The total number of free seats for economically disadvantaged students in Pune district, under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, has dropped by 1,200 this year, despite 68 more schools in the district offering such seats. As schools have been given the choice of deciding their entry-level points, most have chosen Std I as the entry point instead of pre-primary, resulting in fewer overall seats. According to activists, these concerns were pointed out to the education department when the Government Resolution (GR), on 25 per cent quota for admissions under RTE, was issued. The GR had mentioned schools selecting their entry-level points but, activists said, these issues were ignored.
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In the admission process, which began on Thursday, only 15,725 seats in 849 schools are available this year for students from the economically and socially weaker sections of society. Last year, there were 16,923 such seats, indicating a drop of 1,198 seats. Mushtaq Shaikh, primary education officer at the Zilla Parishad, confirmed the decline in the number of seats, despite an increase in the total number of schools registered for RTE, which has gone up to 849 schools this year as compared to 781 in 2016.
On whether allowing schools to select the entry-level point could be the reason behind fewer seats, he refused to comment. However, he did admit that many schools, which until last year had said that pre-primary was their entry point, have selected Std I as the entry point for this year. “Actually, the total number of seats under RTE this year is 16,344 in Std I and 3,255 seats in pre-primary. Last year, it was 11,016 seats in Std I and 5,907 seats in pre-primary. Overall, there has been an increase in RTE seats. But not all of these seats are available for admissions. Many schools have reasoned that since they gave admissions to students on RTE quota three years ago, those students have now come to Std I and so their seats are already full for that class. Since many schools have selected Std I as their entry point, despite the fact that they are registered under RTE, they don’t have seats to offer, which has led to an overall decline in the number of seats,” explained Shaikh.
“Of the 16,344 seats that are supposed to be under RTE, about 12,470 seats are available for admissions while nearly 4,000 seats are being shown as already filled by schools due to continuation of past students,” he added.
While activists say that these tactics are being deliberately used by schools to find a way out, the education officer said, “By that logic, there would be a sudden increase in seats in the next two years since there would be no admissions to be carried forward”.
However, education activists have their doubts. “This is why we had asked for a clearer entry point criteria. We understand that in case pre-primary and school is different, the latter can decide on the entry point. But when pre-primary is attached to the school, isn’t it clear that their entry point should be at a lower level,” said education activist Mukund Kirdat.
School managements, however, claimed that the state government had not given reimbursements on time, leading to the situation. “We understand that schools are not businesses, but we also need money for our expenses. We have salaries to give, bills to pay, infrastructure to upgrade… how can we afford quality education if we are giving 25 per cent seats for free and not even getting the reimbursements on time? If everything had been done smoothly, why would the schools resist more RTE seats and unnecessarily create a headache for themselves,” said a school trustee, on condition of anonymity.