Sixteen-year-old Hasina Begum, a student of Magadi Government Girls High School in Bengaluru is entering a crucial year in school, the tenth standard. This is just her third year in school. Hasina used to work as a domestic help before she was rescued by the Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA), a Bangalore-based grassroots community development organisation.
Hasina studied and prepared for her seventh standard exams at APSA’s Dream School or Kanasina Shale, where formal education is imparted to child labourers and children from low income neighbourhoods. After giving her seventh standard exams as a private candidate, she joined the government high school in Magadi.
Hasina is among the thousands of children who have not had the opportunity to study in a private school where the standard of education and facilities are generally known to be better. Instead, many like her study in a government school, where facilities are bare minimum and quality of teaching is quite poor.
The RTE Law came into force on April 1st 2010, and the rules of the Act are still being drafted for Karnataka. Admisions for 2011-12 are going to have to implement the 25 per cent reservation. This year however, this does not apply.
The 25 per cent reservation is only for admission to Class 1 and for pre-school (if the institution has pre-school). The Act does not mention if reservations apply for admissions to other classes.
But all this is set to change with the Right to Education Act (RTE), 2009. This Act says that for class 1, at least 25 per cent of the seats should consist of students belonging to “weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood.” These children will receive free and compulsory elementary education, with the state taking care of the finances. This comes into force from the next academic year 2011-12.
Government charged with abdication
Even as the central government has brought out this legislation, experts in the field of education, school managements, parents and the students themselves feel that it has all been done in haste and that the government is shirking its own responsibility.
Anuradha Monga, Principal of the Hennur Road-based Bangalore International School, says that the government “is basically washing their hands off.”
Muralidhar Koteshwar, Director (Education), The Art of Living, seconds this. “Because they found that they are not doing their job, they decided to turn around and push the responsibility to private schools. Tomorrow 25 per cent will become 50 per cent. Then they’ll say let’s close all government schools and have only private schools”, says Koteshwar. The Art of Living Foundation runs three schools (on Sarjapur Road, Vidyaranyapura and Kanakapura Road) in Bangalore with about 2000 students in total. They admit around 40 students to Class 1. They also run a number of feeder schools in the city for underprivileged children.
Kavita Ratna, Director (Communications), The Concerned for Working Children, a Bangalore-based NGO, says that the government is merely admitting to its failure. “It’s abdication of responsibility. It’ll result in government schools to continue to do badly. And government schools will close down”, she says.
Kavita also feels that this can undermine the confidence of these children. “These kids are nervous. They have a right to go to government schools. By giving 25 per cent reservation, is the government giving them something on a platter?”, she asks, adding that privatisation cannot be pushed down anyone’s throat.
Like Kavita, many feel that the children will not be able to adjust in a private school environment because of eoconomic and sociological differences.
“It’s not going to be easy for the kids. In the evening they will go back to their little huts”, says Anuradha. Koteshwar says it may lead to a sense of inferiority complex for these children as their peers will be from well-off families.
Hasina also expresses her apprehension. “They’ll teach at their level. We’ll be slow. They’ll speak in English, we speak in Kannada”, she says. Hasina’s friend Reshma Begum also feels the same way. “In government schools we don’t have to worry about our uniforms and appearance. But in private schools, if our socks are torn they’ll send us out”, says this seventh standard student.
Another Dream School student Jayanti S says that their peers in private schools will have more money to spend. “We can’t spend so much money”, says this 13-year-old who used to work as domestic help before APSA rescued her.
Angela Jain, a team member at Shibumi school, feels that the economically weaker children may find it difficult to mingle with those who are well-off as they will get conflicting messages. “It’ll make it difficult. More thought needs to go into it instead of just making it a blanket rule”, Angela says.
Some support the new law
But there are some who welcome this section of the Act. Dr K A Seshagiri Rao, a former Congress MLA, founded the Mahatma Education Trust in 1980. Located in JP Nagar 3rd phase, this school is inclusive and has students who are mentally and physically challenged, and students from economically weak families, apart from regular children from well-to-do families.
Rao welcomes the 25 per cent reservation as he feels that it’s high time that the economically poor come into mainstream schools. He also agrees that that these children will initially suffer from an inferiority complex. “As teachers, we can help bring that change. Counsel those children”, he says.
He narrates incidents where parents of the well-off children have complained about their offsprings picking up bad language from the other children. “Other private schools will not take these kids for this reason. Management and teachers should have the will. In a house of three children, all will not be of same intelligence, so will the mother take care of them any less?”, he asks.
Rao also feels that private schools will not necessarily produce quality students. “Are all private school students disciplined?”, he poses. The Mahatma Education Trust has 250 students between Class 1 and 10. For Class 1, the school usually admits about 20 students.
Principal of Prasiddhi school in Vasanthnagar, Robina Farooq, feels that a child cannot be shielded from a private school just because he or she is poor. “Children need to be exposed to different types of environments. It will be a drive for them”, she says.
Sujatha Mukherjee, founder of the Ulsoor-based Ashwini Trust, a not-for-profit that works with underprivileged children from Ulsoor slums says that just because children are poor, does not mean they can’t study. She too welcomes the reservation but says that forthcoming generations should not have to deal with any kind of quota system.
Some parents also feel that the 25 percent reservation is an opportunity for children from different types of backgrounds to mingle. “See today’s kids in the urban areas are quite consumerist and market-conscious. It is important for my children to interact with others from different backgrounds”, says Charumathi Supraja, a media person and mother of two.
She also expresses her concern that these 25 percent students should not be made to feel poor. “The onus is on the school”, she says.
Another parent, Guruprasad R Athani, a resident of Bannerghatta road and father of two school-going children, gives the example of his driver who wanted his kids to study in private schools. “Finally, he put them in a private school but I’m helping him. He doesn’t want my help. He wants to do it by himself”. Athani feels that this reservation will help people like his driver and reduce their financial burden.
Bharati Govindaswamy, a mother of twins, says that she already sends her children to a montessorri school which has a mix of children including those from economically weak backgrounds and special children. “The methods of teaching may be different for each type of child but they are all in the same environment”, she explains.
Venkat Holla, a parent residing in JP Nagar, says that merely ensuring a seat in a private school does not guarantee a better quality of education. “There are many more minefields to be traversed like school transportation, clean sets of uniforms, stationery, school excursions, school programs”, he says, explaining that the child should not constantly be reminded of his poverty.
Unaided schools unhappy with reservation
But even as the principle behind this reform may be laudable, Holla feels that “it could very well prove to be a disaster in reality”.
Holla says that this 25 per cent reservation implies that “the schools transfer the additional financial burden to the remaining 75 per cent hapless students. Even if the government does succeed in formulating a transparent and simple methodology to reimburse the private schools for the tuition fees of the admitted students under the reservation quota, how else would the remainder components of their fees be recovered?”
This also happens to be one of the reasons why the Karnataka Unaided Schools Managements’ Association (KUSMA) is opposed to few sections of the RTE Act. KUSMA’s office is located in VV Puram.
In a circular that KUSMA has sent to their member-schools across the state, they ask three questions.
- Is this proposal acceptable to parents of remaining 75 per cent of the children who are educating their children by paying different kinds of fee in addition to tuition fee?
- Will not such mixing of children from different strata of society create conflict, discord and controversy among children and parents in your school?
- If mid-day meals scheme is introduced by the government for 25 per cent of the children only, will it not lead to embarrassing situations?
KUSMA also feels that the government may not reimburse the schools on time because of “bureaucratic delays, cumbersome procedures and graft involved…”
Director of the Department of Primary Education, D S Rajanna, says the government is looking into all these matters. “A committee has been set up with Sarva Shiksha Abhyaan Project Director as Chairperson. We will look into all this”, he says.
Rajanna, however, disagrees that there will be an ‘adjustment’ problem for the economically poor students. “When we are born we didn’t request God to let us be born into a particular family, right?” he asks, adding, “They’ll take time to cope. That’s all.”
“Improve government schools first”
However, the question that everyone is asking is why not improve government schools in the first place? Seshagiri Rao says that government schools should be brought to the same level as private schools.
Hasina and her friends also agree. “Get us better teachers”, they say.
“Get the government schools functioning. That’s the only way. The RTE is only a constitutional aspiration. It’s not a new promise”, says Kavita of The Concerned for Working Children. This organisation is also looking at taking up a legal case with regard to the RTE Act.
As parent Venkat Holla sums it up, “It would have been far nobler if the government had taken up, in all sincerity, the idea of providing free elementary education to all children in the state.” Holla says the government should be focussed on improving its own (dilapidated) schools instead. Children hailing from weaker sections of the society would have been truly benefited and many more would have been inspired to enrol themselves in the future, he points out. “Are our policy makers listening?” he asks. ⊕