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Maharashtra: RTE — More questions

| Education News EducationWorld

The controversial and hotly debated Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, which was substantially upheld by the Supreme Court’s April 12 verdict in Society for Unaided Private Schools of Rajasthan vs. Union of India, has raised more questions than answers. While the apex court famously upheld the constitutional validity of s.12 (1) (c) which directs all private unaided schools to reserve 25 percent capacity in classes I-VIII for poor children of their neighbourhood by a wafer-thin 2-1 majority, the judgement exempted minority and boarding schools from the ambit of the section. As a result there is considerable controversy over the  definition of ‘minority’ schools countrywide.

Now another debate has arisen in Maharashtra about whether children who attend alternative education schools and/or are homeschooled will be eligible for school-leaving certificates. Comments Ruth Mehta, teacher and co-founder of Mumbai-based Tridha (estb. 2000), a non-formal school based on Rudolf Steiner’s curriculum: “Though the government has stated that alternate modes of schooling are permissible, our status under the RTE Act is unclear. The government should include alternate schools into mainstream education.”

Under s.18. of the RTE Act, all private schools are obliged to obtain a certificate of recognition from the government or local authority and “no such recognition shall be granted to a school unless it fulfills infrastructure and teacher norms and standards specified” under s.19 detailed in a Schedule of the Act. In April 2010, a PIL (public interest litigation) writ was filed in the Delhi high court to accommodate alternative and homeschooling. The court dismissed the petition, but gave the petitioners eight weeks to make a representation to the Union human resource development (HRD) ministry asking for its views on the subject.

On July 19 the HRD ministry filed an affidavit in the Delhi high court stating that the Right to Education Act does not prohibit homeschooling. “Parents who voluntarily opt for alternate forms of schooling may continue to do so. The RTE Act does not come in the way of such alternate schooling methodologies or declare such form of education is illegal,” stated the ministry’s affidavit.

According to Somnath Bharti, a Supreme Court advocate and president of IIT-Delhi Alumni Association, the HRD ministry hasn’t come clean on home-based education in its July 19 affidavit which is limited to alternate schools. “Quite clearly the RTE Act is against private property and free association. It seems unaware that in a free country people should be allowed to select modes of education for their children. In effect, the RTE Act is focused on the right to free and compulsory schooling when education — not schooling — should be its focus. The Act doesn’t distinguish between first-generation learners who are in need of state-sponsored education and second-generation learners who need the freedom to choose the type of education they want,” says Bharti, who has filed a writ petition Shreya Sahai & others vs. Union of India ((C) No. 1744 of 2010) challenging the RTE Act for denying children the right to pursue alternative education and home-schooling.

The apprehensions of the growing minority of parents who prefer alternative or homeschooling for their children are not unfounded. In its July 19 affidavit filed in the Delhi high court, the HRD ministry also disclosed that the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS, estb. 1989) will be discontinued after 2015. An autonomous examination board constituted by the HRD ministry as per the recommendation of the National Policy on Education 1986, NIOS has hitherto tested and certified home and informally schooled children granting them upper primary (class VIII) and high school (class X) certification.

“In the past, homeschooled children would write NIOS exams. Now their future is uncertain. The HRD ministry says parents should have the freedom of alternative education and home-schooling, but is bent on abolishing NIOS. The education landscape of India is littered with such double standards. The HRD ministry needs to appreciate that diversity and choice is vital to the educational experience of children. Perhaps the Supreme Court will appreciate this argument better than education bureaucrats,” says Bharti.

Best of luck!

Praveer Sinha (Mumbai)

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