Pros and cons of reservation in schools for economically backward

With schools having to reserve 25% of their seats for economically backward students from the next academic year, the poor kids will get an opportunity to study in elite schools.

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With schools having to reserve 25% of their seats for economically backward students from the next academic year, the poor kids will get an opportunity to study in elite schools. Puja Pednekar weighs the pros and cons.

Ten-year-old Rahul Waghmare trudges to a civic school in Andheri every day. He wants to design automobiles when he grows up. But now, he dreams of studying in a posh school.

However, he can’t afford to. His mother and sister work as domestic helps and just about manage to make ends meet.

“My school is in a bad shape. The teachers are absent most of the time and lessons are not taken seriously. I have always wanted to study in a big school,” he said.

His dream might be a reality next year.

From the next academic year, all schools - even the most elite ones — will have to reserve 25% seats for underprivileged children between the ages of 6 and 14.

This is one of the sections of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education, introduced in 2009, which will be implemented from next year in the state.

“Such a move will mean that even a deprived child from Dharavi will be able to study in an elite school in the city. These students will get free education till class 8. The state government will pay part of their fees while the rest will have to be borne by the school management,” said a senior education official.

The reservation will give underprivileged students access to good education, say educationists who have welcomed the move.
“In a country where literacy levels are low and good quality education is not affordable to many, the move is the need of the hour,” said Basanti Roy, former divisional secretary of the state board.

The scheme will help create equal opportunity for students irrespective of their economic backgrounds, she added.

Although Jayant Jain, president Forum for Fairness in Education, welcomes the move, he is worried for the child after the freeship is over.

“The government will pay his/her fees only till class 8. What will happen to the child after that? The child will be left in the lurch as he would not be able to afford studying in that school once the free education is over. The government should cover a child’s education till class 10 at least,” Jain said.

Schools have their own set of worries after the law is enforced.
They say that such a reservation will change classroom dynamics culturally, socially and economically. They will need to pay extra attention to these students.

“When an underprivileged child studies in a big school with peers who are financially better than them, it might lead to negative feelings and the child might feel let down,” said Vandana Lulla, director, principal of Podar International School, Santa Cruz.

“Also, other children will not know how to mingle with them. Schools need to organise sensitisation programmes for students on how to behave so as not to hurt each other’s sentiments.”

Rohit Bhat, principal of Children’s Academy, Malad, agreed that schools will need a mechanism to assess these children. “We need to know whether the underprivileged children will be able to cope with the curriculum. Teachers will need to work hard with such students through remedials. It will be a tough task,” he said.

The state government will reimburse the schools an amount equal to either the fees charged by the school or the per child expenditure in state schools, whichever is lower. 

But, schools are apprehensive whether the move would be economically viable for them. They, instead, want a public-private partnership that will provide education to the deprived children.
“Instead of reserving seats, the government should strengthen the public-private partnership model by allowing schools to adopt municipal schools, send their own qualified teachers to the civic schools and allow students to use their infrastructure,” said Sudeshna Chatterjee, principal of Jamnabai Narsee School, Vile Parle (West).

Parents are worried that the fee burden will fall on the rest of the students.

“Even though the government pays part of the fees of such children, the schools will get an excuse to hike fees saying that they have to cover up for these children.  This will make the education system more lopsided and unfair,” said Anita Nagwekar, a parent whose son studies in a school at Andheri. 

Several states across the country have already started implementing the reservation.

But Maharashtra came out with its rule book for implementing the RTE in 2011 and will make the 25% reservation clause binding on all schools from the next academic year.

“The RTE is delayed in the state because we are waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the reservation. Some private schools had taken the matter to the court. We cannot implement it until we get a judgment from the court. So by next year, it will fall in place,” said a senior education official.

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