The Need to Uphold RTE Act During a Pandemic 

The Need to Uphold RTE Act During a Pandemic 

Inequality is rising and it is particularly apparent in our education system which has almost been taken over by the private institutions. And despite rules being made to make education inclusive, the private schools run amok with their fees—ranging from Rs 150 per month to Rs 25,000 per month—discriminating against kids from poorer households. So, when Dashrath and Urmila got their daughters in a private school through the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota, under the Right To Education (RTE) Act, little did they imagine that in spite of getting into a school of their choice, they would still end up on the other side of the digital divide. 

Driven by the declining quality of government education, the lure of attractive advertisements and promotions of private schools, and the desire to get the best education for his daughters, Dashrath and Urmila applied to the education department to enroll their daughter Rinki in a private school. This was six years ago. A couple of years ago, he got his youngest daughter Rimjhim too, admitted to the same private school-Universal Public School-in Naubasta Khurd Madiyaon. 

Settled in Naubasta Khurd Madiyaon, Dashrath and his wife shifted from Balrampur to Lucknow 20 years ago in search of better livelihood. A daily wage earner, Dashrath earns about Rs 7000 if he is lucky enough to get 10-15 days of job. Their eldest son, 17-year-old, also works as a daily wager. So, the EWS quota admission was godsend.

According to the RTE Act, u/s 12-1-c directs private schools to reserve 25% seats for children from the economically weaker section (EWS); children in this quota are admitted at the entry level and the cost of the next eight years of their education is borne by the government. But when they went for admissions, on both occasions, they were expected to deposit Rs 500 as admission fee. Other parents too faced the same situation. This is illegal. Parents protested but the school refused to budge until youth activists of Red Brigade Trust, a Lucknow-based NGO, intervened. While the issue of the admission fee was resolved, the school continued to demand fee for school dress and books. Once again, the youth activists from the Trust had to intervene; this time in coordination with education officials and administration.  

Since March 25 this year, when the lockdown started, schools have been shut. As the lockdown extended and it seemed unlikely that the schools would open anytime soon, the schools started online classes. When they got a call about online classes, panic set in. The family has one phone among the five of them, it is a simple phone that cannot support any android applications, and they have no internet facility. With the lockdown, the father and son could hardly find a job. So, at a time when making ends meet is difficult, a phone upgrade is out of the question. The daughters have not been able to attend the online classes since the lockdown.   

Moreover, the Rs 5000 that the government provides annually to the EWS students for books and dress, haven’t been given yet. They were later informed that they will not be getting that amount either. Which means that apart from being deprived of online classes, the family is unable to buy books that would have used to ensure that their studies are not disrupted. 

During the lockdown, the State Collective for Right to Education (SCoRE) conducted a rapid survey in Uttar Pradesh which revealed that 80% of parents do not have android mobile phones and 7% parents do not have any phone at all. With the stress on online education, a large number of children are being left behind and they are from the most marginalised families. Government data shows that only 54.2% schools (only 47.5% government schools) have electricity connection and merely 3.9% schools (only 2% government schools) have functional computer. In this scenario providing digital education is a nightmare too. 

The lockdown has brought to the fore the deep-set inequalities in education system. The online mode of education has created a digital divide between the haves and have nots. It is imperative that the state government and schools provide reading material, books and promote alternate teaching methods so that children aren’t left behind. If children are unable to attend school — whether it is private or government school — they run the risk of dropping out and being pushed into child labour in order to supplement the family income. The government should not fail the RTE Act and the Sec 12-1-C that envisioned bridging the inequality gap.

-With inputs from Ajay Patel (Red Brigade Trust)

Oxfam India is running a campaign #RightsOverProfits to put a stop to overcharging and profiteering by private schools. Raise your voice.  Sign the petition:http://bit.ly/strengtheneducationsystem

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