During a recent trip to Rajasthan, I met Rani, a little girl living in Kanota, Rajasthan, a few miles away from Jaipur. I was in the state to understand the implementation of Section (12)(1)(c) of the Right to Education (RTE) Act, that mandates 25 percent reservation for children from economically and socially disadvantaged sections, in private unaided schools. Rani’s father, a stone crusher, enrolled both Rani and her sister in a private school, roughly, 2-3 km away from their home. Rani was admitted under the economically weaker section (EWS) category in school that served students from pre-school onwards.
Meeting Rani and her family validated the understanding of the growing desire amongst even poorer parents today to admit their children in private schools, with the hope that they will receive a better quality of education than the government school system. This is a reality that is as clearly apparent in smaller towns like Kanota as it is in bigger cities like Delhi.
Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE has the potential to transform the lives of nearly 1.6 crore children across the country. Yet many students are often denied of this opportunity, either because of the lack of awareness amongst parents or the poor implementation of this policy.
To understand the status of implementation of this policy across India, challenges and best practices, we partnered with Indian Institute of Management- Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Accountability Initiative and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, to undertake a comparative analysis of the performance of various states on this policy and present it in the “State of the Nation: Implementation of RTE Section 12(1)(c)” report.
Prof. Ankur Sarin, IIM-A, once said that Section 12(1)(c) is a classic example of the complications that could potentially arise when the “private sector interacts with a public purpose”. However, when we met a bureaucrat in Jaipur during our visit, he held a contradictory opinion: “Section 12(1)(c) is a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. Children are migrating to the private schools anyway where the quality of education is at least better than our schools.”
This made it evident to us that there is a growing realisation amongst policy makers about the deplorable condition of our government school system, and the increasing preference, therefore, for private education. Our government policies like the RTE and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) have ensured that children are in school, but not ensure that they are learning.
Recent proposals by our central and state government leaders to reform the RTE could potentially be a welcome act, if it is able to shift focus for school recognition from infrastructure and input related norms such as number of classrooms, pupil-teacher ratio, etc. to student learning outcomes.
We participated recently in a roundtable organised by Bharat Abhyudaya Foundation and Centre for Civil Society in Lucknow on Section 12(1)(c) to discuss a Government of Uttar Pradesh order of December 2012 which allows admission in private unaided schools only if the government or government aided schools have reached their full capacity for admission. De facto, this order makes Section 12(1)(c) inapplicable for UP. The discussion raised some very important questions:
- If poor children are already taking admission in private schools, why is the government subsidising it further for them
- Is the state within its right to expand the choice for private schooling to the socially and economically disadvantaged?
- Has the state performed its role of a regulator of the school system to the best extent possible?
Other important issues that were raised at this roundtable were that the jumbles of laws, executive orders and court judgments have probably touched only the elite and numerically few private schools. The budget private schools have either been conveniently forgotten or aggressively pursued for norm violations.
Another recent discussion at a National Discussion Meet on RTE Implementation, organised by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), highlighted state-level issues. In the past few months, we’ve observed the huge variance in implementation of this policy by states, which is determined by factors such as administrative will, political-economy of education sector and the role of media and civil society organisations, who often act as intermediaries in shaping and effective implementation of these policies. Further, there is lack of alignment on implementation standards between the central and state governments.
We are compiling learnings about these various complications and tensions that emerge from our interactions with senior administrators, policy makers, school principals and parents in our State of the Nation report. While India debates the limitations of state capacity and the role of private sector in providing basic services, Section 12(1)(c) is a test case for the reciprocity and mutual trust between the public and the private.