Violating children’s right to free education
Laws are very clear about the admission process in schools; implementation is the issue
Despite the fact that the law prohibits interviewing children and even their parents for admission in nursery, kindergarten, or primary classes, the practice is persistent in the Valley. Experts say that this unlawful practice by private schools barricades free, fair, and transparent admissions, and eventually causes discrimination against the weaker sections of society. They argue that, through interviews, most of the schools are selecting students on the basis of family background and financial strength of their parents, which eventually harms the idea of inclusiveness. Also, giving preference to one over the other child, or refusing admissions after conducting interviews, according to mental health experts, affects the ‘rejected’ children and their parents psychologically.
Although this is not the admission season for the nursery or kindergarten classes in the Valley, the experts say that this is the right time for the education department to lay down the guidelines for school admissions so that the discriminatory admission policy is stopped once and for all.
Earlier, Jammu and Kashmir was exempted from the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE), which prevents schools from conducting screening procedures for children or their parents for admissions. However, the central law was declared applicable in the UT, last year. Thus, it is mandatory for the education department to put down the guidelines regarding school admissions in the light of RTE to ensure equitable access for admissions.
KASHMIR IMAGES spoke with some experts to understand the various dimensions of the issue and to get their views on the issue.
Here are the excerpts:
To ensure equitable access to education for all, the law prohibits schools from taking capitation fees and conducting interviews for admissions. For admissions, schools neither can interview a child, nor his or her parents. Doing so would simply be against the law.
Section 13 of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, clearly says that schools while admitting a child cannot collect any capitation fee, and neither a child nor his or her parents can be put to any screening procedure. The law further says that if a school is found charging capitation fees (commonly called admission fees), the school should be fined ten times the amount it has charged. Also, section 12 of the same Act says that, in case, frequent complaints about charging capitation fees are found; the concerned school should be fined Rs 50,000 on each violation. Furthermore, section 12 of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act says that every school must reserve 25 per cent admission for the weaker section of the society.
Now the question is whether these laws are being properly implemented on the ground or not? The fact is that many schools do not only collect admission fees from the parents of the children but they subject the children and parents through screening procedures as well. They interview parents with an intention to gauge their financial strength. Worst, some schools charge one to two thousand rupees just for issuing admission forms, which should not cost more than Rs 10 or 15. These schools issue hundreds of admission forms against cash charges and at the end of the day declare 60 or so kids as admitted. All this is against the law and strictly prohibited as per the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act.
The concerned departments ought to ensure stopping these violations. It is the duty of the concerned officials to come out of their offices to check what is happening on the ground. Schools should be directed to put their admission policy in the public domain through different media outlets. In this regard, people can also bring their complaints to the notice of the concerned agencies or departments like the school fee fixation committee, directorate of school education, child protection commissions and so on.
Interestingly, earlier, the schools would argue that the laws about admissions do not apply to children less than six years of age. Because laws related to free and compulsory education were about the 6–14 age group. However, since the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 applies to J&K now, and the New Education Policy (NEP) has been introduced, children of 3-18 age groups are eligible for free and compulsory education.
Also, early childhood care and education (ECCE) is aimed to ensure promoting better overall learning, development and well-being from the age of 3 years. Earlier, children of this age would go to the Anganwadi Centres only for nutrition. But now education component has been added to these Anganwadi Centres as well. Here comes the role of the concerned departments to gear up for the implementation of new rules. Work on the capacity building of Anganwadi workers need to be done. For this, all the institutions and agencies working for children should work in coordination.
It is pertinent to mention that Anganwadi centres are under the Integrated Child Development department, which gets hefty funds for its job. To my mind, while ensuring that private schools shun their discriminatory admission policy, people and the concerned agencies should also demand overhaul of the Anganwadi centres. I say this because the concept of Anganwadi centres is a great concept provided they are made education centres not only the nutrition centres. Because of the lack of education component in these centres, parents fall prey to the private education institutions for early childhood care and education of their children.
There is no doubt that the RTE Act does not allow interviews of the kids or their parents. Since this Act has been extended to Jammu and Kashmir just two years ago, the government is yet to sketch the rules and regulations of the Act here. As the president of the Private Schools Association, I assure you that we would not be hesitant to abide by anything that is beneficial to our children.
That said, there are a number of issues and problems facing our private education sector that government needs to take care of. I wish the government owns the private education sector the way it did in terms of owning the private telecom sector. It is a proven fact that liberalization has been beneficial to the common people. It has made things economical. Education should also be economical but that is only possible when the government starts treating private education institution as a partner rather than the competitor.
New Education Policy (NEP) and Right to Education Act (RTE) provide equal rights to all children. As per the RTE children or their parents are not to be interviewed for the admission process. We cannot make selection for the admissions on the basis of family background of a child. Education is now declared a fundamental right of a child and nobody can deny this right to him or her on any basis. To my mind, admissions should be done on the basis of a lottery draw.
I am aware of the fact that there is resentment among people against the present admission method. This issue is already in consideration of the government and I have also put it up with the concerned officials. I have brought up the matter in the notice of the principal secretary as well. We are on it and we will be coming up with a set of rules in the light of RTE soon. These rules and guidelines will be implemented in letter and spirit, and no violation would be tolerated.
Interviewing a three-year-old child to assess his or her intellect and then select or reject him or her on the basis of the interview is a ridiculous thing to do. It is against the principles of education and child psychology. Even if a child doesn’t do very well to be able to come up with the predetermined levels of achievements or the levels of learning, you cannot declare him or her as a failure. Every child is born with divinely gifted potential. It is a proven fact. And that is why we say children should not be detained or dubbed as failures. In some cases, a child might be a slow learner or would not be as much achiever as you wanted him or her to be, but that does not mean you can gauge his or her intellect.
This is why Right to Education Act 2009 (RTE) and other laws restrain schools from interviewing children for the admission process. Although RTE was not applicable in J&K until the recent past, we had our own laws and regulations related to the children’ right to education which provided guidelines regarding admissions and other issues.
Now, RTE is applicable in J&K for the past two years but is yet to be implemented properly here. Formalizing of admission policies, such as the prohibition of interviews with children and their parents for admissions, is just a small part of this Act. Actually, this act provides a wide range of entitlements, rights, facilities, concessions, incentives, protections, and et el, for the children.
To my understanding, the implementation of RTE is stuck because the government is yet to formulate certain rules and regulations in the light of this central Act. Even if this is central legislation but the formulation of the rules has been left to the domain of the concerned states and UTs. The rules drawn by the government would be the instruments for the implementation of the law. The sooner these rules are drawn, the better it would be in the interest of the people here.
I have been opposing the existing admission policies of private schools in Kashmir to the extent that I have already approached Hon’ble High Court with a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking directions to private schools to revamp their policy of admission at the Nursery and preschool stage. The petition is pending in the court.
I am not only against subjecting children or their parents to the screening procedure before the admissions, but I am also for age-appropriate admissions. Some schools admit children aged three-plus to KG1, which is against the law. These children reach class 1 when they are only 5 years of age. Then, most of them find it difficult to cope with the curriculum-based pressures. Even the RTE and NEP define that a child should be of six years of age when he or she enters class 1.
Furthermore, most of our schools do not have sufficient infrastructure and skilled staff to handle preschool children. They should either build the capacity to deal with these vulnerable minds (Nursery, KG1, and KG2 kids) or stop admitting them in the schools. These kids need to be provided an environment where their social, emotional, cognitive, and physical needs are taken care of. This age is a crucial stage in a child’s life to develop a firm foundation for lifelong learning and wellbeing. But in some schools, kids of this age are being treated with a conventional method, causing overburden to these kids.
It is not fair to see some schools putting the little kids to the tests before giving them admissions, and even in some case, children are refused admissions on the basis of these interviews. I wonder how a child can be dropped just because the so-called interviewer thinks that the child was unable to reply to an academic question. Then, there is another thing called ‘parental interaction’, which is conducted to gauge the financial strength of the parents. Even some schools shamelessly ask parents to submit their financial statements. As per my observation, some schools are admitting children of government employees or kids belonging to well-to-do business families only. Worst, some schools take capitation fees despite the fact that the law does not allow it anymore.
These admission policies are flawed and discriminatory. In my opinion, admissions should be given on the basis of draw of lots. Also, those living within the catchment area of the school and siblings of the existing students can also be given preference for admissions.
The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act restrains schools from interviewing children and their parents for admissions. It is very important for schools to understand that children in India have a right to education, and no one —by judging them on how much they know and what their parents earn, etc— can take that right away from them.
Usually, schools take interviews to find out if the child is intelligent, smart, and able to talk, etc or not. This is illogical because schools, as educational institutions, are supposed to make a child smart and well conversant. Good schools are supposed to teach every child irrespective of his or her level of smartness. How can a school be selective?
Many schools say that the right of children to free and compulsory education is only for those who are above six years of age. That was the case when our education system was under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). They must know that now we have Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), which ensures children of three years of age are also put under education. Furthermore, our New Education Policy (NEP) covers children from the age of three, which is the nursery. Therefore, it is very important for schools to understand that as educational institutions, they have to be inclusive and they have no grounds to judge a child when he or she comes for admission. Provided their parents are affordable to pay the fees, all children should be given admission unconditionally. We live in an evolving equal society. How can our educational institutions bring inequality by a selective process of admissions? Schools are supposed to be responsible institutions, and if they start breaking laws, the affected people are bound to feel helpless.
Unfortunately, common people lack knowledge and awareness about the laws. Here comes the role of media and concerned government departments. They must do everything to spread awareness about the overall child rights and their right to education, so that nobody dares to violate these laws.
People should be empowered with knowledge and awareness about laws like the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act.