Education World, May 2012
With the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 having been substantially cleared by the Supreme Court on April 12, promoters of Delhi's estimated 7,000-12,000 private budget schools - low-cost primaries established by small-time edupreneurs in the city's proliferating slums and down-market residential areas - are in a panic. Under s.19 read together with the Schedule of the RTE Act, schools which don't fulfill the infrastructure norms specified therein risk being shut down. The Schedule requires all schools to have a playground, separate toilets for boys and girls, one classroom for every teacher and libraries stocked with story books, newspapers and maga-zines. Under s.19(2), all private schools have been given a time frame of three years (from April 1, 2010) to shape up or close down. This deadline expires next April.
Educationists in the capital are unanimous that for private budget schools which levy tuition fees of Rs.200-400 per child per month, the norms and standards specified in the Schedule are unattainable in the foreseeable future. "If the RTE Act's Schedule provisions are imposed strictly, most private budget schools will have no choice but to shut down. The RTE Act doesn't make any provision for helping budget school managements by way of long-term loans," says Prof. Marmar Mukopadhyay, director of the Gurgaon-based Educational Technology and Management Academy.
According to Kartik Mishra, associate, School Choice Campaign at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), the well-known Delhi-based think tank, after implementing all mandatory provisions laid down in the RTE Act, "budget schools will no longer remain budget" and will have to substantially increase their tuition fees by 354-533 percent. "Currently elementaries in rural Delhi charge an average tuition fee of Rs.295 per month and in urban Delhi Rs.370. If they install the infrastructure specified in the Schedule they will be compelled to raise their tuition fees to Rs.1,039 and Rs.1,450 respectively," says Mishra.
For several years, CCS has been in the vanguard of a snowballing move-ment to save the country's estimated 400,000 private budget schools in slums and shanties, eulogised by Prof. James Tooley of Newcastle-upon-Tyne Univ-ersity in his bestseller A Beautiful Tree (2009), for providing far superior education compared to government primaries. "Budget schools started mushrooming to fill the void created by poor quality government schools where teacher turnout is abysmally low. It's not an easy decision for poor parents - most of whom are construction labour and factory workers - to send their children to fees-charging budget rather than free-of-charge government primaries, which not only provide free education but also free mid-day meals to their students," says Dr. Parth Shah, former professor of economics at Michigan University and promoter-president of CCS (estb. 1997).
Sentient educationists including top brass within CCS are outraged that neither the RTE Act nor the majority judgement imposes any oblig-ation upon the Central and/or state governments to improve and upgrade teaching-learning standards in the 1.26 million government primaries country-wide, while targeting budget schools. "If children from poor households received a half-decent education in free govern-ment schools, their parents would not send their kids to fees-levying budget schools. Since the Central and state governments can't take the tough decisions required to improve their schools, they are forcibly shutting down budget schools which offer better quality education," says Shah.
S. Kapoor, promoter and principal Spring Time School (estb. 2011) in Daryaganj, old Delhi, which offers English-medium primary education to 40 children aged three-ten in a tiny 350-sq. ft primary school levying monthly tuition fees ranging from Rs.500-650, is fearful of the future. "Meeting the norms specified in the RTE Act schedule is out of question. Delhi needs as many schools as it can get. I don't see the logic of shutting down low-priced primaries which people prefer to government schools. Let them improve their standards to attract our students. That's a better way of closing us down," he says.
But it's also the more difficult option.
Vimal Chander Joshi (Delhi)