Critics say this move would effectively stop children from marginalised backgrounds from attending private schools.

Why most stakeholders are upset with Tamil Nadus new RTE proposalImage for representation / PTI-file photo
news Education Tuesday, July 09, 2019 - 16:00

A recent announcement by the Tamil Nadu School Education Minister KA Sengottaiyan in the Assembly about a proposed amendment to the RTE rules in the state is being opposed by most stakeholders, except for private schools. The state government is planning to introduce a ‘distance clause’, which will effectively limit access to children from marginalised backgrounds to private schools of their choice. The amendment, if approved by the cabinet and passed in the Tamil Nadu legislature, will be on the same lines as Karnataka, where a parent has to send their child to a school within 1 km from their home.

Critics say this would effectively stop children from marginalised backgrounds from attending private schools. Congress MP from Karur, Jothimani, who took up the issue in Lok Sabha last week during Question Hour, says if such an amendment is brought in, it will make RTE ineffective in the state.

Speaking to TNM, Jothimani says, “What will happen is since most private schools are not near a slum or a locality dominated by those from underprivileged communities, nobody from these areas will be eligible to attend these schools.”

Fear of govt schools shutting down?

The government says this move is being planned to prevent many government schools in the state from shutting down. In his speech in the Assembly, DMK MLA CVMP Ezhilarasan said that though the RTE does not differentiate between the RTE quota allocation in government and private schools, most parents prefer to admit their children in private schools. This has led to a decline in the strength in government schools and hence the government must give priority for government schools while admitting students under the RTE quota, he said. Minister Sengottaiyan's announcement came in response to this speech. 

Jothimani however points out that it is the choice of the parents to send their children to whichever school they want, in order to provide good education. “Why should poor people be restricted to government schools alone?” she asks.

Brushing away the justification given by the government, Jothimani says that there are various reasons government schools are shut down. “Migration of people from rural areas to urban centers in search of livelihood is one of the major reasons why schools there are shutting down. We also have to fight the perception that government schools are bad,” she says, calling the move an atrocious and an unfair one to those from marginalised backgrounds.

Move against social inclusion

Dr Prahalathan, Co-founder of Bhumi, an NGO that works on RTE and in the education sector, says that the proposal will defeat one of the core purposes of the Act. “The primary goal of Section 12(1)C of the RTE act is to create social inclusion. It is not a subsidy mechanism by which poor people are sent to private schools. This purpose of the act is completely defeated if this change comes into force,” he says.

“Admissions to government schools have been decreasing even before the RTE act. Take the case of Karnataka – it decreased despite the existence of a similar restriction,” he says and adds that the government should instead focus on further improving the quality of and perception about government schools to attract students and parents.

S Arumainathan, President of the Tamil Nadu Students-Parents Welfare Association tells TNM that he sees no logic in this proposal. “The government must either bring an exemption to all private schools by saying that RTE admissions will be given only for government schools and use those funds to develop and improve government schools. Or it must apply the RTE quota for all schools without bias,” he says.

Private schools rejoice

However, the news of a conditional clause in the RTE rules has brought cheer to the representatives of private schools in Tamil Nadu.

It has been a long-standing complaint by the private schools in Tamil Nadu that despite allocating seats for RTE, reimbursements from the state are far too less for the facilities provided for the students. They also have complaints about delays in payments by the government.

“It is a great move,” says Lakshmi*, a Correspondent of a leading private school in Pollachi, “We were initially promised that we would be reimbursed the fee fixed by the fee committee for RTE quota students, but then the government suddenly changed it to reimbursement on a per-child-cost. This amount was almost 50% less than the fee fixed by the committee.”

She says private schools have huge overheads due to additional facilities like good labs, libraries, playground etc being made available for the students and that the amount reimbursed by the government is hardly enough to cover these costs.

“The school fees are already regulated by the government, but then they further reduce from that for RTE students. How is it enough for us to run the institution?” she questions.

*Name changed on request

Read: Are CBSE schools in TN gaming their admission schedule to evade RTE quota?

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