• Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - 05:30

Monalisa Das | The News Minute | January 29, 2015 | 04:31 pm IST 

Since the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009, 2,962 unrecognized schools, several of them being low cost private schools, have been forcibly shut down across the country. Another 17,871 such schools have been issued notices for closure. These 20,833 schools together have catered to 12,82,118 children. Of these, several are quality low cost private schools, and have simply been closed on the issue of one technicality or the other.

These are statistics provided by the India Institute , a not-for-profit policy research organisation.

Also known as low cost private schools or budget schools, these educational institutions differ from recognized private schools and government schools majorly in terms of having a government license. 

Unrecognized schools run without government license. This could be because they have not been able to meet the criteria set by the government in order to get a license. This includes infrastructure requirements and teacher salary scales that the government stipulates as prerequisites for recognition.

Low cost private schools are not funded by the government, but run through sponsorships and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policies of other organisations. These schools, thus, cater to children hailing from financially weaker sections of society, and is often a preferred choice over no-fee government schools because the learning levels in several such schools are also considered better than those in state run schools.

Another reason why parents choose unrecognized schools over government schools is because the medium of instruction in most such private schools is English.

However, according to Section 18 of the Right to Education Act 'unrecognized' schools are illegal.

One such school that has bore the brunt of an Act meant to promote education, is Deepalaya School. 

Run by an NGO called Deepalaya, Deepalaya school in Delhi’s Sanjay Colony in Okhla had been running for over two decades. Last year, it was forced to shut down, since it could not get a license. 

“Our NGO had 4 schools- 1 of which is recognised and the others unrecognised. We had to close down all the unrecognised schools”, said Ms Shikha, Manager of the Education Department in Deepalaya.

Since April 2014, the closed schools have been functioning like just a learning centre where some students come for tuition classes. The strength of over 1,200 students in the 3 schools has now been reduced to around a mere 500. 

“Under the Delhi School Education Act of 1973 (DSEA), we need to own the land in which we run the school. The land which Deepalaya in Sanjay Colony is built on belongs to the Slum Board. We filed to get recognition, but since the land is not ours, the application was rejected”, she asserted. 

An online petition called ‘#SaveDeepalaya - Don't shut down Deepalaya School in Sanjay Colony!’ has also been launched on change.org

Unrecognised schools reportedly also remain invisible in all official statistics in India. According to a survey on schools in Patna, Bihar, by the India Institute, 'Government statistics show that there are only 350 schools in Patna; this census reveals that there are 1,574 schools. Thus, 2,38,767 school going children out of 3,33,776 students are missing from the official data'.

Deepalaya 1

( Image source: Save Deepalaya Facebook Page )

The report adds, 'Mostly the missing schools are unrecognised schools, which charge very low fees and cater to the poor and lower middle class, and are often clustered around government schools. The household survey confirms nearly 70% of the parents prefer to send their children to private unaided schools'. 

Ramanathan S, Manager, Projects and Advocacy, India Institute, is of the opinion that regulations binding schools need to be eased if not changed. 

“We need to have a graded recognition system for schools, instead of just one standard recognition process- it should be on the basis of learning levels. Such a process will ensure that low-cost private schools are also brought into the legal ambit", he said. 

Stating that we could be staring at a crisis, ‘as our students are learning less and less every year’, he said, “There is also a need to focus on concrete learning levels instead of just infrastructure”. This could include student performance, teacher attendance along with essential safety and comfort features. 

Another significant angle Mr Ramanathan points out to is a parent’s right to choose a school for their children. 

“Right now, we ask a poor man to send his child to a government school only. He has no other option even though numerous government schools are not good ones. We need to ensure that they too have an alternative to choose from”, he said.

Alka, an alumnus of Deepalaya, is now a civil engineering student in Delhi. That Deepalaya in Sanjay Colony no more functions as a proper school upsets her. 

“What is happening to the school is very strange. The school over the years has educated hundreds of students from our slum, given them opportunities that would not have been possible otherwise”, she stated. 

“They supported every child and now that there is no school, some of us are forced to go to the only government school in our area. And you know how government schools are”, she added with a disdain, pointing to the poor condition of the municipal school in her area. 

Getting a license however, does not seem to be a solution for Deepalaya. Ms. Shikha said that even if they were to get a recognition, it would be difficult for them to run the school like other medium or high-cost private schools do. "We cannot pay our teachers according to the Sixth Pay Commission. And we may not be able to meet the infrastructure requirements as well. We can’t increase our fee, because that would defeat our whole purpose of functioning”, she said.

Deepalaya school ran for a few years after the implementation of the RTE Act, but since they were being fined for operating without a license, they finally had to shut down. 

Ever since Deepalaya school shut regular operations, several of its students have been forced to shift to the nearest municipal school, while some have also even gone back to their villages, she mentioned.

To go through the online petition, visit https://www.change.org/p/government-of-delhi-savedeepalaya-don-t-shut-down-deepalaya-school-in-sanjay-colony