the Act that has come under harsh criticism is the no-fail policy, which stipulates that no student be held back in any class or expelled from school till Class 8.

“I get up to two cases per week of psycho-traumatic stress among students from Class 9 and 10, and they often complain about tiredness, poor health and lack of appetite,” said Shilpa Sharma, counselling psychologist at St Francis D’Assissi High School, Borivli. “It also puts tremendous pressure on the teachers.”

Success stories

‘My child has learnt more than English here’

Teachers at Bhavan’s AH Wadia High School, Andheri, faced a difficult first week in June when they became one of the first schools in the city to implement the 25% reservation clause under the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

The 20 students admitted to the nursery class under the quota for children from economically weaker sections would stick together as a group. Unfamiliar with their new surroundings, they would walk around, unable to follow the teacher’s instructions to ‘sit-down’ or ‘come here’ — words their classmates were already familiar with.

It’s been three months since then, and these days, three-year-old Alfiya has taken to telling her father to say ‘sorry’ or ‘please’. And he is thrilled.

“My daughter did not talk very much. Now, she rattles off poems in English. When she’s not raving about her teachers, she’s teaching me a thing or two,” said Nizamuddin Ansari, a labourer.

“If social integration was one of the Act’s aims, I think we have been able to achieve it. All the children play, learn and eat together. In fact, I doubt any of them know that they come from economically diverse backgrounds,” said Reema Parashar, supervisor of the school’s primary section.

The 20 students are children of labourers, autorickshaw drivers, and daily-wage earners who believe it is fate that has given their sons and daughters hope of a different life. “We never thought we would be so lucky. My son has learnt much more than English here,” said Salma Sheikh Alauddin, a housewife.

Could not afford school last year, now he is acing his class tests

Four-year-old Shubham Pal, who secured admission at Bangurnagar Vidyabhava School in Goregaon under the 25% quota, got 22 marks out of 25 in his first class test.

“I have always felt handicapped because I don’t know how to read or write. I always wanted my children to not feel the same,” said his mother, Sheela Pal, whose husband works as a truck driver. The shy child was able to recite numerals up to 50 and also learned the English alphabet after attending school for two months.

Shubham's eight-member family lives in a flat that they got under a slum redevelopment scheme in Goregaon. Shubham is the eldest of three children. The family’s monthly income is less than Rs7,000.

Shubham’s parents did not send him to school last year as they could not afford the monthly school fee of Rs650. This year, the RTE Act provides that those who got admission under the 25% quota be given free education.

“He has lost out on a year, but unlike us, he has the chance to study at a good English-medium school now,” said Suhas Pal, Shubham’s uncle.

(Sanchayan Bhattacharjee)

First Published: Sep 19, 2012 01:25 IST