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A bold and beautiful vision Drops of water make the mighty ocean RTE: Needs Refinement A cess for skill development Cleanliness is next to Godliness Time to act A silent revolution
RTE: Needs Refinement
The Supreme Court of Indiaís landmark judgment upholding the constitutional validity of the Right to Education Act has created quite a stir among the academic intelligentsia and the public at large.

Welcome affirmative ACTION…

We welcome the Right to Education (RTE) Act that provides for admission to children from weaker sections in “elite” schools upto 25 per cent of the class strength.

ALMOST 30 YEARS ago, as the President of the Parents Teachers Association (PTA) of a Chennai school, I had floated this very same idea to the school management: I had suggested that it should throw open 10 per cent of its strength to the children from the weakest sections of society. The PTA offered to take care of the food, uniform and text books and even agreed for an increase of upto 15 per cent of the tuition fees to compensate for the free education offered  to the weaker sections. Needless to say, the Correspondent of the school  threw the idea out of the nearest window. The argument: it would affect the school’s standards and image.

The plea that all children were born equal and the lack of opportunities at the primary level led to vast differences fell on deaf ears. Apparently, some are more equal than others. As Professor Indiresan once famously remarked, “the neglect of development of a child for 17 years cannot be made good at the IIT by any amount of special coaching.”

For sure, well- established schools that are well-endowed now and run as highly profitable, family -owned, commercial outfits would oppose the RTE. Luckily, the Supreme Court has upheld the validity of the enactment. Yet there will be attempts to sabotage it invoking on minority rights and this indeed is a very powerful tool. Look at  prosperous business leaders, acquiring control over even renowned engineering colleges on the minority label! Can things get worse?

Historically, Christian missionaries were able to acquire large tracts of land as endowments by the government or through charity. Post- Independence, the government set up schools. These were further supplemented by the corporations and municipalities in large numbers. A few communities, wedded to philanthropy, endowed liberally to acquire land and set up schools. But these efforts have not kept pace with the rapidly increasing population. The mismatch between demand and supply continues unabated

Land prices hit the roof...

With land prices hitting the roof, today it is not possible to set up new schools with any worthwhile investments on the buildings, leave alone on space for sports. There is the added factor of the wastages witnessed in avoidable cross city movements of the students, commuting long distances to attend schools of choice.

Two possible solutions can be attempted:
To go for a shift system by well established schools. With the first shift from 0730 hrs to 1230 hrs, the second from 1300 hrs to 1800 hrs. This can result in doubling the seats offered. Of course this will call for much greater attention for getting trained quality teachers.

The second option lies in upgrading the quality of around 300 schools run by the Corporation of Chennai and the dozens of government run schools. Until about the 1960s these schools imparted quality education and recorded very high percentage of passes. Management guru C K Prahalad was a product of a corporation school at Nungambakkam.

These schools are endowed with infrastructure in the form of land and buildings. Unfortunately these schools are not maintained well and the quality of education imparted by them has deteriorated dramatically over the years. Little wonder that there has also been a corresponding fall in  demand.

The PPP mode will help...

There is good potential in developing this rich infrastructure into high quality community schools by adopting the public-private - participation mode. The Jayalalithaa government has an impressive vision for the state for 2023. Its success is predicated upon the state turning out quality man power which in turn depends upon high quality education and training.

I suggest that the state could invite business leaders and other interested professionals to get involved in this stupendous task. The government, for instance, can invite a leading corporation/ institution to join hands with one or few schools in contiguous areas and develop these into high quality community schools. What can be more relevant to a corporate than education when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives?

In this public private partnership (PPP) model, the infrastructure already built by the corporation/ government can be provided by the state. The corporate can take care of management. With land and building infrastructure being a major component, the resource requirements may not be large. A stipulated number, say 50 per cent of the students, can be offered education free, the balance can be levied a modest fee of upto Rs 200 per month to cover the cost of staff and other recurring expenditure. Contrast this with the present expenditure incurred of around Rs 1000 per month by an elite school; and this cost can easily be afforded by the burgeoning middle class keen to impart quality education to its children.

Since the prestige of a company is involved, there would be serious efforts to strive for excellence and results.

The government can pitch in by dovetailing several welfare schemes it has been offering for education like mid day meals, free uniforms, free text books, free lap tops, etc. In fact, with the involvement of the community around, there will be greater accountability of the quality of these freebies and assurance that these are well spent.

This can be attempted as a pilot scheme for five years. I envisage dramatic improvements right from the quality of sanitation and drinking water to excellence in results.

A leader oriented society...

We are a leader oriented society. If A Vellayan of Murugappa Group takes charge of a school, the entire Murugappa group will be involved in ensuring the success of the mission. His medical officers would look into the health care aspects of the students. His engineering team would take care of the infrastructure, his HRD specialists will take care of training and up-gradation, teaching and training and of course his finance team will ensure the viability of the project.
I suggest to Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, keen to make Tamil Nadu Numero Uno, to  begin with the focus on reforming education.


WHILE THERE ARE significant benefits in the Act which reserve 25 per cent for poor students in ‘elite schools’,  it also contains loopholes that need to be addressed. Here we go...
The single most positive aspect of the Act is its intent to bring peripherals of the education system into mainstream. Ironically, the peripherals seem to be the majority of the government school students who make up over 80 per cent of the academic institutions in the country. The Act promises to ensure 25 per cent of seats in any academic institution are given to the under-privileged. This is perceived to be the mantra that merges a sea of mediocrity with a few pearls of excellence. It would help under-privileged students to perform better. It could also provide them the exposure that is required to excel. While the massive benefit of the Act is there to be obtained, there needs to be a refinement of the Act for this intent to succeed.

Compensation conundrum...

First, how is the government going to fund all these kids for education? The question is not whether the government has funds or not; the question is about how are they going to go about compensating private schools. The education in a government school is free; in a  private school it is huge. In fact, among the private schools themselves, expenditure varies significantly. So how will the government bend to these multiple fee structures with the multiple parameters involved in the process? The government states that it is looking at a range of Rs 8000-Rs 19,000 per student annually for compensating the private school. This is almost a fifth of what some  private school students pay. The only way I see the private schools reacting is, with an increase in fees for the current students. Given the already high fees that students pay, will there not be a backlash if it is increased further?

Second, I have reservations about the level of discretion given in the Act to certain types of schools. Boarding schools and the unaided minority institutes are exempted from this 25 per cent reservation. I find this baffling. Boarding schools are the symbolism of elitism and by extension, a representation of good quality education. By excluding them, isn’t the whole purpose of social inclusiveness messed around in this act? The exemption for unaided minority institutes in the Act also is a blow. I don’t understand why there is a need for minority institutes mentioned here when most of the top minority institutes have sufficient funding with religious institutions backing them. By providing this minority platform, it creates another area of discretion that could be utilised by the private schools to have their way in terms of avoiding the conflicting issues in the Act.

Why limit to Class 8?

Third, the Act states that this 25 per cent reservation is applicable only till Class 8. This is bizarre. Consider this example: a student from a lower income family enters into a private school. Till Class 8, he stays in the private school and thereafter he has no option but to leave the school. Where would this leave him? After having been fed with quality education, he would be forced to go back to the government schools. Why would we want to limit this till Class 8? If we can invest so much in corporate subsidies in our budget, why can’t we invest in education till Class 12?

This brings me to the fourth issue; the basic approach to this entire aspect of education. I would have preferred the RTE Act to have adopted a fundamentally different approach to educating students. The idea of imposing a 25 per cent quota on schools should have been a stop gap and last measure. It should have been preceded by an approach which focuses on strengthening the public education system by a private and public model in which the public schools would benefit from the expertise in private schools.  For example, the private schools in certain vicinity could have been assigned to public schools within that vicinity. This could have brought the value addition from a private school onto a public school.  By merely suggesting that a 25 per cent quota is required in the system, we are not addressing the root cause of the issues involved.
Having said all this, one can’t deny the potential of the impact of the 25 per cent reservation for the poor and underprivileged. It has the potential to reduce the class and caste barrier in society from childhood.  
Education in this county has a long way to go. Though RTE is a welcome step, it needs to be refined much more to be effective.

Arithmetic of affirmative action
If the government is paying 65 per cent of the cost of fees the impact of affirmative action on the schools will be 8.75 per cent. Since schools break even early, the impact will not be monstrous. They must partake in this social responsibility which is part of market economy.

Kapil Sibal Minister of Human Resource Development, confirmed that the financial compensation will be given depending on the state and its location as per the RTE Act. He said that the government has put aside Rs.2.31 lakh crore along with state governments’ contribution. Government is also trying to establish a fibre optics network connecting 2,50,000 Gram Panchayats. This is being done to ensure more number of students is benefitted from one good teacher. RTE Act doesn’t start and end with the 25 per cent inclusion, with that and other steps taken into consideration, RTE Act is certainly a boon.
Supreme Court reinforces the right to education act on 12 April, 2012. One of the arguments is that almost 85-90 per cent of the Indian school going children goes to government or government aided schools. So the point of 25 per cent inclusion is moot when one takes the wholesome view. Hence the development of the public schools and their betterment should be issue at hand.                                   


Government buy the people, off the people, far the people !!!

The government has asked private schools to  reserve 25 per cent of the seats for ‘POOR’ students The Supreme Court has okayed the proposal but quite a few questions arise.

In respect of schools that are neither owned nor aided by the government, has the government the power to dictate terms to private players? Does the government have the right to ask for favours without providing significant compensation for loss? The loss incidentally is not just monetary, but in the cultural ethos of the institution as well.

Poverty eradication is the responsibility of the government. Instead, it has been shifted to private schools that are already weighed down by fee restrictions, high level competition, increased interest rates on loans, etc. Now, the load will be passed on to the remaining 75 per cent parents. Children are sent to private schools owing to the high quality of education imparted. If this is implemented even private schools’ quality would suffer. Many noted missionaries are running private schools through well-managed trusts serving the poor with subsidised cost of education, hostel facilities and scholarships, while few others are run by NGOs without any profit motive. Why put this now on others?

Getting a seat in a private school is not a solution in itself. When such children sit and learn along with their counterparts, they are most certain to develop unfair criticism and may develop undue complexes about themselves. Will both discipline and output not suffer?

In a nation where anything can be bought and sold, economically backward certificates will be in high demand. Poor will stay at home and rich will gain entry under the disguise of poor. Poor need employment that enables them to live with self respect and pride, not a situation which makes them even more uncomfortable and awkward, by dividing them in the society. They need empathy, not sympathy


WITH THE SUPREME Court upholding the Right to Education Act, city schools are still figuring out on how to implement the act. Unsure of how the compensation will pan out, many schools have gone to the extent of provoking parents to strike against the Act.
When we tried to contact various city-based schools for their views on RTE and the implementation feasibility, the responses were lukewarm. Not surprisingly, most principals refused to comment.

Minority institutions should not be exempted...

While some school principals denied saying that they were exhausted giving interviews, others were not ready to have their views published. A principal, on conditions of anonymity, said that minority institutions should not be exempted from the Act and that every institution must be treated alike. But when asked if her school would implement it, she asked us to contact her Dean.

The Ramakrishna Mission School, run by the Belur Mutt since1932, has always offered free education. They welcomed the RTE and are awaiting further orders from their Head. Educationist and recent recipient of Avvaiyar award for model woman, Y G Parthasarathy, Dean and Director of PSBB School, refused to comment on this Act even after persistent attempts.

The Principal of Sarada Vidyalaya Girls School, T Nagar, said that they were to implement the Act from May when their admissions are to begin for LKG. She feels that there are no concerns relating to the Act as of now but some issues might pop up while implementing it. “It is one way of universalising government education in all institutions. It is also the main way to curb the money minting liberty of private educational institutions,” she added.

A healthy development...

Dr  K Mohana, Principal-Modern Senior School (CBSE), gave a thumbs up to the Act. “This is a healthy system for promoting heterogeneity among students in education and to create an egalitarian society,” she said. The school supports the Act and is planning to start admissions from May-June as per the guidelines of the Act. Using the fee of one student to facilitate free  education to another is not just and so the Principal felt that the government offering funds is appropriate.

P Perinbaraj, Educational Officer of Chennai Corporation, welcomes the Act and feels that this would enhance the quality of students that the state produces. He was also ready to accept proposals from large corporates which would be ready to join hands with the corporation to develop the schools and help in facilitating free education to the students.

The RTE Act is the beginning of a long road. Any change is never accepted immediately and this is no different. But surely RTE is the right step forward and the best way to equip India’s future with quality man power.?

TAMIL NADU has been in the forefront of education. To lure students to come to school the state introduced the mid day meal programme in 1960. Corporation schools of Chennai were the pioneers of this scheme and it was introduced way back in 1923.  The concept of corporation schools was started in 1912 and today there are 284 schools with 98,487 students and 4100 teachers. These have been a boon to the lower income strata of the society. The Mayor had recently passed an order to change the name of the schools from “Chennai Corporation Schools” to “Chennai Schools.” The schools that once produced great leaders have been left behind in the competition with private schools. The craze for English medium education has also diminished its popularity. The Corporation is gearing upto this change slowly by introducing more schools with communication in English.

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