Issues with distribution of free books to EWS students in private schools have become exacerbated this year because of the financial crisis families are facing.
According to provisions of the Right to Education Act, 25% of seats at entry-level classes in private schools are reserved for children from families with an annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh and disadvantaged groups including disabled children. These children are entitled to free textbooks, notebooks, stationery and uniforms, for which schools are supposed to be reimbursed by the state government.
Every year, there are complaints by parents late into the year that they did not receive the free books and uniforms from schools, which schools in turn claim is because of delay in funds being transferred by the government. As a result, parents end up spending money themselves, and then await reimbursements.
However, the financial constraints on families this year has made the situation more difficult.
“My son was admitted to the school three years ago in the EWS category, and every year we have been paying for books and uniforms ourselves without reimbursement from the school. We’ve been spending Rs 9,000-10,000, but this year it’s just not possible. For now, he’s attending online classes on my smartphone. We used leftover pages of last year’s notebooks for a few months, and I’ve recently bought him some cheap notebooks. But I’m afraid that if school opens, I will be asked to buy books and uniforms, and I won’t be in a position to do that,” said the father of a class II student at a Mayur Vihar school.
A woman, whose son was admitted to a school in class I this year, said she was not anticipating large costs while availing the EWS provisions.
“We didn’t even have a smartphone but bought one last month after borrowing money so he could attend online classes. We have no money right now; my husband works as a labourer. I have bought some sheets of paper for him. I told the teacher I cannot buy books right now and told her to let me know if there are any old books from previous years I can collect from the school,” she said.
Jyoti Mohare, who works with NGO JOSH in East Delhi and helps parents through the EWS process, has been going from school to school to ask why they are not providing study material for free at this time. “This is a problem every year. Families pull together whatever they have — but they have nothing this year,” she said.
Advocate Kamal Gupta, counselor of Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, said, “Transfer of funds to schools for this purpose has not happened this year.”
An education department official said the possibility of clearing these funds earlier this year could be considered. “Usually these funds start moving to schools by July because we need schools to submit estimates and documents first. Since some do not send the data on time, the process carries on till December sometimes. Parents make the payments at the beginning of the school year and are reimbursed later. But this year it is tricky because of the parents’ economic situation. We will discuss the possibility of clearing payments early this year,” the official said.
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