Right to Education

Once again the Supreme Court has stayed all nursery admissions in Delhi and once again little children are paying for the total inefficiency of the administration. It makes us shudder at the kind of state machinery we have. They are not even able to get their act together to ensure the first step of the Right to Education Act: nursery admissions.

When the Act was promulgated I knew that it would encounter huge obstacles as it just did not make sense. The state takes full responsibility of providing free and equitable education to ALL children in India and this can only be done if they make ALL state run schools centre of excellence or they let keep the status quo: poorly government schools and a vast spectrum of private schools from modest to uber rich with their criteria and rules of admission and management. Mixing the two is a recipe for disaster as is the case now.

Many lauded the absurd solution of reserving 20% seats in every private school for underprivileged kids and the equally absurd points system for nursery admission which they heralded as their solution to the neighbourhood school option. The implementation has been a total failure as we all know. On the one hand it is not the poor who have availed of the reservation but the middle class who though able to afford the fees, have instead manufactured all the needed documents and pushed their children in. The main problem is the fact that good schools are not available in every area and that state run schools that proliferate the city are abysmal.

When the husband, who got his epiphany after casting his vote in the government school and taking a walk on the immense but neglected grounds, went to meet the school Principal and offer to run sports activities in the school, he pointed out the cobwebs and broken windows to the Principal. The Principal told him that all cleaning staff was contracted and thus he did not have any hold on them. This is yet another example of the again much lauded Public Private Partnership where huge amounts find their way in greedy pockets and the work remains undone. Why is the Government always abdicating its responsibilities.

For the Right to Education to truly become a Right for every child born in India, then the State has to assume its responsibility and set up quality schools at walking distance. I have always been an advocate of the State run neighbourhood school imparting quality education and where any child from the said neighbourhood can study. State run schools should not be of poor quality and hence an option only for the poorest children. Sadly that is the case and yet there was a time when State run schools imparted quality education. The proof lies in the biodatas of many who are today in high posts across the board.

True we need to deal with the present social barriers where the so called 'rich' would shudder at the thought of sending their progeny to a State run school and have her share her school bench with the maid's daughter. But that is what school is all about: a level playing ground where all children learn together. I am sure that if all State run schools were of the quality of the State run Central schools, many of us would have no problem sending our kids there.

Next time my home two schools share a common wall. One is a secondary state run school - the one the husband visited and the other is a known Public school one of many across the city. The former has a pathetic building with some classes mere barracks and humongous but neglected grounds. The other has a swanky building but hardly any place to play. The logic is simple: the later being a commercial enterprise will try and stuff in as many classes as possible as every student is a source of income and follows market forces. The demand is far higher than the supply as is well proved by the numbers of Public schools mushrooming in our city.

Now let us talk admission. The points system for nursery admission was established to counter what was perceived as the high handedness of certain schools who set up their own criteria and even demanded large donations. The idea was to to simplify and fine tune the criteria of admissions to nursery in private schools and do away with interviews both of parents and children which was undoubtedly unfair. But we not forget one crucial recommendation of the committee set up for this purpose:it said the concept of neighbourhood school would slowly gain momentum in the capital and would set an example for the rest of the country. "If we can help the government schools improve their quality, then our vision will get a great impetus".

As always we do things in half measures. The point system began to be followed and amended along the way with regular intervention of PILs and subsequent court orders. The absurdity of the whole system is now evident as nursery school admissions which should have ended by now as school resumes on April 1st, has not even begun as groups of parents risk to the Courts to defend their rights.   What will happen is a mystery. The other measure that needed attention: namely improvement of the government schools was lost in translation.