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Karnataka: Sea of chaos

EducationWorld July 12 | Education News EducationWorld

The historic Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009, which came into force in the southern state of Karnataka (pop. 60 million) in the academic year 2012-13 started in June, is floundering in a sea of chaos.

On June 24, the Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (KUSMA), which has a membership of 1,600 private unaided schools, resolved to protest the state government’s “clumsy” implementation of the RTE Act by shutting down all member schools for a week from July 16-22. KUSMA’s unanimous resolution demanded that the state’s BJP government clearly define minority schools exempted from provisions of the Act; indicate how to calculate RTE quota seats and spell out the methodology and calculus of reimbursing tuition fees of poor neighbourhood children compulsorily admitted into private, unaided non-minority schools. On June 26, the Karnataka State Private Schools Management Federation, which has a membership of 152 CISCE and 132 CBSE-affiliated schools, threatened to make common cause with KUSMA if “our demands are not met”.

Following the Supreme Court’s judgement of April 12 in the Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India which upheld the constitutional validity of the RTE Act and particularly its controversial s.12(1)(c) which makes it mandatory for all unaided schools to admit 25 percent of children in class I from among poor and socially disadvantaged children in their neighbourhood, the Karnataka government notified the State RTE Rules on April 28 and announced implementation of the Act from the academic year 2012-13. Subsequently on May 10, the state’s department of public instruction promulgated a list of 12,000 private schools statewide in which according to its calculus, 91,000 seats are available for children from socially and economically disadvantaged families.

Poor household parents were instructed to submit applications under the RTE quota to local block education officers (BEOs) for onward transmission to neighbourhood schools. The state government also announced that Rs.11,848 per RTE quota student per year will be reimbursed to private unaided school managements. However, because of the state government’s long delay in notifying the Rules, leaving little time to educate the public about s.12 (1) (c), the state’s private day schools have received very few applications from poor neighbourhood households.

Moreover, with the April 12 Supreme Court verdict exempting unaided minority (and boarding) schools from the applicability of s.12 (1)(c), 1,000-1,200 of Karnataka’s 13,000 plus private unaided schools claiming minority status didn’t bother about admitting quota students. KUSMA’s main grievance is that a large number of unaided schools have claimed minority status and exempted themselves from the ambit of s.12 (1)(c).

“We want the state government to define minority institutions — what percentage of members in the management, students and teachers’ bodies must be from minority communities for a school to qualify for minority status? With no clear definition, a large number of schools are claiming minority status and exempting themselves from admitting quota students. The rules about reimbursement are also unclear. Does the Rs.11,848 per student include uniform, books and transportation expenses? The state government’s Rules have been drafted and finalised in a big hurry with no clarity on how private unaided schools are to implement the RTE Act, and without mapping minority and non-minority schools in the state,” complains V.R.N. Reddy, vice-president of KUSMA.

According to informed academics in Bangalore, with the Constitution of India under Article 30 (1) conferring the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice on all religious and linguistic minorities, classification of minority institutions is a minefield. For instance, in Karnataka’s Tumkur district, a school comprising members of a sub-division of the Veerashaiva sect has been granted minority status whereas in Gulbarga district, the same sect is classified as non-minority. “In the absence of clear rules, some institutions will arbitrarily be given minority status. The RTE Act can’t be implemented unless the government clearly spells out the definition of minority institutions,’’ says Reddy.

KUSMA members also fear the rush for minority status, which exempts schools from filling 25 percent of classes I-VIII capacity with poor children in their neighbourhoods free of charge under s.12 (1) (c), will open the floodgates of corruption within the education ministry whose officials are notorious for shakedowns and extortion. Already BEOs have been vested with wide discretionary powers including determining the limits of the ‘neighbourhood’ of every private non-minority school, accepting RTE applications from parents for admission into private schools and selecting poor neighbourhood children eligible for admission into them.

Although the state government’s response to KUSMA’s demand is that “it’s working on the definition of a minority institution”, according to Prof. A.S. Seetharamu, education advisor to the Karnataka government, the onus of defining minority institutions has to be discharged by the Central government. “Only the Central government has the authority to define minorities; state governments can’t make their own laws regarding minority status. But given the propensity of the entire political class to appease all minorities, this definition is unlikely to be made in a hurry,” he says.

Meanwhile, KUSMA has announced it will be filing a writ petition in the apex court praying that its 2-1 April 12 judgement in Society for Unaided Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India be referred to a larger bench. The hope is that a larger bench of the apex court will define minority schools and clarify other provisions of the hastily enacted RTE Act. Until then, implementation of the RTE Act will continue to flounder in a sea of troubles.

Summiya Yasmeen (Bangalore)

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