Education Commissioner S Chockalingam answers questions on the implementation of the Right to Education Act in the state and the policies being formulated to strengthen educational infrastructure, in an Idea Exchange moderated by Assistant Editor Sandeep Ashar.
Dipti Singh: The education system is going through a transition due to the Right to Education Act. Due you think because of this, agencies such as the BMC and the Directorate of Education are passing the buck over implementation of policies?
I don’t think that if things are put in the proper place it is possible. It is about how you keep your communication channels open, how you communicate and get things done. We had a meeting with the BMC additional commissioner to decide which organisation will take what decision. It is a question of having the willpower and the ability to explain to the other entity as to what is expected and taking over responsibility if necessary, which is exactly what we have done for Mumbai.
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Sandeep Ashar: What action is being taken against schools where admissions have not been carried out under RTE in the past two years?
There are two ways of handling any issue. One is taking action post facto. Second is ensuring it doesn’t occur. I believe in making sure that it doesn’t occur. The reason as to why we have focused on only Mumbai and Pune is because these are the places where this huge differentiation occurs. There are international schools and the poorest of people. It is always better to make a systemic change. For normal admission today, maybe you have to go to a school, you might not be permitted to enter. In RTE, you don’t have to go to a school and even if you are, you are going to a help centre. A school cannot deny entry to the help centre because it is not for their admission. It is an admission to the online process. So people can go and apply and then they are allotted at random.
Manasi Phadke: Are the people from deprived sections of society, the ones who are most eligible for RTE, making use of the online facility?
Because certain segments of society cannot go online, we have put up help centres. People can just walk in with physical papers and it will be done by our officials. This is being done here as well as in Pune. Yesterday, a poor labourer got admission in a school in Pune. However, the response in Mumbai is much lesser than in Pune. I am not very happy. It is part of our duty to create more awareness about this facility.
Dipti Singh: Do you think, by any means — offline or online — is RTE reaching out to all EWS students?
RTE has two-three parts. One is it gives right to education, in any school. It is not restricted to any particular type of school. Second, every school except exempted schools, should give 25 per cent admission to EWS or the weaker sections of society. So the number of schools which we cannot control in the sense that it is a private school, they want to open more schools, maybe they can create an enabling environment. Apart from that, we cannot do much. So this RTE 25 per cent quota is only enabling that every segment of society is participating and emerging. This 25 per cent is not expected to cover 100 per cent of the weaker sections of society.
Manasi Phadke: Many people are concerned over how students who come through the RTE process manage to cope in private schools.
I have heard many questions like this from parents, schools and students themselves asking whether they can cope. When we work towards creating an egalitarian society, we basically need to create an opportunity, more than anything. And RTE is about creating opportunity. Now, after creating opportunity, it is for them to survive. But if you are not even giving an opportunity, you are depriving a particular segment from getting an opportunity. People who are going through distress and problems have a zeal to overcome that.
Alison Saldanha: The infrastructure in BMC schools is poor, the quality of education is questionable. But the RTE Act has provisions where there has to be a third party audit of the school infrastructure. However, there is no initiative on the part of BMC to do this. Why doesn’t the state put pressure the BMC to improve its school infrastructure?
It won’t be appropriate for me to comment on how BMC schools are maintained because I have not personally visited but I will be happy, maybe I will sit across with the additional municipal commissioner education for BMC and both of us will jointly address this issue. I do not want to make a comment on a particular corporation on how they maintain a school. Let me make a general statement at the state level, in the past 10-15 years, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has given a lot of infrastructural funding. And by and large, infrastructural facilities have gone up. So much so that now there is a demand to concentrate on quality of education, you have come to set a level in infrastructure. Let me have a sitting with them, we will sit and address it together.
P V Iyer: How does Maharashtra fare on quality of education?
I agree that Maharashtra is not top-class. As it was pointed out, it is at 16th position. But in the National Achievement Survey, our rank is around 14, which is above national average. Yes, the State government understands and we understand that our ranking is not high. But instead of looking only at infrastructure, let us look at quality. So we are trying to create these quality cells.
Dipti Singh: You are planning to make RTE admissions online. Are you thinking of making all the admissions online?
What we are planning is to have an admission portal. This is being discussed with people, the managements as well as the headmasters of the schools, so that we can make a common platform. They will not lose any of their powers, it will be a win-win situation. There will be no harassment for the parents to go to ten schools to collect ten applications, there will not be any queues outside the schools. The schools will not have crowds.
Sandeep Ashar: When do you plan to roll these reforms out?
These two we are planning for the next academic year. As far as the admission portal is concerned, we are piloting it next year. About the marksheets, we will introduce them in segments. It does not mean that we will abolish paper marksheets fully, if someone wants to take a printout, they can.
Zeeshan Shaikh: Do you think fee regulation is a better way to ensure that the poor people get better access to quality education? And why is it not being implemented?
The RTE wants to make every segment of society in the emerging schooling models which not only needs the quality student education but also means different boards, CBSE, ISCE, IB. Even controlling of fees will not permit the poor people to attend international schools for anyway the fees will be so high that these people cannot get in. Fee regulation is to ensure that there is no profiteering. They have to ensure that the fee is not over charged.
(Transcribed by Sanyukta Dharmadhikari)