Some schools lead in rich-poor mixing

Karnataka's revised rules for the RTE Act will be out soon. In Bengaluru, even as some schools oppose rich-poor integration, others are already bridging the gap quietly.

Most schools in Bengaluru have completed their admissions for the coming academic year. Despite that, the state government seems to be pushing to implement the RTE (Right to Education) Act for 2011-12. The SSA (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) will soon submit a revised draft of the Act to the government. "We have revised the draft after taking suggestions from the public. The new draft will be submitted by end of this month," says Sandhya Venugopal Sharma, State Project Director, SSA.

Ramakrishna School – 80% of the children are from low income groups. Pic: Navya P K

While many private schools are strongly opposing the Act that proposes 25% reservation for disadvantaged children, some other schools are on the opposite end of the spectrum, already integrating such children to their campuses. These schools have been supporting needy children for a long time and have been able to overcome many issues that detractors of the Act have been raising. Private school managements had raised issues such as lack of resources to give special attention to underprivileged children, visible class divide, opposition from parents and concerns about government reimbursement, in addition to technical ambiguities of the Act.

Sr Kanik Mary, Principal of St Anne’s High School and PUC in Ulsoor, says, "Around 40% of the children studying here get scholarships – some of them get full scholarships – and free books and uniforms." The funds for this come from the management, Society of Sisters of St Anne’s. The school also provides mid day meals to around 200 children through the government’s Akshaya Patra programme. The school caters to low and middle income groups.

While some schools support children with funds from their parent trust, others have developed a self-sustaining model.

Sujaya School, soon to open near Bommasandra Industrial area, is planning to offer full scholarships to 25% of its students. They are positioning themselves as an integrated school right from the start.

Another school The Samhita Academy (TSA) off Bannerghatta road, which caters to middle and high income groups, has 46 disadvantaged children among its total strength of around 150 children. Only the 46 children, who come from extremely poor backgrounds, are given free accommodation in the school hostel.

The school’s parent trust Advaith Foundation funds the needy children now, but the administration aims to be self-sustaining within 2-3 years by increasing the number of day scholars, who pay full fees. "Food, accommodation, extra tuitions and extra curricular activities are arranged for children in the hostel free of cost" says Aparna Goenka, Trustee of Advaith Foundation and Director of the hostel.

The Samhita Academy-integrating by taking them on board. Pic: Navya P K

Disadvantaged children are admitted to school after a six-month bridge programme conducted at the hostel. "This is to acclimatise them to the environment. They are taught basic academics and classroom tolerance" says Aparna. This is followed up by regular recreational, academic and life skill programmes. The children pick up fast and often outdo day scholars.

"If you go to the school, you won’t be able to differentiate between them", says Aparna. Usually needy parents – most of them daily wage labourers, factory workers and domestic workers – approach the school after getting informed by word-of-mouth. Most children are from areas near the school – Bannerghatta, Hosur areas. Some are from other parts of the state and from outside the state.

Another inclusive school, Poorna School in Yelahanka, give free education to children of employees of the school such as drivers, watchmen etc. More needy children are identified by the school’s parent-teacher network. Indira Vijayasimha, Head of the school, talks about the case of a parent who got a girl related to her house maid admitted to the school. There are about 100 children in the school now, of whom 15% get full scholarships and 10% get partial scholarships. Fees from privileged students are used for providing scholarships.

"When parents come for admission, we tell them upfront that their child’s school fee will be used to support other children and that this is non-negotiable. But maybe since many parents who come here are already aware of the school’s inclusive policy, they are accepting of this idea," says Indira.

Parents also provide old textbooks of their children or sponsor the whole set of books, for children who need it. Sometimes parents are asked to sponsor a school trip; if they do not, the school funds it. Indira says that the school never had to limit its activities to accommodate disadvantaged children. "We plan all activities and budget them at the start of the year. There maybe some constraint in say, salaries of teachers – though it is on par with many private schools – but never on children. We are trying to identify some sponsors though," says Indira.

In some schools, parents may not even be aware of the inclusive policy. "It is the management’s decision to support children. Why should other parents worry about it?" says Sr Mary. Many children from slums around Ulsoor attend the school, she says. The only criteria for admission are the marks scored by the child in the previous school, but the scholarships are based on economic background of the child.

Sri Ramakrishna School in Ulsoor has 75-80% students from economically weaker communities. Here the scholarship is based on merit too. Any student who scores more than 85% marks in classes 5-10 are given 100% scholarship. For underprivileged children who do not score as much or who are in lower classes, some scholarships are given. "We give them some discounts or let them pay the fee in installments. The level of discount depends upon the individual child’s background. The actual fee is anyway nominal," says school’s Secretary Amoghavarsha.

In most schools, disadvantaged children are mostly from families settled in the city. "Sometimes we know the person individually, otherwise we visit the parents and assess their situation," says Sr Mary. Aparna of TSA says she has come across a few cases of migrant students. "There was couple of cases where the parents took the child out of the school when they were migrating to another place. This would be traumatic for the child as he/she has to return to difficult circumstances after having adjusted here. Most of these children do not have access to quality education otherwise," says Aparna.

Aided schools

Both Ramakrishna School and St Anne’s receive government aid that partially funds teachers’ salaries. St Anne’s management says that the aid however doesn’t mandate the percentage of low-income students in the admission process.

Disadvantaged children are admitted at the age of 3-5 at TSA, since the administration believes that it would be difficult to bridge the learning gap in older children. "We have taken couple of older students in special cases only," says Aparna. In Ramakrishna and Poorna schools, admission depends on vacancies. "If a child faces difficulties, we give them special attention and constantly interact with parents," says Amoghavarsha.

While parents of children in mainstream schools are debating RTE, many favour the Act. A R Ashok Kumar Adiga, a parent who plans to start an association of parents of private school children, says, "Many parents are supportive of RTE, mostly schools are the ones protesting. Funds for RTE implementation can be raised through simple measures like making private schools renew their NOCs (No Objection Certificates) annually by paying a fee. Currently there is no mechanism to check the fund utilisation and other activities of private schools." Adiga says that his association aims to counter the harassment of parents by private schools; the association is planned to be launched on January 15.

Indira says that opposition to the Act is mainly from elite schools that cater to a small section of people, but are heard more seriously. "I think the opposition is mainly due to a social mindset which wants to keep class and caste barriers intact. Some points they have raised, like screening children so as to design specific programmes for individual children, are valid though."

Despite private school associations’ stiff opposition, the Education Department has said that action will be taken against schools that have already completed admissions, without considering RTE, for the next academic year.

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