Sonia’s RTE Forcing Closure of Private Schools, Hurting Students

Ever since the Right to Education (RTE) Act was passed in 2009 by UPA-2 and enacted from 1 April 2010, it has unleashed draconian state regulation over private unaided & aided schools run by the majority (read Hindus) community and resulted in several private schools either shutting down, or on the verge of doing so.

Today, the National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA), an alliance of  budget private schools (BPS) from across the country (over 36,400 schools from 20 states catering to ~9.35 million children) held a demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi to protest this RTE driven school closure, and demanding autonomy for Budget Private Schools, ease of opening schools, learning outcome-based regulation and recognition of schools. They also appealed the HRD ministry to either fix RTE or repeal it altogether while formulating the new National Education Policy (NEP).

Anti RTE demonstration
NISA Demonstration against RTE

As per NISA, around 20,000 schools had either closed or were facing threat of closure due to RTE as of data gathered till 18 March 2014. The situation has worsened since then – reports says 10,000 schools were closed in 2015 and an equal number are likely to close this year as well, and 2 crore children are at risk. Salient clauses of the RTE Act, viz. reservation of 25 per cent of the total seats, prohibition of holding back and expulsion, no capitation fee and screening procedure for admission, pupil-teacher ratio, etc. amount to an administrative nightmare. So a legislation which was introduced in the guise of social justice is having exactly the opposite effect – it is making education more difficult to access for the poor and the ‘right’ to quality education remains just on paper.

Origins of RTE and Its Impact

The RTE Act was the brain-child of the infamous NAC (National Adivsory Council) led by Sonia Gandhi – it strategically exempted minority run schools (even Government aided) from the purview of the RTE Act. To understand the deleterious impact of RTE and the 93rd Constitutional Amednment passed in 2005 by UPA-1, we recommend reading this earlier piece which appeared on HinduPost.

Anti RTE protest
Protesters from NISA campaigning for school autonomy

This NISA article outlines the problems facing budget private schools due to RTE. RTE is nothing but the educational equivalent of the ‘license quota permit raj’ imposed by Indira Gandhi on the economy in 1970s that was finally lifted by PV Narsimha Rao in 1991. The article says –

“Budget private schools are which offers affordable education to children from slums and rural parts of the country. These schools are private schools which are unrecognized and have only the most basic facilities. According to section 19 of the RTE act, all private schools should meet certain norms to ensure recognition. These norms include all-weather building, one class room for each teacher at the least, separate toilet for boys and girls, clean drinking water, playground and library. It also specifies the dimension of class rooms, norms for hiring and terminating and salaries for staffs and teachers.

The Right to Education Act has failed in dealing with private unaided schools. Rather than going for collaboration with private schools, the government is taking arrogant measure which will result in the shutting down of such schools. This is the observation made by most of those who run such private schools which offers education to weaker and marginalized sections of the community.

Estimates put the number of Budget private schools in India in the range of 300,000 and if these numbers of private schools are forced to shut down, it will lead to a serious problem of mismatch between demand and supply in the education sector.”

Excessive regulation is the bane of many a sector in Bharat. And it is not surprising that increased involvement of bureaucracy feeds that other monster which afflicts our public life – corruption. The same article adds –

“The Government has introduced many regulation and licenses, which makes it impossible for private schools to function legitimately. In the case of Deepalaya, an organization which operates many schools for students from the slums in Delhi, the government has declined to grant recognition for the past 10 years. The reason they point out is that the school do not pay salary to its teachers as stipulated by the government.

Since budget private schools find it difficult to meet all the government requirements, it is quite hard for them to get recognized by the government. For instance, schools are required to have playgrounds and pay a salary of Rs. 20,000 or more. To maintain a playground and pay such a high salary will force the schools to increase their fee multifold, which the poor will not be able to afford. A reason why parents prefer to send their children to private schools is the absenteeism of the teachers in the government schools.

Rather than taking measures to close down private schools the government should realize their importance in the field of primary education and understand their situation. The government should take steps similar to what they have done in the case of our economy; de-license and de-centralize. The schools and other higher education institutions should be accountable to parents and not bureaucrats alone.”

School Vouchers: A Far Better Solution To Empower Poor Students

One of the fundamental provisions of RTE is a minimum 25% quota for economically weaker section (EWS) students that all private schools run by the majority (Hindus) have to provide. In theory, the concerned State Governments are supposed to reimburse the private schools for these EWS students. But the practical reality is that schools are reduced to haggling with  Government over the monthly reimbursement figure, or just kept waiting for years altogether. Not surprisingly, many Hindu educational entrepreneurs just give up in frustration and shut down their school.

A far better alternative, as suggested by NISA and others, would be a school voucher provided by Government to students; these vouchers can be cleared only for schools, and after they have been deposited in their or their parents’ bank account. This would enable students to get admission in schools of their choice and near their houses.

The present Government needs to look urgently at this burning issue which is severely impacting our youth, on whom rests the dream of a resurgent Bharat. RTE needs fundamental changes or should be scrapped altogether, and any new policy should be non-discriminatory in nature and apply equally to all communities.