The Government of India (GOI) wants 25 percent of seats in every school to be reserved for students from the Economically Weak Sections (EWS). Will the schools actually practise such generosity? Can they afford to do it?
In Delhi alone, “More than 9,000 EWS seats are still lying vacant in 1,183 private schools and nearly 765 schools have not given admission to students applying under this category in the 2011-12 academic year. An RTI application reveals that some of the city’s top schools like Birla Vidhya Niketan, Bal Niketan Public School, St Xaviers School and others did not admit a single EWS student.” [From a Deccan Herald report: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/243833/mission-25-delhi-not-grand.html]
Private schools have raised a number of objections to the order of GOI which was reinforced by another order from the Supreme Court. The objections range from financial burden to social status problems. The GOI will pay the school an annual sum of Rs 1,190 per student admitted under the EWS scheme. For most private schools that amount is too paltry in comparison with the fees they are charging from regular students. Moreover, it won’t be possible to pay the proposed salaries to teachers if a large number of students are admitted at very low fees.
The following report from The Times of India lists the problems of high-end schools:
Let me quote some pertinent parts of the report:
“The fee charged by an international school is higher than a regular CBSE school. So the challenge there is higher too. We will have to take a call as we go along,” said Ashok Chandra, chairperson, DPS Society that runs DPS International School in Saket.
The school offers CIE curriculum, has 20-25 students in a class and uses technology extensively. The teacher-student ratio in a regular school would be 1:40. While a regular school charges a total fee up to Rs 70,000 annually for classes I to XII, an international school may have a fee touching Rs 4-5 lakh per year. The extra-curricular facilities offered by such schools are often almost luxurious. Most international schools offer nutritious meals to the students besides arranging for activities like horse-riding, adventure sports and foreign leisure trips.
For instance, Lancers International School in Gurgaon took students from classes IX to XI on a trip to France and Germany in the first week of April. Providing all these facilities for free can be really taxing, schools say. “Schools like us believe in providing a holistic education to our students and we incur a huge cost in providing the facilities. For instance, we have some of the best nutritional and sports facilities available to our students. However, the Supreme Court judgement has implied that the total cost of operations for our school will increase substantially,” said Pramod Sharma, director and principal, Genesis Global School, Noida.
What we should notice is the conscious elitism in the above lines. These schools cater to students from a higher social class and they want that elitism to be kept untouched (unsullied?) by lower class penetration. Even if such schools admit EWS students, the students are likely to feel out of place. Moreover, there have been reports that many schools detain EWS students in the KG or pre-primary classes in order to pre-empt their entry to class I where no one can be detained. The Supreme Court order says that no student should be detained from class I to class VII. It does not mention KG and other pre-primary classes.
It is necessary to reduce, if not eliminate, the gap between the rich and the poor. Good education is the best tool for that. But can (or, should) the whole burden be placed on private schools?
Kendriya Vidyalayas (Central Schools) perform very well as far as academic results are concerned. Some KVs outperform private schools. If KVs can do it, why can’t the normal government schools do it? Why can’t the government ensure that the schools run by it, where the teachers are paid more than their counterparts in private schools, offer proper education to the students?
A few days back, Mary Roy, educationist and mother of Arundhati Roy, raised a question in a letter to the editor of the Malayala Manorama. She asked why the onus of redeeming the poor should be placed squarely on the shoulders of private schools. Why can’t the wealthy people who spend crores of rupees on weddings, villas, luxury vehicles and luxury tours be asked to put aside 25% of their expenditure on luxury for the uplift of the poor?
As a teacher in a private school that caters to the children of the upper middle class, I accept in theory the GOI’s decision to place students from the weaker sections in good private schools. My only problem is about who will bear the financial burden of it? The parents are already complaining (they do it every year) about the fees that go up and up year after year. Every expenditure from maintenance of the school and the campus to the payment of salaries is borne by the fees paid by the parents. I personally know many parents who find it difficult to pay the large fees. Yet they send their children to private schools in order to secure their future. Can these parents be asked to pay for other children too? Can’t we have a more just system? For example, as I mentioned above, why can’t we make the government schools accountable? And, as Mary Roy asked, why can’t we make the really affluent shell out a fraction of their wealth for the sake of the poor?
Note: For those who are interested to know more about RTE and related issues, here’s an excellent place: http://right-to-education-india.blogspot.in/