Yes, it's true that education policy is the core issue.

RTE has its flaws but NPSs disaffiliation by CBSE is about forgery not religionImage for representation
Voices Opinion Wednesday, September 07, 2016 - 15:35

In an expected development, and yet what came as a shock to hundreds of parents and children, the CBSE has cancelled its affiliation to six schools belonging to the National Educational Trust and allied trusts, which include four National Public Schools and National Academy of Learning in Bengalulru, and NPS International School in Mysuru. They are accused of, and according to some government departments proven to have, forged documents to get a minority tag.

This development is just yet another in the long battle that the NPS administration has fought with different departments of the government of Karnataka, protesting the implementation of the Right to Education Act. It is being stated in the schools' defense they are being targeted for non-minority/Hindu schools.

The RTE act exempts all unaided and aided minority institutions, the stated reasoning being ‘they are already doing social service’. The non-minority institutions, many of them Hindu-run schools, say that RTE rules like 25% quota for the economically poor and input-based licensing have created operational and financial problems for them. So they started looking for ways to bypass the RTE.

In 2012, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that minority institutions should be exempt under RTE, and this led to a scramble for ‘minority tag’ for schools which were considered non-minority. In Karnataka, the government also recognizes linguistic minorities. If you are a Konkani or a Malayali-run institution, you get the tag and are thus exempt from RTE.

One of the schools which sought to make use of this rule was the NPS administration, stating that they were a linguistic minority as it was run by Malayalis. But it wasn’t easy to get the tag.

As the rule stood in 2012, only schools with 75% students from the linguistic minority could get the minority tag. The numbers weren’t good enough for schools like NPS to get the tag. In June 2014, the Karnataka cabinet ordered that schools could get the minority tag if 25% of students were from that community. Even then, the government rejected the application of NPS and other institutions because it did not yet deem them fit for the tag.

National Commission for Minority Education Institutions was also said to be against the application by schools like NPS. But the school insisted that they were a minority institution.

In 2014, NPS put up the following on their Koramangala school website: “Our school has a stay on RTE admissions by virtue of considering our school a minority Institution. We have filled all the positions in Std 1 by minority students and as such no further admissions will be accepted from RTE students. Further BEOs have notified RTE admissions could be done up to 21st April 2014 in all the schools. Therefore the parents could approach other schools for admissions as there is enough time.” The notice still stands on the website.

 So how did they do this? They went ahead and allegedly forged certificates.

The alleged forgery by NPS came to light because of a complaint filed with the DPI, Sowjanya, Commissioner for Public Instruction, had earlier told The News Minute.

“The complaint alleged that the school was forging minority certificates and the complaint was forwarded to the government. During investigation, officials of the National Commission for Minority Education Institutions (NCMEI) and the Directorate of Urdu and Other Minority Language Institutions said that they were forged documents,” Sowjanya had said, “They pointed out various aspects such as font and the letterhead that did not match the official format. The certificates which had to bear Director (Minority), DPIM Zohra Jabeen’s signature, were not signed by her.”

The response to this from the NPS management was to go on the defensive and ask for a full investigation – and until then, it will be business as usual for them.

According to the DPI, they tried to forge documents not once but twice to bypass RTE. It has also been said that it was proven that the school had indulged in forgery. It was based on this that the CBSE has now revoked their affiliation.

The RTE has some major flaws, which have been elucidated in other contexts elsewhere. The exemption to minority schools under RTE is arbitrary, pushing schools into looking for other ways out. And it isn’t just the 25% reservation rule. The RTE, coupled with the impractical recognition and licensing norms of each state government, supports input-based criteria which only increases costs for schools, gives authority to corrupt inspectors and ensures no quality output.

The enactment of the RTE has led to the shutting down of several schools across the country, some of which were catering to poor students in low-income settings. In a country where the core problem of education is the lack of sufficient schools, a law claiming to provide social justice and ensuring quality, leading to the shutting down of already existing schools goes to show our inept policy.

Further, research has shown that parents choose private schools even when they have access to free government schools - which goes to show how poor the facilities are at government school, and that private schools perform marginally better than public schools, at far lesser cost per child.

With such realities, a complete revamp of not just the RTE, but our education policy thinking is required.

That, however, is not to be confused with the NPS case.

The reaction to the recent development from a certain section has been about how Hindu schools are targeted. Angered and victimized, parents are lamenting the fact that they are ‘unfortunate’ enough to be Hindus in India. They blame all political parties, including the BJP. They feel helpless.

NPS is indeed Hindu-run, but is caters to the upper and middle classes and hold the resources to withstand regulations. What they have been disaffiliated for is the alleged forging, a criminal activity.

Whatever the flaws in RTE may be, we cannot have schools flouting rules in such an open, disrespectful manner.

That the core issue lies with the policy is true, but is NPS – possibly among the richest of Hindu schools – the only Hindu-run school which is suffering enough to forge documents? Is the forgery, if true, justified? Many states have draconian education laws, and if a minority institution violated them and said they were being targeted over religion, they would be wrong too.

The problem with Indian education has been compounded with the fact that rich private schools only look to keeping their business interests safe, not ensuring better policy. Cronyism is high in the education sector, with several private schools and colleges being owned by politicians. It is the poor, low-cost non-minority schools which have been getting the rough end of the stick.

What is also hypocritical in the defense of NPS by a certain section is their double standards for the minority tag. On the one hand, they lament that Muslims and Christians get minority status and call it ‘vote-bank politics’, but on the other, they want the minority tag for NPS because it’s run by Malayalis.

The NPS fiasco shows that the ultimate solution to the RTE standoff is not in religious bickering and bigotry, and asking that all schools be treated ‘equal’ whatever the laws may be – but to ask for sensible laws for all schools. We need greater deregulation and delicensing in the sector, and more sensible rules to monitor the quality of the schools. If we take the path of religious hatred, our education system will only be inflicted with more injuries. And it is suffering enough already.

Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the author.

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