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Karnataka is ‘not so serious’ about RTE

Right to Education

Both the Karnataka state government and private schools were not prepared to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act at the start of this academic year. Sadly, they are still not.

Confusions and contentions are galore among private schools in Karnataka, said D Shashi Kumar, organising secretary of the Karnataka State Private School Management Federation, adding that the government has failed to consider the complaints of the school managements—the primary stakeholders in the implementation of the Act.

The federation, along with a few other private school associations, has decided to throw its weight behind the Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (Kusma)—that has announced to shut schools for a week in July to protest against the Karnataka state government. All that the private school groups are demanding from the state government is a meeting with the schools associations to make things under RTE perfectly clear.

Last week, a private school association set a one-week deadline for the state government to clear their doubts on RTE.
Reacting to the shutdown threat of the schools, Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, state minister for primary and secondary education, said the state government is hopeful that the organisations would call off their strike and reconcile their differences. Kageri also said that instead of calling for a closure, the managements should try contacting the state government.

Minister Kageri also suggested that—since it’s an order from the central government—the schools should move the court if they have contentions.

Shashi Kumar, however, drubbed that lukewarm reaction: “Move the court? Isn’t it the responsibility of the state government to hold a meeting to clear our doubts? This raises doubts about its seriousness in the implementation of the Act in the state. It isn’t.”

He added, “If we individually start calling the education department and put forth our queries, will the issue get solved? If the government is serious, it should call all the school associations for a meeting and discuss the issues to resolve them.”

Contention # 1: Communication gap

Thousands of oppositions were filed against certain aspects of the Act in the state, but the government responded to none, complained Kumar. What is hampering the implementation of the Act in the state the most, it seems, is the communication gap—between the government and the school managements. Private schools are awaiting a call from the government for a talk.

Contention # 2: Minority institutions

It is the top contention of the private schools. “Where is the definition for minority institutions in the state? We are asking the government to give us a definition instead of just making decisions based on its whims. Let the law be equal to all,” Kumar said.

Contention # 3: Neighbourhood

As per the Act, a school can admit students who live within 1km from it at the primary-level under RTE, while it’s 3km for higher primary and 5km for higher secondary. But the government had not done the mapping, instead applied the ward limits for RTE implementation, he said.

Contention # 4: Reimbursement

Karnataka state government has promised reimbursement and most schools have admitted students under RTE based on that. But the government is yet to divulge details about when and how the reimbursement will be done, Kumar points out.

Contention # 5: Income cap

The state government has set Rs3.5 lakh as the income limit for admission under RTE, while it’s much lower in neighbouring states. “Now, the very purpose of the Act—which was meant for the poor people—comes into question as Rs3.5 lakh per annum means close to Rs30,000 a month. Even wards of government employees can seek admissions under RTE. Things like these were not even discussed with the private schools before they were determined,” Kumar rued, adding that that’s why an emergency meeting is necessary now.

Contention # 6: Vacant seats

Most schools start the admission process around the beginning of a year. “Implementing it so late is nearly impossible. Alright, what if some of the seats that were reserved for the 25% RTE quota fall vacant? Will the government pay the fees for them?” Kumar asked.

Contention # 7: Lesser fees

The state government has agreed to provide Rs11,848 per child as reimbursement. “But a good lot of the schools charge lesser fees, and hence, more than happy to implement RTE. What about them?” Kumar asked. Only a minor part of state schools charge lakhs as fees.

Contention # 8: Blame for failure

“The education department comfortably blames the private schools for the failures in implementation of RTE, saying that the schools are violating the Act by turning down applications citing ‘silly’ reasons. If some schools are violating the Act, the state is welcome to take action. But before that, clarify things,” Kumar said, adding that: “We have turned back applicants only when we found their certificates to be bogus and spotted forgeries with regard to income certificates.”

Contention # 9: Lack of publicity

There are many a school that had not even received even a single RTE application, while the number of applications was in single digits in most other cases. “First, the government has to take us into confidence and then the people. It needs to publicise the policy and encourage the right people to apply and benefit under the Act.”

“Just listen to our problems, where we have issues and what our requirements are. Such issues can’t be resolved just by calling a minister or the education department. We need to hold a meeting and discuss the issues in detail to resolve them,” Kumar said.

“When the government came to us asking for the implementation of the Act, it admitted that there were problems and made myriad promises to resolve them. But now, it is just ignoring us,” he said.

“We don’t want to ignore our constitutional obligations. Most schools are eager to implement the Act. But the government needs to get serious about this and start amending issues right now for the successful implementation of RTE at least next year.

Political crisis and instability is turning them away from crucial issues like these and we want their attention,” Kumar added.

If the state government fails to open up and start resolving the issues in the coming weeks, private schools—it is planned—will step up their stir.

As it happened

June 24: Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (Kusma) announced that the schools under it would remain closed from July 16 to 22 in protest against the exclusion of some schools from the RTE. After the Kusma announcement, many school associations have come forward to support the idea of shutting schools for a week to seek clarity on RTE

June 26: Karnataka State Unaided Private Schools Managements Federation came out in support of Kusma. It set a one-week deadline for the state government to convene a meeting of all school associations in the state to resolve issues related to RTE Act. Karnataka Federation of Independent Schools’ Management (KFISM) was also considering to join Kusma in its shutdown stir

June 27: The state government reacted saying that the schools wouldn’t shut schools. Minister Kageri said that instead of calling for closure of schools, managements should try contacting the Karnataka government.
800 schools are under Karnataka State Unaided Private Schools Managements Federation.
1,600-odd schools are under Karnataka Unaided Schools Management Association (Kusma).
Karnataka Federation of Independent Schools’ Management (KFISM) has 152 ICSE and 132 CBSE schools under it.

Daily News and Analysis, 02 July 2012

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