The Union government wants private schools to hold out the begging bowl to introduce the 25 per cent quota for underprivileged children.
In a suggestion utterly devoid of vision and fraught with the risk of sending education standards plummeting, it has advised such institutions to turn to philanthropic individuals, charitable trusts and corporate entities to bear the financial burden of the freeship provision at the entry level mandated by the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. The reservation is being implemented in the Capital with effect from 2011.
The opinion, which has been widely rubbished, was given by the Kapil Sibal-helmed human resource development (HRD) ministry in reply to a Lok Sabha question last week. Acknowledging that some unaided schools in metropolitan cities spent more than the state government on each student, the ministry said these institutions would have to resort to “innovative ways” to meet the gap between expenditure and reimbursement.
“Some schools in metros have per-child budgets much in excess of those in other states. These schools would have to find innovative ways, with philanthropic individuals, charitable trusts and corporate funding, to meet the gap without loading the general category students with a fee hike,” the HRD ministry contended in a statement in response to a starred question by MPs Neeraj Shekhar and Asaduddin Owaisi.
The opinion was given by the Kapil Sibal-helmed human resource development ministry.
As regards the innovative ways, the HRD ministry was implying that private schools raise additional money by seeking funds from philanthropists, alumni members, charitable trusts and business houses under the latter’s corporate social responsibility initiative. Instead of focusing attention on improving and upgrading government schools so that they voluntarily attract children from all strata of society, the establishment appeared to be recommending measures that could have a direct bearing on scholastic standards.
The poser in the Lok Sabha was put in the wake of the Supreme Court upholding the constitutional validity of the RTE Act on April 12. The apex court had also upheld the “affirmative burden” placed on private schools with respect to the provision of free seats for children from the economically weaker section.
To handle this load, the Act stipulates that the state government must bear the actual perchild expenditure incurred by private schools or shell out the amount equivalent to that spent on each student in schools run by it, whichever is less.
The schools contended that their expenses were much higher than the amount the state government spent on each child every month. For instance, Bal Bharati Public School, Pusa Road, spends Rs.3,200 per child per month on an average. But the Delhi government has announced a monthly reimbursement of only Rs.1,190 for every student.
To mop up such big deficits, many schools across the country have threatened to resort to fee hikes for the general category students. Others were clear that they would not go begging to either corporations or “philanthropic individuals” as the government has sagely suggested.
“Old schools might have their alumni to support them, but what about young institutions such as ours? I doubt our exstudents are in a position to help us out financially,” Manju Bharat Ram, chairperson of the trust that runs the The Shri Ram Schools, said. “Moreover, how long can we keep asking philanthropists to help us out?”
According to Arun Kapur, director, Vasant Valley School, following the HRD ministry’s advice might seem easy on the face of it. But schools were actually caught in a Catch-22 situation. “It’s great that Kapil Sibal’s ministry has said this, but will the state government allow us to raise money through innovative means? There is a world of difference between what the Centre says and what actually happens on the ground. The Act will only be implemented through rules made by state governments,” he said.
However, some experts did suggest alternative methods to fill the gap. “I agree with the ministry’s advice. The institutions which spend more than the government are mostly big schools and make up only 25 to 30 per cent of all private schools. Such institutions, Delhi Public Schools or Modern Schools for example, have a very strong alumni base which can be easily approached for financial help,” Vinod Raina, a member of a subgroup on education in the National Advisory Council and the Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE), said.
“Furthermore, corporations can be urged to use their corporate social responsibility funds more creatively by helping schools which need additional financial help to support poor students under the 25 per cent reservation,” he added.
But even institutions with affluent ex-students were sceptical. “Modern Schools are obviously at an advantage because our alumni base is strong. Still, I would like the state government to reconsider its rate of reimbursement. The economics of running each school is different and there cannot be a flat rate. We have a campus of 25 acres and maintaining it is tough,” Lata Vaidyanathan, principal, Modern School, Barakhamba Road, observed.
Concern was also expressed over whether depending on charity was a long-term solution for sustaining EWS reservation in schools. A general estimate pegged the number of beneficiaries at anywhere between 2.5 and 7 million poor students in the first year of full implementation of the RTE Act.