June 29, 2011

Child rights violations rampant

ASHOK AGARWAL, a Senior Advocate practising in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court, has been litigating for the right of education, primarily for those belonging to the weaker sections of society. In fact, even before the actual enactment of the Right to Education Bill, he had campaigned forcefully among policymakers to reinforce the link between out-of-school children and child labour. He was involved in several rounds of discussions along with educationists in the formulation of the RTE Bill. While he considers the RTE Act to be a momentous step, he also feels that there is a need for a fundamental change in the manner in which the Central and State governments view the right to education.

Excerpts from an interview he gave Frontline:

It has been close to two years since the RTE Act was legislated by Parliament and one year since the rules were framed. You have been involved right from the beginning in the campaign to bring in a law to make education a right and to get the Act implemented by both private and government schools. What has been your experience so far?

The whole problem is that governments have never been serious and sincere about the education of the children of the masses. Except for lip service, there has been no substantial change in the attitude of governments. Problems like child labour, lack of physical and academic infrastructure in schools, [the issue of] good-quality education, teachers' absenteeism, dropping out by students, availability of schools within the reach of children, education of children with disabilities, among other things, have not yet been addressed despite the enactment of the law. One important thing has certainly happened: a lot of propaganda by the government machinery has led to a tremendous demand for education by parents and children.

However, on the supply side the government has failed utterly to meet the same. This has led to multifarious litigation on the basis of the rights arising out of the Act. Further, a total absence of provisions on accountability in the Act has made it shallow. In such a situation, the only hope is for the masses to force governments by individual as well as united means to implement the Act in its true letter and spirit.

The demand for a common school system has not been met still. Many educationists and social scientists believe that this would be a right step not only for making education equitable but also in the larger interests of a more equitable society. Do you think that the Act is a step forward in this direction?

I do think that the Act is a step forward in the direction of a common school system. But it undoubtedly suffers from some serious lacunae that contradict the principles of a common school system. For instance, “specified categories of schools” contemplated in the Act only perpetuate the ongoing discriminatory system of education with public funding.

With education being largely in the private sector and with more and more private schools coming up, is it going to be difficult to get the Act implemented in the interests of those who are getting left out of the school system?

Fortunately, government schools still cater to a large majority of school-age children. Moreover, government schools are the only hope for the children of the masses. Private schools, in law, are the extended hands of the government and are obliged to fulfil the constitutional goals. Therefore, if private schools are appropriately regulated by law keeping in mind the constitutional objectives, I do not see any harm in the growth of more private schools. The implementation of the Act largely depends upon those who are responsible for its implementation.

Many State governments have not framed the rules, and where they have framed rules, they are inadequate. What has been your experience? Is getting the Act implemented in the private sector more challenging or is it equally difficult in government schools?

Many State governments have woken up suddenly to formulate the rules. Many States have not framed the rules yet, and many others are still pondering over them. The rules are not only inadequate, but some of the provisions therein even violate the provisions of the Act. There is a bright side, too. Where State governments have involved civil society in the process of framing the rules, there has been a greater understanding of the issues involved. The implementation of the Act is equally difficult in government schools. One of the biggest reasons is that the persons running these schools are not sending their own children to government schools, and, therefore, they are not interested in the education of the children attending these schools.

Have private, unaided schools got off easily under the provisions of the Act? Many feel that the 25 per cent reservation provided for students of the weaker sections is arbitrary, that it could be have been more, and that there should be restrictions on the fees charged by private schools. There is also this notion that while teacher-pupil norms are prescribed for government as well as private schools, other norms relating to infrastructure and teaching workload are only for unaided schools.

The Act deals with unaided schools in a very limited manner. There is a need to have a comprehensive central law dealing with all the aspects of unaided schools, which include regulation of fee and other charges and adequate representation of parents in the school management committees. The Law Commission of India had recommended that it should be 50 per cent, but to begin with it could be 25 per cent. I wish and hope that this percentage goes up to 100 per cent to make the constitutional mandate of free education to all a reality. The minimum norms prescribed for a school in the Act is equally applicable to both private and government schools.

As one who has been continuously involved in the fight to get this right realised, do you think that the executive is withdrawing from its responsibility and that without a court order, most governments may not even implement the legislation?

It is correct. Inaction on the part of the executive to perform its constitutional and statutory duties forces the aggrieved to resort to avoidable litigation.

The common man is unable to provide quality school education to his/her child because on the one hand, government schools by and large lack basic physical and academic infrastructure and suffer from mismanagement, which results in inferior quality of education, and, on the other, the “good quality” unaided private schools mercilessly exploit parents and students by subjecting them to arbitrary, unjust and exorbitant fees and other charges. In other words, the common man is the victim of a purely state-designed situation.

The apex court has again and again reaffirmed the law of the land that capitation fee, charging of exorbitant fees, profiteering, commercialisation of education and exploitation of parents/students by unaided private schools are impermissible in law and the government has not only the powers but also the duty to regulate fees and other charges in these schools to prevent commercialisation of education.

However, the issue is that there is the total absence of a legal framework in the country to control and regulate unaided private schools in the matter of fees and other charges. The only exception is the Tamil Nadu Schools (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act, 2009, but it is limited to the State of Tamil Nadu.

Parents and students all over the country have been agitating against the governments' failure to curb the commercialisation of education in unaided private schools. The need of the hour is to have a central law to regulate fees and other charges in unaided private schools throughout the country, maybe on the lines of the Tamil Nadu Act.

The Constitution of India mandates the state to provide free and compulsory good-quality elementary education to all children up to the age of 14. It may be kept in mind that this fundamental right is an independent right of every child of this country and does not depend upon the socio-economic status of the parents. It is submitted that unaided private schools are only the extended hands of the state and, therefore, they are also obliged to provide free education to schoolchildren. Unfortunately, such a constitutional mandate has remained elusive.

On the other hand, students and parents are being virtually looted by greedy school managements under the patronage of governments. Thus, child rights violation is a rampant feature here.

http://www.sakshi.com/ | 29th June, 2011

June 23, 2011

Agitation by ABVP on Fee Hikes in AP

http://www.sakshi.com/ | 22nd June, 2011

One more school harasses Parents in Hyderabad

http://www.sakshi.com/ | 22nd June, 2011

June 9, 2011

State edu ministers set up panel on extension of RTE to class 10

NEW DELHI: HRD ministry's move to extend Right to Education till class 10 got the unanimous approval of the Central Advisory Board of Education on Tuesday.

CABE at its meeting also approved two others proposals of the ministry: a new law to prohibit unfair practices by schools and a National Vocation Education Qualifications Framework (NVEQF).

In case of extension of RTE, providing for 10 years of free education, CABE set up a committee consisting of state ministers, educationists and members of civil society to formulate the draft legislation within three months. While giving their consent for extension of RTE, many state ministers pointed out how lack of funds was creating problems in the implementation of free and compulsory education till class eight.

As for the new law on unfair practices, HRD minister Kapil Sibal said a similar legislation for higher education is with the Standing Committee of Parliament. Ministers of most states agreed that there was a need for such a legislation because of the increasing trend of use of unfair practices in schools. Again, a CABE committee consisting of state ministers, members of civil society and educationists was set up to thrash out the issue.

Explaining the rationale behind the new law, a senior ministry official made a presentation listing out growing reports of malpractices like demand for donations, refusal of admission, non-refund of fees, over-charging, fee collection without receipt, short payment to teachers and staff and commercialization. The proposed law will make it mandatory for schools to publish the prospectus giving out all the details about physical infrastructure, admission process, number of seats, teachers and their qualifications. It will proposes to make unfair practices punishable, by imposing a penalty as well as criminal prosecution.

The vocational education roadmap would be developed by a group of state education ministers. State governments have been asked to identify regional and local skills and develop curriculum content to be fed into the framework. The courses chosen should be locally specific to be implemented through plans devised by the states, which would be woven into a national grid within the parameters of NVEQF.

Schools against PTA role in fee hike decisions

Unhappy that the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) will have a role in determining the fee structure if the proposed fee regulation bill is passed in the next assembly session, school managements have instead suggested a state-level fee monitoring committee. The bill states that private schools will have to get any proposed fee hike approved by their respective PTAs ten months ahead of implementing it. The PTA and the management will then have to inform a divisional fee regulatory committee of the consensus on the fee structure.“Why should a PTA’s approval be taken?” said one management representative who attended the meeting. “The PTA should be concerned about the syllabus and planning activities, not with the fee structure. Every PTA has 40 or 50 members. Will there be uniformity on anything?” he added.

Instead, the managements suggested a state-level fee monitoring committee for the entire state to which parents can complain if they feel schools are profiteering.

They expressed reservations against various clauses in the proposed Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Regulation of Collection of Fee) Act at a meeting with government officials on Wednesday.

It was the second day that education minister Rajendra Darda and education department officials held a meeting to take suggestions before finalising the proposed act. Managements are also unhappy about the clause in the proposed act that says school officials will be liable to pay a Rs5-lakh fine and face up to three years of imprisonment if they collect excess fees.

June 4, 2011

Schools charging exorbitant fee to lose recognition

HYDERABAD: City schools will lose their recognition if they charge exorbitant fees this academic year (2011-12). The district administration has decided to put a leash on the managements of state board, ICSE and CBSE schools in the city who have already announced a hefty hike in their fee structure even before the commencement of the academic year.

While schools that come under the state board will be de-recognised by the officials, in the case CBSE and ICSE schools the DEO will withdraw the NOC (No Objection Certificate) if the rules are not followed. The state's NOC is required to obtain recognition from national boards like CBSE and ICSE.

Several city schools have decided to hike the fee by 20 to 50 per cent this year. But the district administration announced on Friday that the fee hike will be effective only if the parents' committee agrees to the same. The schools will have to give a detailed report on the fee structure and reasons behind the hike to the district educational officer (DEO) by June 10. They will also have to take a no-objection letter from the parents' committee by June 20. The detailed fee structure of each of the schools will be put up on the official websites of the schools and also the DEO Hyderabad's website, http://www.deohyderabad.com/.

Announcing the new system, Natarajan Gulzar, district collector stated that several complaints had come to his administrative office in the past regarding exorbitant fee hikes initiated by schools in the city. He stated that all the schools including international schools will have to comply by the rules.

The parents associations in the city welcomed the move but stated that some of the CBSE and ICSE schools have already collected the first term fee based on their increased fee structure. "The government has been slow in implementing the fee regulation in spite of parents' protests since the past two years. We hope the regulation comes into force soon," said Kamal Malliramani, member, Hyderabad Schools' Parents' Association.

Sushinder Rao, DEO, Hyderabad said that schools will also be categorised into four groups on the basis of their infrastructure facilities, quality of teachers and performance of students in public examinations. "The classification could later on decide whether the fee structure is justified or not. We have not taken a final call on whether the classification should decide the fee structure," stated the DEO.

The district education department will also take strict action against the erring schools in this regard. "We have taken criminal action against five managements and have closed down 16 such illegal institutions so far," the DEO said. The DEO also stated that fire safety norms prescribed by the central government should be put in place before the commencement of the academic year.