Radhika* is a 11th standard student at a private school in Chennai. As it is, the pressure of having to perform well in the matriculation board examinations in 12th standard is high, but Radhika and her parents have a much bigger problem at hand now – they have to find her a new school.
They are not alone. About 5 lakh students and their parents are now face the herculean task of getting an admission into other schools in a short span of 2 months, and Radhika’s mother, Nandini, is one of them.
On Monday, after the Tamil Nadu state government informed the Madras HC that the ‘temporary recognition’ to 746 private schools in the state would expire on May 31, 2016, the court ruled that no further extension of recognition will be granted to these schools.
As a result, these schools will have to shut down, leaving several students to find other schools within an extremely short span of time.
All private schools in India have to be ‘recognized’ by the respective state governments to function. The recognition is given on complying with various rules and regulations set by the government.
These 746 schools have been held in violation of these regulations, and were given time to get recognition by complying with the regulations, but they failed.
As activists, basking in the success of their legal victory, celebrate the closing of non-compliant schools, some parents lament that this is an unnecessary move since their kids where happy studying in those schools, and private school owners says that the regulations are unrealistic and archaic.
“I have a daughter studying in her 11th standard. Have they ever thought about that? Now if the school is derecognized, I have to find another school for her 12th standard, and that’s very difficult,” says Nandini, asking what the problem is if students and parents are happy studying in those schools.
Activists who have taken up the fight against corruption in the education system, however, point to the non-compliance of the schools.
“The schools had not submitted proper building plans, they have either gotten permissions from local bodies, or they haven’t at all. They were given an extension in 2006 to fulfill these norms till 2011. But they took no action from 2011-2015. This is what they asked for,” says A Narayanan from the NGO Change India, the petitioner in the case as a result of which all the schools are being shut down.
Narayanan had sought to quash a GO dated August 18, 2015 of the school education secretary and to prevent authorities from granting recognition against law to unrecognized schools.
“You cannot give them recognition – cramped school spaces, narrow staircases, no ventilation, no fire safety codes – you are providing an environment that is dangerous for children,” says Narayanan. The Supreme Court had also brought out several directions which had to be followed scrupulously as per the National Building code, which, he says, have not been fulfilled either.
Parent’s however say that not all schools are as bad as the activists make them sound.
“To us everything seems fine. Nearly 2500 students are studying in the school. It’s going to be really difficult to find a school to accommodate our children here,” says Latha, a parent of a child who has just weathered the chaos of LKG admissions to snag a seat in one of the 746 schools. “Good schools are hard to come by, and just because of this order, a few good schools cannot be wasted away and painted in the same colour as the schools violating norms.”
Narayanan would have none of this. “It’s a big population but it is something you have to do. This is a preventive measure. If it has to be done, it has to be done. It is the parents’ fault that they took admission in such schools,” says Narayanan.
However, keeping in mind the woes of parents, Narayanan has written a memorandum to the TN government requesting that the students in the 746 schools be placed in other private and government schools.
When asked about the practicality and feasibility of placing 5 lakh students in schools within 2 months, he says, “It is for the parents to sort out. Ideally we say shut down these schools, everyone will find other schools. 5 lakh children are not an issue at all. 50 or 100 f these schools may try to get approval by conforming, put the rest in government schools.”
The idea of admitting children into government schools as a quick fix, is not going down too well with parents.
"I can't even imagine putting her in a government school because the standards are so low there,” says Nandini, “Teachers there are not as good and the facilities are even worse than private schools.”
Those in the private schooling sector argue that the rules themselves are unrealistic.
ATB Bose, the principal of ATB Bose Higher Secondary School in Chennai, says that the codes and regulations governing schooling are outdated, “The rules are not practical for today. The salaries and the building plan norms are not up to date, he says, “Government schools aren’t even maintained well, how can they do this?”
He also says that the idea of uprooting students from these private schools and lodging them in government schools is absurd. “Which parent will send their children to government schools. The same rules that they’re creating a fuss over, don’t apply to government schools as they are all exempt. So where will they go?”
Questioning the relevance of these norms, a principal of a reputed matriculation school in Chennai says that government should not impose norms retrospectively. “The rules have changed. This was not the case when these schools were recognized. Keeping that in mind, we requested the Directorate that schools that have already been recognized should be allowed to continue. Don’t allow schools from hereon to function under the old norms,” he says.
Narayanan however insists that these schools have to be shut. “I am simply the whistleblower here. They will have to sort it out."
Meanwhile, for Latha and her child, the uphill task of finding another school is just beginning, and she cannot but lament about the situation. "A matriculation school is their shot at a better education, and I have not received a single complaint from my children on the infrastructure of the school. Now if I have to put them in a government school, they are not going to be able to go to a good college. How can the petitioner say so easily that 5 lakh students can be accommodated easily in government schools? For us, it is a step down. You cannot club all 746 schools under the same umbrella and ask children to adjust in government schools when the government has done nothing to improve their own state system."
*Name changed to protect identity.