Several elite schools across the city, which includes J B Petit School (Fort), Gopi Birla High School (Walkeshwar), Activity High School (Peddar Road), Jamnabai Narsee School (JVPD Scheme), St Gregorious School (Chembur) and Pawar Public School (Kandivali), are among 376 schools that have failed to fill up even a single seat reserved for students from Economically Weaker Section (EWS), as mandated by the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, reveals data given by the school education department. According to school authorities, however, there are no takers for the 25 per cent quota seats in their institutions.
With an exception of unaided minority schools, all others have to mandatorily provide free education to 25 per cent EWS students at the entry level. Out 12,818 seats reserved for EWS students across 554 private aided and unaided schools in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), a meagre 3,308 seats have been filled.
The schools have cited non-receipt of applications from EWS students or non-availability of such students in their neighbourhood as reasons.
Guru Prasad Rege director and trustee of Balmohan Vidyamandir, Dadar, said: “Most of the students from EWS already go to civic or government-run schools, which is why the quota seats in many private schools are lying vacant.”
Schools have claimed that the education department has failed miserably in implementing the RTE Act. “In a population like ours, there are only 12,818 seats reserved for EWS students, that itself seems like a joke to me. They have made only non-minority private schools and international schools reserve seats, which is not a big issue. Even if we don’t charge fees from them, how would these people afford to buy books and participate in other extra-curricular activities that we offer at an international school? This is what parent feel and thus they have not applied in our schools at all,” said Lina Ashar, founder of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited, which runs the Billabong groups of schools.
Rubbishing their claims, activists said that it is highly unlikely that there were no takers for these seats. “It’s impossible that students did not apply for admission to these schools, especially when they can get good quality education free of cost. The department should have conducted an inquiry or taken action against the schools that have not admitted any students under RTE.
But there’s a nexus between schools, education officials and politicians,’’ said Jayant Jain, president of Forum for Fairness in Education, an NGO.
According to K Narayana, member of the Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti, which has been protesting against inaction by the department, atleast 14 renowned schools in the western zone had violated the RTE Act by not publicising their seats or by rejecting the applications of students on some or the other pretext.
NB Chavan, deputy director of education, Mumbai division, however, said the low admission numbers were because students did not apply to Marathi medium schools.