Parents cite 'minority' clause as major concern

Mumbai:  Right to Education (RTE) Act has finally secured the seal of approval that matters. Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the constitutional validity of the act, which mandates 25 per cent free seats to the poor in government and private unaided schools uniformly across the country. The order was generally hailed by parents and the academia, with only some private schools expressing apprehensions over teething troubles in implementation.

However, the court leaving unaided minority institutions out of the ambit of the law has perplexed some parents, who believe the clause could be misused or exploited by certain schools, who do not wish to honour their responsibilities under RTE.

Parents Teachers Association United Forum president Arundhati Chavan said, "Schools will surely try to find loopholes in the rule and also try and acquire minority status to nullify the rule. We will wait and watch what happens now."

Dubious intentions?
Jayant Jain, president, Forum for Fairness in Education, said, "No doubt now most of the schools will rush to change their status to minority institutions. Apart from that, how will the government ensure total implementation of this rule and how will awareness be created amongst students and their parents from weaker sections so that they go to private schools? The worry is also about whether underprivileged kids will be comfortable with children from middle or upper classes. Hope schools will address this issue. Also, institutions may deny admission to underprivileged kids and show fake students on record. This law can also bring in more corruption if the government does not monitor adherence to it by schools."

Others were more sanguine. "It's a remarkable judgement. It will give an impetus to the Right to Education movement in the country. As far as Supreme Court's judgement on minority institution is concerned, I think the government should get an amendment passed from Parliament so that RTE can be implemented in minority institutions as well and we get back the uniform character of our education system in the country," said advocate Ashok Aggarwal, president, All India Parents Association, who has been championing the cause of RTE for 20 years.

A batch of petitions by the Society for Unaided Private Schools, Independent Schools Federation of India and others had challenged the provision in the law under which they had to reserve 25 per cent seats for economically weaker sections in their schools. While the apex court has clarified that the order will come into force with prospective and not retrospective effect, oblivious of the fact that many city schools were perturbed about what to do in the ongoing academic session.

MP Sharma, director of GD Somani High School, Cuffe Parade, said, "By now all the private schools have finished the admissions process. The new academic year for ICSE and CBSE schools starts in March. How we are to accommodate the economically weaker section students is a troublesome question. We will have to conduct a meeting on this and sort out the matter, as not abiding by the law will be contempt of court."

Sudeshna Chatterji, principal of Jamnabai Narsee School, Juhu, said, "Ours is a private unaided minority school, and as per the SC verdict the rule of reserving 25per cent seats for weaker section students may not be applicable to us. But, unless we check the lengthy rule and circular from the state government, we cannot decide what to do." Senior officials from the education department at Mantralaya said that the education minister would not be able to comment on the order, as the judgment copy has not reached him.

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