By Rajkumar Bobichand
In Manipur, the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) seems has a different meaning. It appears that most people who are administrating and managing of school education in Manipur consider the meaning of the Right to Education as compulsory promotion of students of primary and middle school i.e. standard I to VIII; there should not be any public/board examinations and the children should not retained.
But the intention of the RTE Act is that every child in India aged 6-14 years has the fundamental right to education. The all children should be educated not just given certificates. And the RTE Act continues to lay emphasis on what inputs the bureaucrats and political forces believe are necessary to have better education in India. It may be noted that some key clauses of the RTE Act say that no child can be held back until the completion of elementary education, unrecognized schools are banned, donations and capitation fees are banned, interviews for admission are banned, 25% of seats in private schools are to be reserved for the poor (to be reimbursed, based on a formula, by the state), the responsibility to get kids into schools is with the government and all schools have to adhere to the prescribed norms and standards within three years. Some of these clauses appear to be very noble. But the big question is – How far would it be implemented in letter and in spirit? Can it really be delivered to the children and society? Still the fiend lies in the details and in the delivery.
In the meantime, the Supreme Court of India in its verdict on the constitutionality of the Right to Education Act in relation to the reservation of seats for Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and Socially Disadvantaged (SD) children has rightly upheld the principle of integration.
However, there will be challenges faced by all concerned namely, school managements, teachers, parents and children in enforcing the law both in letter and in spirit. Will the children from the families who belong to the Economically Weaker Sections and Socially Disadvantaged be warmly welcomed by all the private schools in Manipur? We all know that government schools will not have any problem about the reservation of seats. The only problem lies with the government schools is that even the very poor parents who live on hand to mouth are not willing to send their children to government school for their education. This is because the parents know that it will be very difficult for their children to get quality education from government schools.
On the other hand, the parents cannot afford to send their children to prestigious and top ranking private schools. And the reality is that not all government schools are bad. Similarly, not all private schools are good. But in the context of Manipur, it becomes a need to somehow send and afford their children in a private school so that their children also can get education to compete with their compatriots. But the question is that – will the private schools in Manipur be able to respect the verdict of the Supreme Court? Will the Economically Weaker Section and Socially Disadvantaged children be properly identified in Manipur? Will it not affect the self esteem of a child if he is identified as EWS and SD? Will it be possible for the government authorities, the managements and teachers to treat the children same?
On the other hand, in the culture of Manipuri society, how far will it be practical – which parents will say their children should be identifies as EWS and SD for admission in such private schools?
Now, the all the schools must implement RTE within three years. But, in Manipur, there are instances where the managements of the schools used to interpret the RTE to suit their agenda only. Moreover, many schools will not be able to meet these criteria by the end of three years. The impact will be felt the most by the private, unaided budget schools, where enrolment numbers are growing fast and which many parents prefer over government schools. On the other hand, these budget schools do not have the financial means to meet the criteria set. Most of them invest in basic infrastructure; their teachers are not necessarily qualified as per the rules and regulations set by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and the Board of Secondary Education Manipur (BSEM). The teachers are paid low salaries even as low as Rs 1,500 per month and as high as Rs. 7, 500 per month as against Rs 5,500 to Rs 15, 000 plus at schools in other states of India. The reasons for these that all because these schools charge a low fee of around Rs100-500 per month, which poorer parents can afford. Many parents prefer to pay a fee and send their kids to a private school because they have lost faith in government schools and, in many cases, the teachers in private schools are more passionate and dedicated. Even though many people who have been good and dedicated teachers in private schools have been appointed in government schools and its various programmes like SSA and RMSA, it is not certain that the teachers will they continue to be more passionate and dedicated. All these because that the bureaucracy and corrupt system and practices of the government will make them lethargy and kills their skills and spirit of teaching children. Now, the private in Manipur seem unable to employ dedicated and qualified teachers. In this critical juncture, are the private schools in Manipur ready for RTE?