April 26, 2012

Fee hike: State govt puts riders on private schools

AHMEDABAD: Schools in Gujarat will not be able to hike fees in an ad hoc manner from next year. In a first, the state government has passed a resolution which gives specific guidelines to all schools, including private ones affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education ( CBSE) and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE), among others.

The government resolution (GR), which will come into force from June 2013, states schools can set their own fee standard at the beginners' level - either junior KG or class I - so that parents can decide if the infrastructure is worth the fee. This will also help in deciding if it fits into their family budget. Besides, the fee can only be increased annually and not more than 10%. "We had no rules to take action against schools which affected rampant fee hikes," said primary education secretary R P Gupta. "Expect harsh measures against those who don't follow the guidelines." There are some 8,000 private primary schools in the state.

In the past year, parents have agitated over fee hike of more than 15% implemented by a number of private schools. One school had even affected a 25% hike.

"This is a good decision as it will allow us to plan our annual budgets. My daughter's school fee was hiked from Rs 80,000 last year to Rs 1.05 lakh this year. Such hikes are unaffordable even for the affording class," said a senior executive of a multinational company.

With the GR being issued, educationists are concerned about how many schools will actually implement the hike and how the government plans to monitor its enforcement. P 3

The government resolution (GR), issued by the state education department, says that all teachers will have to be paid salaries through salary bank accounts. This will curb exploitation of teachers by many school managements who pay them peanuts - 1,500 to 4,000 only in cash The Sixth Pay Commission norms will be implemented by all schools, irrespective of the board and their affiliation with the government. This means better pay packets for teachers.

30 million Indian school children have no access to toilets: Study

NEW DELHI: Nearly 30 million school children in the country still have no access to toilets, even as schools have made significant progress in providing the facility in recent years, a study by UNICEF's Water, Sanitation, Hygiene(WASH) programme revealed Wednesday.

Most schools are also found wanting in teaching of hygiene and life skills.

According to the paper released by WASH, though the proportion of schools having toilets has increased from 50 per cent to nearly 75 per cent in last five years, only 60 per cent of schools have girls' toilets, a factor which has been noticed to be a major deterrent in girls attending schools. Also where the toilets are available, only one or two are usable.

"About 30 million children across India do not have access to toilet facilities," the paper said.

"More than 90 per cent schools have drinking water facility, but only 80 per cent are functional. The majority of school curriculum lack focus on hygiene and life skill education," it further said.

The figures given by WASH reveal that a total 6.50 million children (3.46 per cent of the total children enrolled in schools) have no drinking water facility.

The Right to Education Act (RTE) requires all schools to have separate toilets for boys and girls and adequate safe drinking water facility.

The Supreme Court had also given a ruling in December 2011, stating that all schools must provide toilet facilities, and denial of basic right to water and toilet "clearly violates the right to free and compulsory education".

The study also says promoting simple handwashing can reduce child morbidity from diarrhoeal diseases by 44 per cent.

According to UNICEF figures, globally, around 2.65 billion people live without access to proper toilet facilities and 883 million don't have access to safe water.

Education specialist at UNICEF Raka Rashid says promoting hygiene habit during school years may last for life and be beneficial in preventing several health problems. It also improves school attendance, girls participation and their health.

April 24, 2012

Right to Education is the wrong thing for the right reason

At the peak of Anna Hazare fever last year, anybody disagreeing with his message or prescription was branded pro-corruption. Over the last few weeks, anybody expressing disappointment at the Supreme Court upholding the Right to Education (RTE) Act is being branded anti-poor or elitist. This is unfair and unnecessary: dissent is not treason.

The supporters of Anna and RTE have similar traits: impatient, intellectually certain and more interested in big ideas than operational details. While it's stupid to disagree with the need for school reforms or access inequity, I strongly disagree with RTE because it fights yesterday's war of enrolment, the government cannot provide money for its fair implementation, and its operating details declare war on education entrepreneurship. RTE is the wrong thing for the right reason.

The Supreme Court opined on the 25% reservation for poor students but the toxic parts of RTE have nothing to do with this reservation. RTE timetables the extinction of 15lakh 'unrecognised' private schools where parents pay something to avoid something that is free. The title of this article comes from the book The Beautiful Tree by James Tooley that chronicles the emergence of low-cost private schools as a reaction to dysfunctional government schools. In addition to this recognition licence raj, RTE unleashes rules that lead to higher costs, corruption and confusion. This hostile habitat will halt the explosion of education entrepreneurship and blunt competition that creates quality. To paraphrase a beheaded French queen, RTE says, "If you can't have cake, don't eat bread."

RTE will lead to higher corruption because Corruption = (Discretion + Monopoly) - Accountability. If the central government can't make up its mind if 24% or 42% of India is poor, how will a block education officer (BEO) decide which child is poor? In reality, they will auction their poverty certification to the highest bidder. RTE empowers BEOs to convert every school into a personal ATM. Not all, but most will. RTE will lead to higher school fees because the central and state governments don't have the 2 lakh crore needed for fair implementation.

Private schools will be forced to raise resources for the 25% reservation and micro-specification of salaries, qualifications and infrastructure. Delhi RTE rules specify a minimum salary of 23,000 per month for teachers and require primary teachers to have a two-year education diploma - this means that 33% of teachers have to be fired.

RTE specifies that every school must have a playground; Delhi specifies 900 sq yards but some states are considering 1,500 sq yards. The 25% children will require cross-subsidisation because state governments propose to reimburse a state average but labour and land costs vary greatly.

Karnataka's proposal to cap reimbursement at 7,000 per student per year for the 25% has already led to fee increasesfor the balance 75%. Delhi has not paid schools who were early adopters of RTE for the last few years. All this micromanaging of schools and theirfinances hits middle-class parents with higher prices for the same product.

The overcapacity in engineering and management higher education - last year, 200 engineering colleges in south India got less than 10 admissions, one lakh of the two lakh seats in UP Technical University are empty and 25% of Karnataka MBA seats were unfilled - is creating a quality race that includes free laptops, guaranteed internships, lower fees, free hostels, embedded English and soft skills.

But RTE views school qualitythrough poor proxies like playgrounds, salaries and diplomas. Does changed evaluation under RTE mean no exams? What constitutes appropriate efforts to bring back dropouts? How will teacher-student ratios be calculated? How will midday meals be handled for the 25% in privateschools? Where will these25% go after Grade 8? Will the 75% parent populated government school management committees have the power tohire and fire teachers? RTErequires admissions on a "random, rational, reasonable and just basis". Don't these words mean different things todifferent people? Why take away the right to detain or expel till Class VIII? Can we be equal and excellent?

RTE is fighting yesterday's war (enrolment) with yesterday's template (legislation). Fixing schools needs a complex ecosystem overhaul. We need sharper performance management for teachers. Seats in private schools are half of the government but locations are a tenth; underperforming, under-enrolled government schools should be fixed or put up for PPPs.


Classic Dodge - Is the govt ducking its responsibility with RTE?

The Mess...

•20 per cent of teachers are untrained
•Dropout rate is 10-50 per cent
•No drinking water, separate toilets for children in most government schools

The Need...

•Govt needs to spend Rs 48,000 crore every year to put 6-14 year-olds through school
•To teach them, India will need 12 lakh qualified teachers next year

“...if the child is unruly or indisciplined, or does not study at all, or does not pass a single test or exam, the child must be promoted to the next year. Our children will suffer, and school performance will become like all government schools. Teachers will have a very difficult time ....These children have to be educated free, and the reimbursement will only be as per determined costs, which means, to be borne by other parents, including you.”

—Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao
Higher Secondary School, Chennai

These unvarnished words came in a letter the school sent to parents in a bid to seek solidarity over concerns raised by the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Horrified by its elitism, one of the parents, A. Narayanan, informed the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). The NCPCR notified the state government. Since then, Narayanan and other parents haven’t heard anything on the topic from the school.

A year on, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of this far-reaching law and mandated that all schools (except unaided, minority and boarding schools) reserve 25 per cent of seats at entry level (Std I) for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) of society. A debate eerily similar to the late noughties’ debate over reservation in colleges and universities has begun. The biases and prejudices on display now are of the same flavour as of those displayed then. Private schools raise the following points:

•EWS kids will bring down standards
•There’ll be problems of adjustment between rich and poor students
•Government compensation for admitting poor children won’t be adequate
•The Act provides for free schooling till the child is 14 (Std VIII). What happens to the child after that?
•And most vitally, shouldn’t government improve its schools rather than force private schools to take the load?

The last argument alone holds some weight, for the ratio of government schools to private schools is about 80:20. “The government must really focus on what ails government schools,” says advocate-activist Ashok Aggarwal. “Nearly 10 lakh children are waiting to get admission in government schools.” Yet, equally, there’s a strong demand for studying in private schools, for such is the low opinion of government schools. The din over the RTE threatens to take attention away from doubts about the government’s own commitment to educating everyone. “State governments must walk the talk and deliver on the RTE by concentrating on improving their own schools,” says Annie Koshi, principal, St Mary’s School, Delhi, a private, unaided school. “Schools like ours have worked at integrating children from diverse backgrounds long before RTE was notified. It would have eased the situation if the government had involved the private sector as partners instead of taking on this authoritarian, strident tone.” As in every academic year, six differently abled children and 22 street children were among the 120 children admitted to Std I at St Mary’s this year.

“State govts must walk the talk and deliver on the RTE by improving their schools. We have for long worked at integration.”Annie Koshi, Principal, St Mary’s, Delhi

Some word it carefully. “There are several challenges,” says Debi Kar, director and former principal, Modern High School for Girls, Calcutta. “For instance, we need teachers. Where are the teachers? Simultaneously, we need teacher training. There’s a huge demand for seats. The move (25 per cent reservation) will put additional pressure. We need to simultaneously maintain our high standards.”

Subala Ananthanarayanan, principal of the Sri Sankara Senior Secondary School, Adyar, Chennai, says, “Since the SC ruling last week, the only question is: how will we manage the finances?” The school has spent on infrastructure and set up e-labs and is not convinced—like many others—by the government’s promise of compensating it for admitting poor students. Some are seeing a long legal battle ahead. “We’ll approach the Supreme Court for a review of the judgement by a larger bench,” says Visalakshi of the Tamil Nadu Private Schools Association. “Our lawyers say there’s a case for a review.”

While private schools complain, government schools are doing what they can. The Sarvodaya Kanya Vidyalaya, Noor Nagar, Delhi, boasts that its 2,500 girls are on an even footing with students of the best private schools. But it works under severe constraints. “Government school teachers are called for election duties. We are not free to collect donations or accept money from companies. We have a commitment to teach and, well, our salaries are protected,” says a former principal.

The government-run Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas (Std VI-XII), which are of fairly high standards, serve as role models. But against the vast deficit, this is clearly not enough. After RTE was implemented, the NCPCR, mandated to audit its implementation, carried out the first door-to-door status report of government schools in 12 states. The preliminary findings are revealing:

•In most schools, there’s no drinking water, leave alone toilets for children
•In Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, teachers ‘outsource’ their work to anyone they choose
•The dropout rate is 55-60 per cent
•There’s a huge shortfall of qualified teachers: besides the 5.23 lakh vacancies in government schools, they need another 5.1 lakh teachers. Figures for private schools are not available.

A draft report of the government had rung the alarm on these issues two years ago. It had noted the lack of infrastructure: 5.12 per cent government schools don’t have a building; 13.78 per cent government elementary schools in rural areas don’t have drinking water supply; 54.7 per cent don’t have toilets; 77 per cent don’t have electricity. Those working on the NCPCR report say their findings might paint a worse picture. Yet, when the SC, acting on a PIL, directed state governments to submit an affidavit on toilets and supply of drinking water in government schools, almost all said facilities were in place. Says NCPCR member Sriranjini Vadiraj, “We were expecting the states to admit they need more time, but nothing prepared us for what the affidavits said.” Educationist Vinod Rai says the RTE calls for systemic changes and “the real test will come in March 2013, when an audit will be conducted”.

Some experts reckon that by next year, India will require 12 lakh teachers and Rs 48,000 crore as yearly expense on education. Is the government prepared for that? If only to show its commitment to what it holds up as a showpiece law?

April 19, 2012

Tab trend fuels fee hike fears in city

HYDERABAD: High-end city schools have it all. Air-conditioned smart classrooms with touch screen blackboards, ergonomic furniture and pasta for lunch. And they just can't stop adding to the list of classroom must-haves - the latest step makes it mandatory for students between class VIII to X to become Tab-friendly.

Well, if the Akash Tablet can be introduced in government schools, why not private schools embrace the same novelty, it is asked. But with a price tag of Rs 8,000, parents aren't looking forward to slipping the gadget into their child's bag just yet. School managements maintain that the gadget will prove to be an effective learning tool that digitizes homework and classroom lessons. Some schools have even asked their students to get tabs even before the start of this summer vacation. As for the rest, they say that tablets will be introduced at the beginning of the coming academic year in June.

Schools such as Meridian in Banjara Hills and Silver Oaks in Bachupally have already announced the move to take on tabs as classroom aids. Even Oakridge International School (Bachupally), Jubilee Hills Public School and Delhi Public School (Diamond Point) too are seriously considering introducing the gadget in their classrooms. While at Meridian, students from classes VIII to X will be using the device, Silver Oaks has introduced it in class IX.

While tablets manufactured by a city-based technological solutions company are priced at Rs 8,000, much lower than that of the Ipad, whose induction in a Mumbai school recently kicked up a storm, parents feel that this gadget is an extra expenditure which will not serve any purpose.

For one, they say that the introduction of tabs will not reduce the weight of the schoolbag as children will have to carry their notebooks and textbooks to school anyway. Most publishers are yet to come out with e-book versions of their textbooks so the tabs will carry only related learning materials like concept maps, animated diagrams and homework applications. Applications which might divert the attention of children, like games and other entertainment tools, will not be available in these tablets.

Parents are predictably worried about the expenditure. "Schools hiked fees by 25% a couple of years back to put together smart classrooms providing the best teaching and learning solutions. Now, they are forcing us to buy tabs all in the name of providing quality education. They seem to have a myopic vision of what education is," said Ramnik Kaur, a parent.

However, Hyderabad Schools' Parents' Association (HSPA) has condemned the move. "Tabs and other gadgets are not good for children as constant use can affect their neck and spine," said HSPA's Kamal Malliramani.

Parents pointed out that there was no replacement clause in the agreements signed with the schools and, hence, any damage to tablet would have to be repaired at their own expense. "The tab could very well get damaged or malfunction but it is not clear whether it will be replaced," a parent said, fearing the extra expenditure that would entail. Schools, however, said that advances in the digital field would have to sooner or later be adopted in classrooms. "The government is thinking of introducing Akash Tablets in government schools to facilitate learning. The device will help students learn even while they are on the move.

"Moreover, in the years to come, more and more publishers are expected to embrace the e-book format so, eventually, the weight of schoolbags will also lessen," said Usha Reddy, principal, Meridian School. She added that about three-fourths of the students in question had already purchased the tab with parents finding the initiative interesting enough to back it.

Seetha Murty, principal, Silver Oaks, said: "Parents have not complained about the move (to introduce tabs) as they think that it is a good educational tool." The management of Oakridge International School revealed that they have already organised a demonstration of the tab and on April 28 would take a call on whether to introduce the device or not.

Jubilee Hills Public School has got its academic committee to do a feasibility study and intends to introduce the gadget once the cost-factor is negotiated. "The tabs will change everything right from the weight of the schoolbag to the method of learning. We will introduce it somewhere down the line," said Shailaja Gopinath, principal, DPS, Diamond Point.

Some schools, like Geetanjali School, Glendale Academy and Pallavi Model School, though have decided to reject such a proposal. "Two years back we had introduced the tab but it was not made compulsory. Just 10% of the students had opted for it and the move did not excite too many parents," said an official from Pallavi Model School.

April 12, 2012

Fee hike: Parents won't pay

NEW DELHI: Following the fee hike, the All India Parents' Association (AIPA) Delhi unit has decided to oppose it. At a meeting on Sunday, members whose children study in 40 unaided schools in the city, condemned the arbitrary fee hike and refused to pay the increased amount until the hike is approved by the directorate of education (DoE).

The AIPA also alleged that the 384 unaided schools in Delhi, which are situated on public lands allotted to them on concessional rates, are required to obtain prior permission from DoE to hike any fee. "This was a clause in the terms and conditions of land allotment. However, no school obtains any such permission before hiking fees every year," said the national president of AIPA, Ashok Agarwal.

In Sunday's meeting, the members decided to continue to pay the fee and other charges at old rates prevailing till March 31, 2012.

"The parents shall pay the fee and other charges at increased rates only after the schools approach DoE or the Justice Anil Dev Singh Committee on Fee Hike and obtain the approval from them on their increased fee structure," said Delhi president of AIPA, I S Gambhir.

The parents' body also decided to start an agitation in May to stop such arbitrary fee hikes by unaided private schools, and to protest against alleged inaction on the part of DoE against all erring schools, which were indicted in the 2010 CAG report.

Fee increase evokes mixed reactions

DUBAI - Not all parents are upset by the proposed increase in school fees. The decision for the hike after a freeze of three years is seen as having been made in the interest of a good education system that is aspirational and forward thinking.

One parent said: “We can pay for other things, especially luxury goods, but when it comes to quality education everyone begins to complain. There is nothing more important than investing in your children’s learning process and if there is a need for a hike then we should cut elsewhere and absorb it.’’

Several teachers and parents did acknowledge that the six per cent high-end spike was not prohibitive and could easily be absorbed by the more affluent section of society who send their children to expensive schools.

In the more moderate section the hike was only three per cent to 4.5 per cent and this amounted to a small sum of money.

The major advantage being seen is that the official monitoring of the schools to ensure efficiency is integral to the protocol and will be that much more stringent.

The recommendation is based on the study conducted by The Department of Economic Development, Department of Finance, Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Real Estate Corporation, Dubai Statistics Centre, Dubai Executive Council and KHDA who have carefully worked on developing the framework after factoring in all relevant variables.

The intention to review fee increase applications by schools is seen as an attempt to produce a more competitive educational environment.

Parents of students studying in private schools in the Emirate cautiously welcomed the Knowledge and Human Development Authority’s (KHDA) decision to hike fees.

Reacting to KHDA’s decision to allow increase of fees in private schools, a few parents say that a hike at this time is ill advised, but admit that it is required to meet rising costs of running schools.

CEO of Indian High School Ashok Kumar said: “It’s a very scientific way of doing it and I appreciate the KHDA decision. The decision is based on proper research and the formula for increase has been scientific and it’s not arbitrary”. The Indian High School has not increased its fees in the last four years. “I don’t think parents will have a problem with the fee hike,” added Kumar.

Advertising professional Sunil Roy’s daughter is a Grade 12 student at the Indian High School, Dubai. He said, “The school has not yet intimated us. Compared to other schools in Dubai, The Indian High School has a reasonable fee structure. There are two components in the fee — one is academic and the other is transport. As far as I know, the hike will affect the academic part and six per cent is something I can manage. Ideally speaking, any hike at this time is not good, but again schools also have their expenses to meet.”

Snehashis Chakrabarty, a finance professional said: “I have two children. My older daughter is in Grade seven at the Indian High School and my son in KG2 at the Indian International School in Silicon Oasis. I think a fee hike at this point of time considering the current market scenario might affect a lot of people”.

For parents like Kevin Jamie whose daughter is a student at the GEMS Jumeirah Primary School, the hike makes no difference. “My company covers my kid’s education expenses, so hike or no hike it doesn’t make much of a difference for me. But I think it’s going to be very hard on people who have to spend for education from their own pockets,” said Jamie.

Parents to protest fee hike in schools

New Delhi, Ap[ril 8 2012, DHNS:

SC set up a committee to bring uniformity
Parents whose children study in private schools are feeling the heat due to ‘arbitrary hike’ of school fee every academic year.

The members of All India Parents Association (AIPA) held a meeting on Sunday to discuss the action plan to put a stop on fee hike.

“Almost all the schools increase their fees every academic year ranging from 10-40 per cent. We are planning to stage a demonstration in front of the office of the Directorate of Education to take immediate steps to stop this menace,” said I S Gambhir, president, AIPA. The Delhi unit of AIPA has decided that all the parents of unaided private schools shall not pay hiked fee and other charges to schools and would continue to pay fees and other charges at old rates.

“It is unfortunate that despite Delhi High Court’s order in favour of the parents on arbitrary fee hike, the schools are flouting the same with impunity and the DoE instead of taking action against the schools is practically protecting the mighty and the greedy managements of the unaided private schools,” said Ashok Agarwal, AIPA national president.

The meeting was chaired by Ashok Agarwal and attended by the parents’ representatives of over 40 unaided private schools.

To look into the fee hike issue, the Supreme Court has recently set up a committee to bring uniformity in the fee structure.

“The committee is still taking up the cases of the 21 school petitioners. The final decision is yet to arrive. Since there is no strict body to oversee the fee hikes, each school comes up with their own rules. This problem of sudden fee hike started after the 6th pay commission recommendation in 2011. Some schools increased the fees by 50 per cent, some even have even increased it by 100 per cent,” said Khagesh Jha, an advocate.

The whole idea behind starting private schools on government land was of community service, with no intentions of profiteering, said Jha. “Increasing the fee is not compulsory. In fact, in a recent ruling in Ramjas School the court ordered the school to lower the existing fee,” added Jha.

April 5, 2012

City schools fleece parents with ‘fees’

Schools are resorting to different means to get parents to cough up large sums of money to guarantee a seat for their children. City schools will be announcing their ‘selection lists’ for the coming academic year 2012-13, and parents will be confronted with demands for more than just the tuition fee if they want a place in the school.

Demanding donations without issuing receipts has become a thing of the past. The managements are now officially collecting donations under different names. The money is sought for an admission fee, building fund, development fund, annual event fee, caution deposit, library fee, sports fee, recreation fee etc. Only the caution deposit is refundable, which in most schools is Rs 10,000.

Another money spinner for schools is selling uniforms, shoes, textbooks, notebooks and other stationery items from their own premises or at stores designated by them. The admission fee and ot-her charges could amount to Rs 50,000. This, of course, is over and above the tuition fee collected in three or four terms throughout the year, which adds another Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000 to the bill. So great is the demand for decent schools that parents are stampeded into paying whatever is asked for.

“I got a call from the school saying that my child’s name is in the selection list. I was asked to pay the admission fee and other extra charges of Rs 30,000, the very next day. They said that only after this, would the seat be confirmed and I will be given details about the tuition fee,” said Ms P. Parineetha, mother of a Class I student. She was told that the admission fee was only a one-time payment and from next year, she would only have to pay tuition fees and other charges. “They also informed me that if I fail to pay the admission fee within the deadline, the seat will be cancelled and will be allotted to students on the waiting list.”

April 2, 2012

2 years after RTE lightens schoolbags, kids back to square one

So, your child insists that you read to him The Hunchback of Notre Dame when you put him to bed? It perhaps won't be long before he starts resembling the fabled character. Two years ago, when the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act was enforced, educationists envisaged turning the schooling system on its head. Among other provisions, they wanted to reduce the weight of children's schoolbag, vis-à-vis section 29 of the Act. But, a recent study shows that little has been done in this regard.

Of the 100 children below the age of 10 whose postures were examined, a quarter could not sit without a slouch and suffered from orthopaedic problems; and 20% were physically inactive. Blame the usual suspects: heavy schoolbags, the wrong posture while studying and watching TV and the lack of regular exercise.

Dr Shreepad Khedekar, orthopaedic, Imperial Clinics, which conducted the study on postures, lays the biggest share of the blame on heavy schoolbags. "Some children try to ease the strain of a heavy backpack by dropping their head forward into an irregular posture. Others hang their backpack on one shoulder, developing the muscles on only that shoulder. This leads to a slumped posture and an unnaturally curved spine in children who don't learn to distribute the weight properly."

But, who is at fault really when orthopaedic problems hit at such an early age? Schools and parents are reportedly missing out on correcting students' postures and reducing the burden of their schoolbags.

Hima Doshi, principal of Ajmera Global School, admits that posture is the biggest problem bearing down on schoolchildren. "Despite having installed age appropriate and children-friendly desks, students often sit in the wrong posture when they are engrossed in an activity. They either strain their neck too much or kneel down."

Since it's no secret that heavy schoolbags largely contribute to a poor posture, many schools have begun taking pro-active measures to address the issue. Doshi says her school follows a 'light schoolbag policy' and that recently, it began providing students with lockers for sports kits so that they do not have to carry them to and from school everyday.

Experts, though, point out that schools which face a space crunch or which run in double shifts find it difficult to adopt such measures. Freny Mehta, principal of Alexandria Girls' High School, Fort, says, "Given the large number of students and space constraints, it is not practical for us to install lockers for all students. But, our secondary school students have desks which can be locked and where they can keep some books they need everyday."

The need of the hour, claim experts, is to slash the number of periods in the day and to force students to carry only those books required as per the timetable. Basanti Roy, former secretary of the Mumbai division board of education, says, "Schools have seven to eight periods. Children carry all their books to school either because they are too lazy to pack their bag or out of compulsion. Often, teachers who handle multiple subjects or who are in a hurry to complete portions ask children to carry books for all their subjects every day, irrespective of the period."

The state has come up with circulars, government resolutions and directives from time to time against such school practices, but they remain only on paper.

In 2008, the Maharashtra State Human Rights Commission asked the state government to conduct a survey on whether students were burdened with heavy schoolbags. This was two years after RG Sindhakar, a retired high court judge, filed a case with the commission arguing that forcing students to carry heavy schoolbags was a violation of human rights. Armed with a weighing scale, then education minister Anil Deshmukh visited schools. The following government resolution set a limit of 3.5kg on schoolbags.

Right around the time the RTE Act was enforced, the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) issued a directive to its affiliated schools that students up to Class II should not have bags at all. But, the ground reality is that most students cannot do without a schoolbag.

Close on the CBSE’s move, the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, which runs more than 1,000 schools across India, too, took a step towards correctional measures when it prescribed weight limits on schoolbags — a 2kg limit for classes I and II, a 3kg one for classes III and IV, a 4kg limit for classes V to VIII, and 5kg for classes IX and X.

But, experts say no one's keeping a tab on such schools. Jayant Jain, president of the Forum for Fairness in Education, a parents' organisation, says the nexus between schools and book publishers, and the education department's manpower crunch leave regular checks as wishful thinking. Take the case of a government resolution that made a provision for schools to follow a 'worksheet system' so that children need not carry multiple books to school every day. But, in the absence of regular checks from the education department, this rule has been phased out. Today, schools give out worksheets in addition to the numerous books, claims Jain. "A part of the problem is that a group of book publishers strikes deals with top-notch schools. Schools force students to buy 200-page notebooks instead of the 100-page ones and insist on a new book every term. Parents complain that not even 50 pages of the book are actually used," alleges Jain.

The state government, though, shifts the blame for poor postures to parents. A senior education official from the state education department says, "We already have several laws in place to ensure that children are not burdened by their schoolbags. All schools have been strictly briefed about it. Parents should monitor their children when they are packing their schoolbags. They should ensure that children stick to the timetable and that they do not carry any unnecessary material. Also, schools must punish students who carry extra books."