Do not push RTE into all unaided schools’, says ABIDe

Chief Minister Yeddyurappa's ABIDe task force recommends that state government follow a local, need based approach in making unaided schools admit low-income students.

A working group constituted by chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s ABIDe task force submitted its recomendations on rules for implementing RTE (Right To Education) in Karnataka to the government on February 3. A major change that the group proposed to the government’s own original draft was to make the selection of unaided schools for RTE based on unmet demand in local areas. ABIDe as recommended removing provisions that make RTE mandatory for all unaided schools. ABIDe has also recommended removing restrictions regarding fees, admission procedures etc., on unaided schools. 

ABIDe Working Group presenting RTE draft to Primary and Secondary Education Minister Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri. Pic: Rajeev Chandrashekar’s Office

The working group comprised 18 members – ABIDe Convener and Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrashekhar, educationists from NGOs/civil society organizations, and heads of unaided schools and their associations. While representatives of unaided schools prepared part of the draft that pertains to unaided schools, NGO members looked into the government/aided schools section only.

ABIDe RTE Working Group
Rajeev Chandrashekhar, MP and Converner of ABIDe
Tejaswini Ananth Kumar, Managing Trustee, Adamya Chetana Trust
Dr Ashwin Mahesh, ABIDe member and Professor IIM-B
E S Ramamurthy, Chief Mentor, Sikshana Foundation
Ashok Kamath, Chairman, Akshara Foundation
Vikas Maniar, Head-In School Programs, Akshara Foundation
Prof P V Krishna Bhat, MLC and President, CESS
Maya Menon, Founder Director, The Teacher Foundation
Pramod Kulkarni, Founder-Prerana and Member of Karnataka Commission for Protection of Child Rights (KCPCR)
Nooraine Fazal, Managing Trustee and Co-founder, Inventure Academy
Dileep Ranjekar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation
S Giridhar, Head-Programs and Advocacy, Azim Premji Foundation
Sheela Bolar, Principal at Innisfree House School and Secretary Treasurer of Association of Schools for the Indian School Certificate (Karnataka)
Satish Jayarajan, Principal and College Advisor, Mallya Aditi International School
G S Sharma, President, Karnataka Unaided Schools Managements’ Association (KUSMA)
M Srinivasan, President, Managements of Independent CBSE Schools Association and Founder-GEAR Innovative International School
Dr Abraham Ebenezer, Founder Chairman, Ebenezer International School
Sharada Prasad, Principal, Sri Vani Education Centre

While presenting the draft, Chandrashekhar said that government should regulate schools rather than control them. "Government should fund and enable schools, but not interfere in running of the school. Private investment in education should be encouraged through PPPs to bridge the demand-supply gap. Minimising government role and creating independent education regulators will give confidence to potential private investors," he said.

The introduction to the draft says that it was framed to avoid litigations, address concerns of private schools and improve education quality through public participation and a measurement-based approach of RTE.

ABIDe’s recommendations run in contrast to a Karnataka High Court order on January 10 which ruled that state government should regulate all private unaided schools. On the petition filed by parents against fee hike in an unaided school, the court had said that state government should regulate fee structure, admission of students, and service condition of employees etc in private unaided schools affiliated to any board.

Private investment in education should be encouraged through PPPs to bridge the demand-supply gap. Minimizing government role and creating independent education regulators will give confidence to potential private investors.

Dr Abraham Ebnezer, Founder Chairman of Ebenezer International School and a member of the ABIDe working group, says that private schools would challenge this ruling in higher court. "We did not consider this ruling while making our recommendations. Private schools can cut down expenditure to reduce fees, but to what extent, is the question," he says.

The original draft presented by the Forum of Karnataka Retired Education Officers (as the state government’s draft) last June had created a huge stir among unaided schools, many of whom have approached the judiciary. According to the original draft, unaided schools that did not comply with RTE would be derecognised. In all schools, 25% of children should be from economically weak sections and government would reimburse their expenses after inspection of schools in December every year. The fee scale would be fixed by government based on facilities provided by the school.

These children might have a chance at better Education with RTE. File Pic.

Also according to the original draft, private schools have the responsibility of bringing back drop outs to school and providing mid-day meals. They also could not hold screening procedures while admitting children. Rules about publishing schools’ performance, government involvement in restructuring curriculum and giving extra academic attention to disadvantaged children applied to private schools too. Each school’s Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) had to monitor RTE implementation.

ABIDe’s draft removes most of these provisions. It says:

  • Government can designate an unaided school to follow RTE only if there are no govt/aided schools or if a new school cannot be built in the neighbourhood to meet excess demand
  • Schools can fix their own fees. Government should pay fee for children under quota two months before the start of Academic Year (AY)
  • Syllabus, admissions, qualification and recruitment of teachers will be according to rules set by schools’ respective affiliating boards
  • PTAs have no role in monitoring RTE. Violations will be dealt according to rules of affiliating boards

Ebnezer says that unaided schools are open to admitting children provided that government pays the fees well in advance and does not interfere in the school’s functioning. "If the child is admitted to a residential school, government should take care of those expenses too," he says.

"RTE Act would amount to nothing if its three key provisions – removing screening procedures for admission, stopping capitation fee collection and reservation for poor children – are removed."
— Niranjan Aradhya, Fellow, National Law School

On ABIDe’s recommending a substantial changes, Ashok Kamath, Chairman of the NGO Akshara Foundation and another member of the working group, says that the focus has been too much on unaided schools for long. "Only 10% of children go to unaided schools, of which only 25% children will be admitted under quota – that is, only 2.5% of total children will have reservation in unaided schools. RTE has been delayed for so long because of the focus on only this 2.5%," he says.

For his part, Kamath has worked only government/aided school section of ABIDE’s RTE rules draft. ABIDe’s proposed recommendations for government/aided schools:

  • Setting up an autonomous body KSERTA (Karnataka State Educational Research and Training Authority) as academic authority for implementing RTE
  • Clearly defining responsible authorities and procedures for improving access to schools, infrastructure and quality
  • Greater community participation by empowering SDMCs (School Development and Monitoring Committees) and putting performance reports and learning materials in public domain
  • More responsibility for local authorities (in Bangalore’s case, BBMP’s Standing Committees of Education and Social Justice) to retain children in school
  • Removes the clause that derecognizes minority institutions; recommends forming separate rules for such schools and for children with special needs
  • Recommends aligning ‘neighbourhoods’ with election constituencies

Vasudev Sharma, Director at the NGO Child Rights Trust, says that different provisions for different schools are not acceptable. "ABIDe draft’s recommendation to invite more private investment is also a backhanded entry. It seems to care more about profits than welfare of children," he says.

Niranjan Aradhya, Fellow at the National Law School of India, says that RTE Act would amount to nothing if its three key provisions – removing screening procedures for admission, stopping capitation fee collection and reservation for poor children – are removed. "The aim should be to create a common school system wherein everyone will have equal access and standards of education. Here we have 8-9 systems of education based on who can pay most to get to the best schools. Instead of taking affirmative action, our system bases itself on social-cultural differences," he says.

Concessions given to private unaided schools
– Land at concessional rates
– Property tax exemption on land and buildings
– Concession on electricity tariffs
– Concessions to motor vehicles run by these schools

Aradhya says that the draft rules are not valid as they violate the RTE Act itself "RTE Act and guidelines issued by MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) last November say that unaided schools cannot be excluded from RTE."

He adds that the unaided schools get many concessions from government – in Bangalore, many of them are built on Civic Amenity sites; then why should they not be under government controls.

ABIDe member Ashwin Mahesh disagrees with this line of criticism that ABIDe’s rules are not in the spirit of the RTE Act.  If unaided schools were given a choice betweeen cancelling concessions and RTE, many may choose giving up concessions, he says. "School may prefer to pay up for civic amenity sites (CA) than implement RTE", he points out. Regarding property tax concessions given to schools, Mahesh says that even central government organisations owning property in the city also do not pay taxes to the state.

B S Arun Kumar, Secretary General of the Vasavi Vidyaniketan Trust which runs a whole host of unaided schools and colleges in the city, appears relatively indifferent to the rule-making process in Karnataka. "There is no choice now but to wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the RTE legislation itself, only after that can implementation happen. Earliest maybe 2012-13", he says. (The RTE Act itself has been challenged in the SC). 

If an unaided school does not want concessions and returns them to the government, should it then be exempt from RTE? Citizen Matters asked Aradhya and Arun Kumar. 

Aradhya says RTE should be common for all schools, regardless of concessions. Only reimbursements may change depending on concessions. "For e.g., if CA sites that cost about Rs.1 crore in the market is given for Rs.5 lakh or so to schools, that’s a huge difference", he says.

Kumar, whose VVN Trust runs both an aided and an unaided school, says he doubts if unaided schools are even getting concessions. He’s content waiting for the Supreme Court verdict.  "I don’t know about CA sites being given for schools – CA sites are now being converted to parks, probably in rare cases they are given for schools", he notes.  "Land for our unaided school was given on lease by the government for 30 years. But I have to renew it too and it’s a huge amount. We do not get concession on electricity or vehicles for the (unaided) school", he adds.

Updated 9 March 2011

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