Section 12 (1)(c) of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009 mandates all private, unaided, non-minority schools to reserve at least 25% of their seats in the entry level class for economically weaker sections (EWS) and socially disadvantaged groups (DG). If successfully implemented, this provision of RTE has the potential to impact approximately 2 crore children in next 8-10 years. This makes Section 12(1)(c) one of the world’s largest programmes for public funding and private provision in education. Unfortunately, there has been an uneven implementation of this policy with 18 out of 34 States and UTs reporting zero enrolment. In 2014-15 the national seat fill rate was a low 15.12% with only 3.46 lakh seats getting filled out of 22.9 lakh available seats. This policy presents multiple opportunities to improve the school system:
- School choice – It allows parents to send their children to a school they consider to be of better quality, without the accompanying financial burden.
- Social inclusion – Evidence suggests that inclusive education makes children more pro-social and generous, without adversely affecting their academic outcomes.
- Transparency in and accountability of private schools – The quality of data which the government has on the private schools has improved markedly after Section 12 (1) (c) implementation.
- Quality of education -In some schools the quality of education is substantially higher than in government schools or other private schools. These schools would ordinarily be beyond the means of EWS and DG parents. These schools have the potential to change the future of children admitted under Section 12 and it is in these schools that the Social Inclusion Fund aims to intervene.
The financial reimbursement from the Centre has been limited to 20% of SSA funding, a programme that is seeing budget cuts even otherwise. Thus, the onus of reimbursing private schools falls on states, a fiscally difficult proposition for most. Instead of finding the money, it is easier for them to simply not implement it.
Private schools aren’t in favour of this provision either. The reimbursement is often delayed, and when it does come, doesn’t account for textbooks, uniforms, field trips and extra-curriculars. In fact, budget private schools exploit this policy by charging a high fee and then subsidising costs for 75% of the students.
For many high-end schools, the government per child spending (which is the maximum reimbursement possible) doesn’t even cover their tuition costs. These schools are the ones that tend to provide a good quality of education, have robust infrastructure and trained staff. However, teachers and administrators are at a loss when it comes to bringing these children to the level of their peers, integrating them into the school and covering the various activities which the government reimbursement doesn’t pay for.
High-end schools that have the potential to have transformative impact on EWS/DG children are constrained by financial and other resources to achieve it.
The possible solution to this problem has both financial and support-based components. An organisation that will bridge the gap between funders and schools is needed. The model for support could include:
- Working with schools to identify need areas/model for support
- Liaising with CSRs/foundations/HNIs to raise funds
- Channelise those funds toward supporting integration and remediation of EWS students
- Conducting program support/monitoring
- No proof of their interest in the opportunity
- If interested, how do they value/ compare it with respect to other opportunities?
- What kind of things they will support? (Field trips/ remedial/ extra books/ teacher training/administrative costs)?
- Where will their support go? (school/ family/ NGO)
- Which schools get chosen and on what basis?
- Would schools see a value-prop in student support platform? What can we do to align the platform to the needs of schools?
- What is the way for schools to access money from CSR / HNIs?
- Even after everything else is taken care of, parents still need to apply and get selected