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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

Efforts to promote RTE school seats are half-hearted

Around 39,000 seats, including 4,000 in Mumbai, set aside for students from financially distressed families, remain vacant

mumbai Updated: Sep 30, 2019 00:47 IST
Manoj R Nair
Manoj R Nair
Hindustan Times
The number of students enrolling in RTE schools has witnessed a decline.
The number of students enrolling in RTE schools has witnessed a decline. (HT Photo)
         

Earlier this month, alarmed by reports that schools in the state have not been able to fill nearly 50% of the quota seats under Right to Education (RTE) Act, the Maharashtra education minister announced a fourth round of seat allotments.

Around 39,000 seats, including 4,000 in Mumbai, set aside for students from financially distressed families, remain vacant. This newspaper has reported that 7,491 seats were available under the quota in 356 schools in Mumbai and suburbs. There were enough applicants – 11,000 – but for various reasons only 3,408 students confirmed their admissions by the deadline.

Data shared by the education department reveals that nearly 7,000 students were selected for admissions across the state in the latest round of seat allotments. Of these, 302 were from Mumbai city and suburbs. This number includes 250 students who were allotted seats into state board schools and 52 students who got schools affiliated with national education boards like CBSE and ICSE. The latest round of admissions, held last week, was a disappointment, with just 57 of the 302 selected students claiming their seats. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), which is in charge of primary school education in the city, said they called up parents who did not claim seats allotted to their children. The attempts to contact the parents apparently did not work: after four rounds of admissions, only 3,465 of the 7,491 RTE quota seats have been claimed.

The quota under the RTE law, where 25% of seats are reserved for poor students who pay no fee, was introduced with good intentions, but resistance from schools and a lacklustre attitude of education officials have ensured that the idea is yet to work to its full potential after nearly a decade. Activists said that many children did not get admissions under the previous rounds as schools rejected their applications despite the children fulfilling the norms. The education department has largely ignored the complaints and parents do not trust the admission process to work without any bias.

Education activists campaigning for the better implementation of the quota have blamed both the admission process and schools for the problem. While some schools have been openly hostile to the quota, others have tried other means, like not supporting the students with free stationery, to keep out quota students. When admissions under the quota were made in 2014-15, only 1,069 students were admitted, while there were more than 8,000 seats available. Number of admissions grew to 1,688 in 2015-16 and 2,506 in 2016-17 after Bombay HC ordered the BMC and schools to publicise the free seats aggressively.

Government efforts to promote the quota seats have been half-hearted, said activists. Earlier this year, the state education department announced a mobile app for admissions under the quota but response from parents has been poor. Most parents had not heard about the app. One parent from Govandi, who spoke to HT, said, “Had we known about the application, we would have taken someone’s help and registered from the phone.”

Sudhir Paranjape of Anudanit Shikshan Bachao Samiti, a group campaigning for better implementation of the RTE quota, put 70% of the blame on the government and the rest on schools. “It is not coincidental (the admission rate under the quota is low). People in the government run private schools. They want a free hand and are charging heavy fees. They are up in arms,” says Paranjape. “Basically they challenged the act in Supreme Court saying that under article 17, they have the fundamental right to establish businesses and make profits. They have declared their intentions.”

After criticism from activists, the government set up grievance redressal forums to look at complaints by parents. Paranjpe calls the idea a charade. “It [the forum] is worthless; nothing is being done and parents are going without help.” There are allegations that cases have been sidelined by the grievance cell. Education activists are now planning to move the courts.

First Published: Sep 30, 2019 00:47 IST

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