Three years after the landmark Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was brought in, schools across Mumbai are still a long way off from achieving the goal. Data obtained from the state education department shows that just one out of every four seats available under RTE quota has been filled in Mumbai (main city) schools. This makes Mumbai the second-worst district in the state after Latur in terms of admissions under the RTE quota.
As per the data collected by education inspectors of the three zones in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), out of 12,818 seats reserved for students from Economically Weaker Section (EWS) under the 25 per cent RTE quota, only 26 per cent or 3,308 have been filled till date. As many as 9,526 reserved seats are still lying vacant. What is even more shocking is that 376 out of the total 554 schools (for whom it is mandatory to reserve seats for EWS students) have failed to admit even a single student under the quota.
“This shows that the education department has failed miserably to perform its duty. They should have initiated stringent action against schools which have failed to implement the RTE norms. As soon as the government announced that minority unaided schools will be exempt from reserving seats for EWS students, most of them have now sought such a status to evade the rule,” said K Narayan, co-ordinator of Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti, an NGO which guides citizens on RTE norms.
Though the state government has been promoting 25 per cent quota under RTE, the latest admission figures for this academic year are discouraging. In the three zones of MMR, about 74 per cent seats under RTE are vacant as the state government in August 2013 had directed the schools not to admit general category students for these.
According to Jayant Jain of Forum for Fairness in Education, another NGO, there are two major reasons for this failure — lack of awareness among parents and reluctance of schools to admit EWS students. “Most schools we approach nowadays for admission for EWS students turn us down by saying they are minority schools. The state government and the education department must issue a list of schools that fall under the purview of RTE to NGOs, BMC ward offices and on the website. This will create awareness among parents and they can approach the right schools. Schools, too, cannot misguide parents,” added Jain.
“How can schools give reasons such as not having received applications from EWS students, and how can the education department accept it? The school must take initiatives to attract EWS students,” Jain added.
The government was hopeful that enrolment of EWS students would rise by the end of the semester, but the situation did not improve even as the academic year draws to a close. “Schools were asked to go beyond their neighbourhood areas to find students who can apply under this quota. Seats reserved for EWS students were kept vacant till the end and yet schools claim they did not receive applications. This is the reason why the concept for online and centralised admissions under RTE was mooted,” said a senior education official.
N B Chavan, deputy director of school education (Mumbai), said, “We had received complaints that schools were denying admissions under RTE. All these were forwarded to the BMC education department, which has the authority to take action. However, hardly any action has been taken.”