Got a call from a dear uncle with whom we often exchange ideas and sagacity I respect. He wanted to know my opinion about the RTE stipulation on reservation of 25% seats for underprivileged children. This was favourite turf for which I had a ready diatribe. But wisdom prevailed and before launching my harangue I decided to ask why he was asking such a question. The reply I got was expected. The upmarket school his granddaughter went to had raised the already astronomical fees by 15% to meet the new RTE regulation. Now this family is not amongst the ones unabashedly mentioned by our minister in an interview defending the 25% reservation. When asked whether an increase in school fees would not be a burden on parents he quipped 90 per cent of them can pay more then 10 times the fee, that they pay for their children
. I wonder which world he lives in or which parents he is referring to. The truth is that many parents scrape the barrel to send their children to better schools and this happens across the board.
Last week the coordinator of our women centre informed me that there were fewer admissions in primary classes amongst boys this year. The reason: boys are being sent to local private schools that run in the morning unlike the government schools that run in the afternoon for boys. These parents are poor and barely make two ends meet but they still want to try and give a better education to their sons. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a class with 80+ kids and no amenities cannot impart proper education. (Needless to say girls, on the other hand, attend government schools and we have waiting lists for admission at our centre!) These parents pay fees ranging from 300 to 500 rupees a month for their sons and are not the ones that can pay ten times more as suggested by our esteemed minister. Any increase in fees would be impossible to bear. And why should they take on the responsibilities of the state. Come to think about it they are having to pay these schools because state run schools are not up to the mark. How can you study under a tent, without furniture and in a class of 80 when roll call takes the better part of the allotted time. Come to think no one should be made to pay for the inefficiency of the government. Every child born in India has the right to free and equitable education. The RTE is an absolute mess. One poor kid will land in an uber rich school, another in a small local teaching shop and yet another in a tented municipal school. Is this equitable education for all. Not in my book at least!
The minister also admitted that when the RTE was being formulated, there was a section of civil society that thought that all school should be nationalised, in other words there should be no private schools
. I say kudos to them because this is the only way to give fair and equitable education to ALL! Needless to say this was rejected. And not for the reason any honest person would come up with but because it hits where it hurts. Too many well paced beings are making money hand over fists in education which is a very lucrative business as demand will always exceed supply even if we are talking of 10% of households. Let us not forget that for 90% the only option is state run schools even after children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections obtain 25% of the seats in preschool in private schools every year.
But coming back to my uncle and his question. What could I say but that this was expected in spite of the assurances of the minister who stated that public schools should tap corporations who are committed to corporate social responsibilities. Ha! Ha! No school is going to do that. It is not an easy task. No sir, the schools will tap the most vulnerable: ie the parents of existing students who will ultimately succumb as it is a matter of their child's future. I do not think this is in the spirit of the constitutional right to free and equitable education.