To clear the confusion surrounding the newly implemented Right to Education Act, DNA, as part of its annual event, Principal Talk, invited heads of 24 prominent city schools to discuss the provisions of the legislation with minister of state for school education Fauzia Khan
Is 25% reservation for underprivileged students in private schools binding? How will the government reimburse the money spent on these students? What about the social disparity?
Vandana Lulla, director, Podar International School, Santa Cruz: This legislation was overdue as education is the foundation block of all development. It will help combat socio-economic inequality.
However, admitting children from poor families in Std I is one thing, but what happens when they finish elementary school? Will they be able to afford the secondary education in the same school? Academic standards and benchmarks in private schools are set higher. What happens when a child cannot cope with the curriculum? A lot of ambiguity still exists on how the Act will be implemented as the schools are not aware of the fine print.
Renuka Balaji, vice principal, New Horizon Public School, Panvel: The government has bypassed the issue of improving its own schools, and has passed on the onus of providing elementary education to private schools. Simultaneously, low-cost private schools, to which children from low-income households are thronging, have been set unduly harsh conditions to qualify for recognition. The Act was a great opportunity to improve the infrastructure and academic standards of public schools, but it has instead been used to target private schools.
Seema Buch, principal, Gundecha Academy, Kandivli: The expertise of private schools should be used to help aided schools. It should be made mandatory. We [private schools] have the infrastructure to train such students. However, the reservation clause is difficult to implement as it is not easy for underprivileged students to mix with our children. It is not anybody’s fault, just the inbuilt social disparity in the society.
Sujata Menon, principal, New Horizon Public School, Panvel: The Act marks the fulfilment of a long-standing national aspiration. More than 200 million children are outside the domain of formal education. The provisions of the Act are expressions of national intent. But, at the grassroots level, the realisation of this historic legislation can’t be left solely to the government machinery. Civil society and all stakeholders in education must step forward to implement the Act.
Seema Saini, principal, NL Dalmia High School, Mira Road: Assimilation of underprivileged students is the most important issue. There is a probability that these students may find it difficult to adjust, and indulge in anti-social behaviour. We had one such student who resorted to pick-pocketing, petty thefts, etc. To avoid such situations, schools need to have well-trained counsellors who can help such children settle in the school.
Kusum Kanwar, head of school operations, Billabong Schools: It’s a good step towards achieving 100% literacy, though it will take some time to get the desired results. However, the government needs to clarify some ambiguous provisions. It should also provide for collaboration between private and public schools. Private schools have better infrastructure, resources and qualified teachers. One of the major problems in public schools is quality of teaching — even Std IX students are not fluent in English. We need to change this through public-private partnership. Every school can ‘adopt’ a municipal school.
Fauzia Khan, minister of state for school education: There are set norms for admitting underprivileged students to private schools. Such students will have to first seek admission in local municipal schools. If seats are not available there, they have to look for a seat in government aided schools. Only if all the seats are exhausted, will they seek admission in private schools. The state will reimburse the amount it spends on a child in a government-aided school. Private schools need not fill the entire 25% seats with underprivileged students. But they should not refuse admission to such students. About the social disparity, the government can do very little about it, the society has to work on it.
The Act bars schools from detaining students up to Std VIII. How will this impact primary education?
Kishore Pillai, principal, Rims International School, Juhu: The no-fail policy is a landmark decision. However, a lot needs to be done to implement it. A new grading system has to be put in place.
A process should be created for this, and it should be integrated in the existing system without disturbing things too much.
Meenakshi Kilpady, principal, Dr Sarvepalli Radha Krishnan Vidyalaya, Malad: Introduction of this legislation after almost 60 years of independence reflects poorly on our country. It should have been one of the first laws to be passed. Right to education is as basic a right as the right to live. But, will this Act help achieve excellence? Since exams are not important in this system, children will not feel the drive to work harder.
Joseph D’Souza, managing trustee, St Francis High School, Malad: The provision to not detain students does more harm than good. If schools promote everyone irrespective of their marks, students will lose interest in studies. Especially students from slum areas; their parents will not pay attention to their education unless there is a monetary threat hanging on their heads. Schools should be given certain parameters like some grace marks to stop students from failing. But if a student has not performed well at all, then it is in everyone’s interest to not promote that child.
Rekha Singh, principal, Presidency School, Bhiwandi: If we start passing all students till Std VIII, exams will not mean anything to them. Students at that age are unable to decide what is good for them. How can we be sure that students are mature enough to take responsibility of doing the right thing?
Madhu Phadke, principal, Pawar Public School, Bhandup: If we leave it to students to study and score a good grade, they will never understand the importance of studies. Also, teachers need to be motivated enough to teach not just for the exams. If the students have to be passed in any case, why will the teacher take efforts to teach them?
Seema Buch: The exam culture needs to be faded out of the system, sooner or later.
Rohan Bhat, principal, Children’s Academy, Malad: Detention is necessary, otherwise how do we discipline students? Nobody took our opinion before framing the Act. Moreover, local level officers from the education department are as clueless as we are. So whom should we turn to for guidance? The new continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) process is also very confusing.
Revathi Srinivasan, principal, Smt Sulochanadevi Singhania School, Thane: This year, in spite of the no-fail policy, several parents came to us to request we detain their wards in the existing class. When a student repeats a year, it strengthens his academic base.
Rohit Bhat, principal, Children’s Academy, Kandivli: How can teachers focus on teaching when they are forced to be part of election and Census drives? They are required to be present for election duty almost every year, be they civic or assembly elections.
Fauzia Khan: The state is looking at every possible aspect of the no-fail policy. We are implementing the new grading system to ensure that students are continually assessed. If parents have no problem with the child repeating a year, then there should not be a issue. The RTE specifies that students have the right to study and to be promoted to the next class. About the election duty and Census drive, the state government cannot do much. It is a central government policy. The state government is working on an entry level test for students who have to be admitted in an age-appropriate class in spite of having no background in school education.
Will the Act result in improvement in the education sector, or will it lead to mediocrity?
Latha Skariah, principal, Navodaya High School, Thane: Non-detention up to Std IX is idealistically great, but can bring some students down to substandard academic level if not handled with care and follow up. Maintaining the expected standard is possible only if teaching and learning are conducted in an atmosphere which is not only cordial but also feasible.
Neha Chheda, principal, Shishuvan, Matunga: It is now a matter of correct decisions, in terms of ironing out bureaucracy and corruption. The government should give the Act more clarity. I do not see why there needs to be segregation between private and government schools.
Nanette D’Souza, CEO, Brainworks Pre-School Education: The Act will produce results only if it is implemented in the right spirit by all stakeholders. Such a drastic Act is needed in today’s system. RTE has started bringing about a dialogue between the schools and the government. This dialogue should result in them working together. The Act is the means and not an end in itself.
Divya Punjabi, head of education development, Billabong Schools: We should ensure that there are no misinterpretations by the stakeholders. The Act should be clearly defined. It should not be thrust on the stakeholders. It should not have blanket conditions, but should take into consideration the challenges that the schools might face in implementing it.
Savita, principal, Bombay Cambridge School, Andheri: If the Act is understood well and implemented with clarity, it will bring about a big change in education in the rural areas. It will ensure children in rural areas go to school, and will lead to their development. Even in urban areas, it will create awareness that every child should go to school.
Chanda Sahu, training manager, Ryan School: The Act will not lead to mediocrity because schools are not being forced to have 25% reservations for underprivileged children, but to accommodate them according to seats available. I think schools will be open to the Act as long as it calls for public-private partnership, and is clearly stated.
Aparajita Rana, principal, Green Lawns High School, Worli: A lot more work needs to be done. The Act will not bring about mediocrity if the entire education system is made to change. Continuous and compulsory evaluation will bring meaning to education in the country.