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Karnataka: Implementation imbroglio

EducationWorld April 13 | Education News EducationWorld

Even as the three-year deadline for implementation of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 ended on March 31, the historic but  obviously hastily drafted legislation is still floundering in a sea of troubles.

Over 90 percent of the country’s 1.2 million government schools are yet to meet the infrastructure norms prescribed in the Schedule of the Act, according to former NCERT chairman J.S. Rajput (see p. 32). Simultaneoulsy, implementation of s. 12 (1) (c) of the Act under which private schools have to admit underprivileged children in their neighbourhood free of charge — 25 percent of capacity in class I — is mired in chaos and uncertainty. In the southern state of Karnataka (pop. 61 million), the issue of determining children eligible for admission into private schools under the RTE quota is a huge imbroglio with state government officials and private unaided school managements still arguing over reimbursement of tuition fees, definition of poor households (the state government’s RTE Rules define households with upto Rs.3.5 lakh annual income as ‘poor’) and minority status (as per an April 12, 2012 judgement of the Supreme Court, unaided private minority schools are exempt from s.12 (1) (c)).

In early January the Karnataka education department announced that over 106,000 seats are available for poor children under the RTE quota in 13,000 private schools statewide (including 35,000 seats in Bangalore), and invited applications from parents with annual incomes of up to Rs.3.5 lakh. Over 156,000 applications were received by the department and after scrutiny by local block education officers (BEOs), 106,000 poor children were certified eligible for admission into private schools under s.12 (1)(c). Private schools were directed to begin the process of admitting RTE quota students from March 15 onwards. Since then, local newspapers have been regularly featuring heart-rending stories of ‘poor’ parents turned back by private unaided schools — some of whom claim minority status while others are refusing to admit children until the state government reimburses the tuition fees of s. 12 (1)(c) quota students admitted in the academic year 2012-13.

Under s.12 (2) of the RTE Act, the state government is obliged to reimburse tuition fees “to the extent of per-child expenditure incurred by the State, or the actual amount charged from the child, whichever is less”. The Karnataka government had finalised Rs.11,848 per year per student as the tuition reimbursement fee payable by it to private schools. But even as the academic year 2012-13 ended in March and admissions have begun for 2013-14, none of the state’s private unaided schools which admitted quota students have received even one installment of fee reimbursement.

The Karnataka RTE task force has also received several complaints from parents about private school managements demanding fees for books, uniforms, computer education etc, claiming that government reimbursement covers only tuition fees. According to S.R. Umashankar, Commissioner for Public Instruction, though the private schools cannot demand tuition fees, they can ask parents to pay for “extra facilities”. “But, private schools cannot exploit parents by charging huge sums of money. Parents can send their complaints to BEOs who will initiate action on a case by case basis,” Umashankar informed the media on March 25.

With teachers’ salaries, cost of infrastructure and other facilities escalating, private school managements say there’s no alternative but to ask all parents to pay for extra facilities. “The government’s reimbursement of Rs.11,848 per year per student is wholly insufficient. It doesn’t meet even half the cost of providing quality schooling. Most private schools offer computers, labs, libraries and play facilities. All this costs money. We have no option but to ask RTE parents to pay up or increase the fees of other students. Either way, private school managements are at the receiving end of parents’ and government fury. Instead of targeting private schools, parents should pressure the government to improve its own schools so poor children can avail quality education free-of-charge,” says the owner of a private unaided school in Bangalore, speaking on condition of anonymity.

With the incumbent BJP government’s five-year term having ended in March and the state set to go for polls on May 5, private school managements will have to wait until a new government takes charge in Vidhana Soudha to resolve the RTE imbroglio.Meanwhile, the legal battle of private schools against the RTE quota provision has received a fresh lease of life. On March 22, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan admitted a writ petition filed by the Bangalore-based Pramati Educational and Cultural Trust & others, challenging the validity of Article 15(5) — inserted into the Constitution through the 93rd Amendment. Article 15 (5) permits the State to provide for reservation in educational institutions “whether aided or unaided” for the “advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens”.

On April 12 last year, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, by a 2:1 majority verdict (Justice Radhakrishnan dissenting), had upheld the constitutional validity of the RTE Act and particularly the controversial s.12(1) (c). By referring the writ filed by a consortium of Karnataka schools to a larger bench, the Supreme Court has injected fresh hope and optimism among the country’s beleaguered 80,000 private schools that the apex court will strike down s. 12 (1)(c) as unconstitutional. In short, the messy provisions of the RTE Act are yet to be sorted out.

Summiya Yasmeen (Bangalore)

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