Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bangalore school shocker: The war that RTE has unleashed

Bangalore school shocker: The war that RTE has unleashed

by Jul 18, 2012

For all the feel-good effect that the Right to Education (RTE) Act engendered, particularly after the Supreme Court upheld it in April, the legislation was always flawed at both the conceptual and the operational levels.
The government, having failed  in providing quality education in state-funded schools over the decades, passed the buck to private schools and rammed a compulsory provision to admit 25 percent of students from the (economically) weaker sections and from (socially) disadvantaged groups and provide them free education.
Most media commentaries at that time dwelt on the notion that the RTE was aimed at providing children from the economically weaker sections access to quality education for free. Caste-based reservation in perpetuity always seemed like a bad idea, particularly since the economically well-off sections within the backward classes and SC/ST communities cornered them for themselves. In that context, the idea that the RTE would benefit poor children – across the social classes – held particular appeal to commentators.
This columnist, for instance, made much of the fact that under the RTE, the beneficiaries would be chosen on the basis of class, not caste.  ”As we watched the quota policy get horrendously trapped in competitive politics, didn’t we say we would rather have an economic criterion for reservations than it being caste-driven?” she wrote. “Well, here, for the first time there is such a basis.”
But, in fact, for all the ritual genuflection that the RTE Act made towards advancing the interests of the poor, it represented an insidious effort to expand the scope for caste-based reservation into private unaided schools. And the perversions inbuilt into it are showing up starkly for everyone to see.
The RTE has unleashed a class and caste war in schools. Reuters
Last week, the Madras High Court delivered judgement in a most peculiar case. A couple earning Rs 30 lakh a year between them, filed a petition demanding admission for their child to a premier school in the city – and free education – under the provision that sets aside 25 percent of the seats for (economically) weaker sections under the RTE Act.
The Times of India reports (here) that the couple belonged to a community identified in Tamil Nadu as being “socially and economically backward”, and had applied under the economically weaker section quota under the RTE Act for admission to the Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram. But the school management informed them that the school had filled up 54 seats under the category from out of the 91 applicants from the weaker sections, and that the admissions had been decided by draw of lots in the presence of the school management committee and an MLA.
The couple then filed a writ petition in the court to challenge the denial of admission for their child. In their petition, the couple claimed that although they earned Rs 30 lakh a year, their child ought to have been considered for admission under the economically weaker section quota since they were from a community identified as “socially and economically backward”. In any case, since Tamil Nadu did not abide by the “creamy layer” provision (under which the well-off among the socially backward sections don’t qualify for caste-based reservation), their income was not material to the case, they claimed.
The judge, however, ruled against the couple, noting that a Supreme Court ruling in a case relating to the Society for Unaided Private Schools in Rajasthan had held that a child was said to be from an economically weaker section only if his parents or guardians had an annual income of less than Rs 2 lakh. “If that was the intention of the State that the child whose parent’s or guardian’s annual income is less than Rs 2 lakhs, then it is unthinkable for the petitioner, whose family income is more than Rs 30 lakh, to contend that without any ceiling limit, they should be admitted under the category of disadvantaged group.” (Read the entire ruling here.)
On the face of it, the ruling may perhaps be read as a progressive one that advances the case for free education for the poor. But as the Reality Check India blog points out (here), that is far from the case.
“Out of 54 reserved seats (that the school allotted under the RTE), a grand total of TWO were allotted on the basis of poverty. 52 seats were allotted purely on the basis of caste.”
In any case, as the blogger points out, the couple approached the court only because their child failed to secure admission under the RTE.  ”If they had won the lottery, we would never had heard about this case. So it can be surmised that there must be others of similar wealth who did win the lottery and are enjoying free tuition.”
Such are the perversions that are built into the RTE. In fact, as has been argued earlier, the RTE quota was never seriously about advancing the interests of the poor. “The RTE is mostly just the quota system extended to the private sector education…  Sure, it has a dash of helping the poor – but that is incidental. The rules simply do not bear out any structure driven by a desire to pluck the child from the garbage heap.”
There are many genuine questions to ask of the RTE provision, which for all its good intentions, is an ill-conceived piece of legislation. For instance, Firstpost had pointed (here) to what we saw as one of the unintended but very likely consequences of the RTE Act: that it would put poor children into “an environment where they are barely tolerated, and in many cases, treated with disdain – by their peers, teachers, and authorities.”
The events in a Bangalore school, and in larger sense, across Karnataka, bear out our forewarning in graphic detail. The Hindu reports (here), citing parents of poor children who secured admission in a private unaided school under the RTE, that the children are being subjected to venomous discrimination  in the classroom. The parents alleged that the children were made to stand separately  during the assembly, their names were not entered in the attendance register, they were made to sit in the back of the classroom and not given any homework.
Even more shockingly, the parents allege that school authorities had cut off tufts of the children’s hair – evidently to physically distinguish the children as having been admitted under the RTE quota. The school authorities in turn allege that members of the Jaati Vinaasha Vedike were intimidating school officials and levelling false allegations against them.
If the parents’ allegations are true, it amounts to shocking discrimination, bordering on untouchability, in the classroom, and deserves the soundest condemnation. In taking recourse to such criminal conduct, the unaided private schools in Karnataka, who are campaigning against some RTE provisions, may end up weakening the merits of their case.
But these incidents also point to perverse nature of the the “class- and caste-war” that the RTE  has effectively unleashed in classrooms. It is hard to see any good come of this.

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