“21A. Right to education.—The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine. “
The Right to Education Act, 2009 passed by the Government provides for ways for the Government to ensure that free and compulsory education was provided to children in the age of 6 to 14. This was great and I’m sure everybody agrees that such a fundamental right, already applicable in 134 other countries, came too late for children in India.
Problems started with the Act itself mentioning that privately owned unaided schools must reserve 25% of their seats for ” belonging to weaker section and disadvantaged group in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion “ . This was conflicting in several ways:
i. How would a classroom with 25% students from different background function?
ii. How would the schools get reimbursement from the Government for the fee of these 25% students?
iii. If the Government was allowed to dictate terms to private institutions, wasn’t that a violation of their freedom?
While a lot can be said about these issues above, I’ll describe each in a few lines.
i. Since some schools implemented the Act a couple of years ago, we now have data to show that forcing 25% seats in a classroom to be occupied by students of a particular economic strata causes problems. Parents who pay a high fee to private schools and except a certain environement within the class are horrified of students from a different background using abusive language, behaving differently and not too interested in learning. Teachers find it difficult to teach these uninterested students, school administration is constantly threatened by the parents of these students against any action and the result is that overall quality of education in the classroom has come down.
ii. Schools have to pay bribes to Govt officials to get back the fee of 25% of their students. Schools are also paid the fee at a certain rate – which is much lower than what the rest of the 75% parents pay. Schools are also being paid months after the fee is actually due. This is weakening the financial status of private schools and preventing them from investing in better infrastructure or spending on activities that are required.
iii. Today, it’s 25% seats for the underprivilged in private schools. All it will take is a small amendment to the act to make it 50%. This fear is preventing any new institutions from being created by private groups or individuals
On 12th April 2012, the Supreme Court of India upheld the provisions of the Act and clarified that even private schools must provide for this 25% reservation, so there is no argument on the issue now.
Why does a private organization that is not funded by the Government have to obey these laws? It’s because the government has total control over ALL schools in India. They have maintained this control by creating a forced provision which only allows a school to be setup as a Non-Profit Trust or Society. As an entrepreneur, if I wanted to setup a private school in India, charge fee from parents and pay taxes, it’s not allowed.
If an individual or company is allowed to buy or sell land, operate transport and technology companies and even do things like selling alcohol or tobacco, why can’t they be allowed to create schools and provide good education to those who are willing to pay?
I believe in the Right to Education as a fundamental right. I believe that the Government (State) should provide free education (as per the constitution) to all those who wish to avail it and I believe that the quality of education provided to all children should be nothing less than the best.
What needs to change now are the laws itself. Private schools in India should be allowed to convert to profitable, tax paying institutions. They should pay the entire cost of land, in case they have got land at a discounted rate. They should decide who to admit and what fee to charge, but they should also pay taxes on any profits they make. These taxes, collected by the Government of India, should be used to setup more schools that can provide quality and free education.
Lets not destroy what is right to correct what is wrong.