|OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT|
New Delhi, April 2: The Centre appeared to throw a lifeline to thousands of unrecognised private schools facing closure because of failure to comply with Right To Education Act norms within a three-year deadline that ended today.
Action should be initiated against those schools that “have not moved an inch” but states may be lenient towards others, Union HRD minister M.M. Pallam Raju said after a meeting to review the 2010 act’s implementation.
The majority of the private schools would have taken some action and there are “very few” that “would not have budged an inch”, said a member of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), the apex advisory body on education at whose meeting Raju did today’s stock-taking.
The minister himself hinted as much. “The RTE Act does not permit extension of the deadline. The states can be a little lenient on the procedure of closing the schools. If some schools have not moved, action should follow.”
The act came into force on April 1, 2010, and was to be implemented within three years.
Under the law, unrecognised private schools were to get recognition from local authorities within three years. To get such a tag, the schools had to meet infrastructure norms and pupil-teacher ratios specified in the act.
At present, there are nearly 2.5 lakh private schools in the country. Of them, around 50 per cent could be unrecognised and technically face closure, said CABE member Vinod Raina.
But state education ministers who attended today’s meeting appeared sceptical about such a prospect. “We have to give some more time to the private schools to comply (with the regulations). Twenty-five per cent of the schools in Madhya Pradesh are private schools. Without private schools, we cannot implement the RTE Act,” said state school education minister Archna Chitnis.
Chitnis’s Maharashtra counterpart R.J. Darda wondered what the course of action should be. Raju then came up with the “budge an inch” suggestion. “I will urge the states to make some example by taking action against schools which have not budged an inch.”
Experts viewed Raju’s statement as a respite. A CABE member said it could help almost all unrecognised schools evade closure by showing some initiatives for complying with the RTE regulations.
“The majority of the private schools would have taken some action. There are, maybe, very few schools which would not have budged an inch. So a few schools may be closed by following procedures,” the member said.
Parth Shah, president of the NGO Centre for Civil Society that works on RTE issues, described the minister’s comment as a relief. “I welcome the minister’s statement. You cannot close down the private schools without creating alternative facilities. If you close (them) down, it will defeat the purpose of the RTE Act,” Shah said.
He said the government should continue to put pressure on private schools to comply with the norms.
The procedure for closure involves inspections by experts, issuing notices and giving the schools an opportunity to present their case. The process takes about a year.
The education ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana expressed concern about another area — weak assessments in government schools against the backdrop of the RTE Act forbidding detentions up to Class VIII.
These ministers felt there should be examination and proper evaluation of learning outcomes. “There should be screening at every level. Children are not motivated to study as there is no examination pressure,” said Haryana’s Geeta Bhukkal.