As a five-year-old in 2011, when her parents walked her to school, she craned her neck to try and take in the expanse of the building she thought would be her second home for the next 12 years.
A week ago, however, that dream started to collapse when her parents were called to the school.
“The principal sat us down and told us that they would no longer support our child till Class XII unless we started paying the fee. She said the Right to Education (RTE) Act only applies to EWS (Economically Weaker Section) children till Class VIII, and the exemption from paying fee and other expenses would end this year. We never expected this. Their annual fee is higher than what we earn, and our salaries haven’t increased much in the last eight years,” the girl’s father, who works as an agent in a local tour and travel company, said, recounting his conversation with the principal of Amity International School, Mayur Vihar, last week.
At the core of the issue is the RTE Act 2009 which, among other things, guarantees admission to EWS children in private schools for up to 25% of all admissions that take place in schools at the entry level — nursery, kindergarten and Class I. These children do not have to pay tuition fee and are to be reimbursed for course material as well as uniforms. This clause, however, is applicable only up to Class VIII.
For hundreds of children — who got admission in Class I at private schools in Delhi, under the EWS quota in 2011 — the move from Class VIII to Class IX has left them staring at an uncertain future. Several schools have had conversations with parents, while some have sent letters, telling them that if they want their children to continue in school, they will have to foot the bill.
In Delhi, one is eligible for the EWS quota if the parents’ income is less than Rs 1 lakh per annum, or Rs 8,333 per month. In many top schools in the city, the fee ranges from Rs 10,000-Rs 30,000 per month, depending on the facilities offered.
“How can we afford this? I am an anganwadi worker and earn Rs 5,000 a month. My husband is a mechanic but can’t find regular employment. When I sent my son to Air Force Bal Bharati School, I thought this was being taken care of by the government and the school. In January, however, they sent a notice saying we will have to make alternate arrangements for our child if we cannot pay the fee. For six months last year, I did not get my salary. We were told the government does not have money. How can I sabotage my child’s future because I don’t earn enough?” said a woman who lives in Nizamuddin Basti.
So far, amid pressure from activists, no school has withdrawn admission to children. “Schools discussed the issue with parents. So far, no child is being asked to leave. The school management has decided to address the issue after a detailed discussion,” a representative from Amity International School, Mayur Vihar, said.
At Air Force Bal Bharati School, which was built on government land, “confusion” stems from fragmented orders on EWS children.
“According to the RTE Act, children are to be provided free education only till Class VIII. We have the law on our side. Our lease requirements do not matter as the RTE Act overrode any other policy,” said an Air Force Bal Bharati School official who did not wish to be named. While the school has issued a notice, it has is yet to implement it.
“Schools are fighting for survival. The government has not let us raise fee for three-four years now. How can we support so many children? We have fee sponsorships for children who score over 60% in their exams. Their education is funded by alumni. But free education for all EWS children is not possible,” the official said.
In Delhi, close to 350 schools were given land at institutional rates — much less than what they would have paid had they bought land privately. For a majority of these schools, a clause was added in their lease document that they would have to reserve a certain percentage of seats for children from the EWS category. This percentage, however, was different for different schools. While some were set a responsibility of admitting at least 25% applicants from the EWS category, others were told to reserve 20% or 10%. Till the early 2000s, most schools did not follow the requirement.
In 2004, a Delhi High Court order said all schools built on government land will have to adhere to their lease requirements — a point reiterated in a Supreme Court order in a different case the same year.
But clarity was not achieved till 2007, when the Delhi government’s Directorate of Education (DoE) notified that all schools on government land will have to reserve 20% of their seats uniformly for EWS children. Admissions under the EWS category in Delhi, therefore, predate the RTE Act. Awareness and stricter monitoring, however, came only when Delhi notified the Act in 2011, becoming among the first states to implement it.
According to experts, at least 20% children who were admitted under the EWS category will have to be supported till Class XII as it is a requirement of the schools’ lease documents.
There are close to 1,700 recognised private schools in Delhi and only 350 are built on government land. So while there might be protection for students in a few schools, the majority might be forced to pay the fee or leave once they reach Class IX.
The government does not keep track of children admitted under the category in private schools, and has no way to tell how many cleared Class VIII this year. Officials, however, said this figure could be anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000.
Faced with a peculiar situation, the Ministry of Human Resource Development wants to know how many EWS children facing a problem in Class IX are from private schools that got land at concessional rate from the state government. MHRD officials will meet Delhi government officials on Tuesday to discuss this issue.
“The RTE Act actually came into effect in 2010. The rules were notified by the HRD Ministry in 2014. So almost all states started implementing the Act from 2014, which means (EWS) children (who took admission in private schools under the RTE Act) are in Class VI (now). So where is this issue (of EWS students being refused admission in Class IX by private schools) coming up? All these children may not necessarily be RTE Act children. To some extent, it’s coming up in Tamil Nadu because they introduced their own (compulsory education law) earlier. That doesn’t come under the RTE Act and we don’t reimburse them (EWS children studying in private schools) for it,” said a ministry official.
Which policy these children fall under has flummoxed the Ministry so far.
“The main issue is Delhi. Here, our suspicion is that the RTE Act provision seems to have gotten mixed up with the Delhi Development Authority provision, under which schools getting land at concessional rate were supposed to set aside some seats for EWS kids. To our knowledge, (EWS) students in Delhi should by and large be those children studying in (private) schools where land was obtained at a concessional rate,” the official said.
When the RTE Act was passed, a lot of debate had gone into the addition to Section 12, which deals with admission for children from the EWS category in pre-school and Class I. This was to continue till a child reaches Class VIII, which is the end of elementary education.
But what was the need for such a provision? In the “Clarification on Provisions” of the RTE Act document, the government stated that Section 12 was not just added to provide an opportunity for children to study in quality institutions but to encourage understanding of different social contexts.
“Education is indeed an act of faith and social engineering — but not quick-fix social engineering. In view of the fact that children take time to socialise and teachers take time to develop new attitudes and pedagogic skills, the RTE Act provides for admission of disadvantaged and poor children at the entry level, covering pre-school and Class I. With these children moving up… the school will gradually have a more diverse population spread across all classes. Progression at this pace will allow children the opportunity to grow up together and create bonds: bonds that can survive social walls,” it stated.
“(This)… is not merely to provide avenues of quality education to poor and disadvantaged children. The larger objective is to provide a common place where children sit, eat and live together for at least eight years of their lives across caste, class and gender divides in order that it narrows down such divisions in our society. The other objective is that the 75% children, who have been lucky to come from better endowed families, learn through their interaction with children from families who haven’t had similar opportunities, but are rich in knowledge systems allied to trade, craft, farming and other services, and that the pedagogic enrichment of the 75% children is provided by such intermingling,” the document added.
According to experts, the Delhi government ought to care for these children independently.
“Nothing is stopping the government from using their majority to pass the resolution to say that the RTE Act for Delhi extends to Class XII. Once that is done, all they have to do is pay schools for the children that they teach, the way it’s done now. They have to sit with schools and work out the cost per child for secondary classes. This is a storm in a teacup,” said Janaki Rajan, professor, Department of Teacher Training and Non-formal Education, Jamia Millia Islamia.
The government, she said, has to crack the whip on two main issues. “First, whenever someone talks about the 25% quota, they speak only for EWS and not the Disadvantaged Groups, whereas reservation is for both. Make sure everyone is getting representation. Second, work out a formula for taking children through Class XII and walk the talk on education spending,” she said.
Who is eligible for admission under the 25% quota?
# Children whose parents earn less than Rs 1,00,000 per annum (EWS)
# Children falling under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes, OBC (non-creamy layer)
# HIV positive children
# 3% for differently abled children
The land clause
# 325 schools in Delhi are built on land given at institutional rates by government agencies
# In 2007, before the RTE Act came into force, a statutory regulation said that all such schools have to reserve 20% seats for EWS category children
# All these students have to be provided free education till Class XII
How seats were reserved for EWS kids
2004: Delhi High Court asked all private schools to reserve seats for EWS category children as per conditions reiterated in their lease documents
2007: After schools appealed against the EWS admission, the High Court said all schools on government land will have to reserve 20% seats across the board
2011: Delhi government becomes among the first states to notify RTE Act, 25% admission under the EWS and DG category mandatory for all schools