Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Let's make it voluntary

Sunita Palita
June 19, 2012

Defining it as “digressing into a blind alley”, a senior columnist recently wrote in a national daily that the Supreme Court’s recent judgement on the Right to Education Act (RTE) was “flawed”. In April, the apex court, upheld the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, and directed every school, including privately-run ones, to give free education to students from socially and economically backward classes from Class 1 till they reach the age of 14 years.

In fact, there are many educationists and NGOs who feel that such coercion will not work. Since the court’s verdict came after the schools had closed admissions for the 2012 session, the government should have publicly announced the reopening of the admission process and also publicised the verdict among the poor. India’s education sector, be it for the rich or the poor, is dismal. While the rich demand quality and see it as a right since they can afford it, the poor are at a loss because they cannot pay for it. There are other problems in the sector as well: the rich can buy seats in elite schools and unfortunately, there are many people who don’t fall within the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) category, but still hog the reserved seats meant for the poor thanks to money power. Then, even among the poor, only those who have proper documents can claim the benefits of free education.
There have been sporadic attempts by a few social activists to enumerate the enrollment of underprivileged students in Delhi schools. The Directorate of Education has also imposed timelines and procedures, seeking transparency on the induction of children under the EWS. Though it has taken the responsibility of announcing the availability of seats in schools in the respective zones, there was hardly much relief for children who had been left out of schools for one reason or the other.
In the first place, the trouble was not the availability but the lack of will to support the integration of poor students with the wealthy ones.
In the words of a teacher in one of the public schools: “The decision to allow the enrolment of poor students has to be a voluntary decision, rather than a coercive measure”. On the one hand, she added, the private schools face the wrath of parents when they change the fee structure and, on the other, is the diktat of the court.
Giving examples of children who were admitted in some of the premier schools in Delhi, she added that many of them have been integrated because the number is not very high now and they have been supported by a mentor organisation. It is important that voluntary organisations help the schools in this integration process. Business houses too, under their Corporate Social Responsibility programme must help out in this endeavour.
Sunita Palita is director, SAHAS India
The views expressed by the author are personal

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