Sunday, March 16, 2014

Schools go by letter, not spirit of RTE Act

Rakshita is ready to pack her bags and follow her brother to school this year. Her parents, who are daily-wage workers, want her to attend a good school but don't know that Right to Education Act could help them get a seat.

Tamil Nadu, which claims to have admitted the largest number of children through the RTE act, is yet to popularise the legislation. Two years after the act was implemented, it is playing a safe game by conforming solely to the written rules, and applying the law in letter and not spirit.

Rakshita's parents, who earn Rs 6,000 a month, want both their children to study in English-medium schools. "Studying in a private, Englishmedium school will open up more opportunities," said her grandmother P Selvi. Rakshita's parents pay 20,000 a year for her brother's education.

The RTE Act, 2009, mandates that private schools allot 25% of seats to the disadvantaged sections and provide them education, books and uniforms free of charge, as the government will reimburse the schools later. Although the delay in reimbursements is a hindrance to implementation, the real setback to the benefits of the act reaching children is the fact that the government is not publicising it, say activists.

"In terms of promoting RTE among parents and students, the school education department has failed," said Ossie Fernandes, director of Human Rights Foundation (HRF). "A major chunk or private schools are run by minority communities and that do not have to follow the act. There are some that charge a huge amount as fees. As the government will not be able to pay enough money as reimbursement, these schools are ruled out too. There is no auditing of the rest to check whether RTE is implemented," Fernandes said.

He said if the government and private schools are serious about implementing RTE, they should be open to audits by independent agencies or auditors such as civil society organisations and educationists.

The list of schools that have RTE and provisions of the act should be publicised through advertisements in newspapers and on TV channels, say activists. "The state has not made the effort to collect data. It is unclear how many schools have started admissions and whether they are following the rules," said Vasanthi Devi, educationist.

A senior official from the school education department said the department will set up counters in the collectorates to application forms and pass them on to schools. "Many NGOs have come forward to support us. We hope to have more RTE students this year," the official said. Poor parents are often confused about the rules regarding the RTE Act and the authorities do not help clear their doubts.

WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO

Display admission notices in the local language outside the school Form school committees to pass on the message of RTE through parents

WHAT GOVT CAN DO

Visit slum areas and inform people about RTE Conduct audits at schools to check if they admit children under RTE Display advertisements and publish lists of schools where seats are available

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