PUNE: The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 was aimed at bringing children from economically weaker sections (EWS) and underprivileged children in the age group of six to 14 years to school. Thus, these children were entitled to get admissions at private schools and schools were to reserve 25 per cent seats at the entry level for these children.
PROVISION IN THE ACT
As per section 8 (c) and section 9 (c) of the RTE Act, it is the responsibility of the State government or local authority and private schools to ensure that EWS children are not discriminated at any stage.
Incidentally, Maharashtra provides an extensive list of discriminatory practices that children from EWS are to be protected from. These include segregation of or discrimination against children of EWS in schools – whether in classroom, playground, during mid-day meals, use of common drinking-water and toilet facilities, or cleaning of toilets and classrooms.
THE ACTUAL SCENARIO
However, all these provisions remain only on paper. According to social and RTE activists, the scenario of students after admission in private schools is worse than expected. About a month ago, students were ill-treated at a private city school. They were not allowed to participate in cultural or sports activities and were made to sit separately. Activists remarked that RTE students need to be given special attention as they come from weaker sections and most of their parents are unable to assist them in studies. But schools do not pay attention to these children. Either they are not given homework or their class work is not checked properly.
“Unfortunately, reports of a child facing discrimination and humiliation are common now and 70 to 80 per cent of private schools put a label on these students, which is discriminatory. They are made to sit separately in class and not allowed to participate in co-curricular events. This badly impacts students, who feel inferior," said Rohini Hulgane, project co-ordinator at Swadhar Akshardeep, which works towards welfare of RTE children.
A majority of private schools demand extra fees from parents of RTE students in the name of extra classes, co-curricular activities, said Hulgane. "Being ignorant about RTE's provisions, that even the co-curricular activities are paid for by the government, the parents opt out of the admission process," added Hulgane.
Matin Mujawar, president of Shikshan Hakka Manch, said the State government should be held responsible for such circumstances. “Not that schools are less responsible, but the fact is that the government does not reimburse the schools on time. Similarly, the schools try to get rid of RTE students by purposefully creating such circumstances for the child that the parents by themselves opt out of the school. If schools are properly reimbursed, then the problem might not arise,” said Mujawar.
WHAT IS THE ROLE OF NCPCR?
National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), under Section 31 of RTE Act, is to examine safeguards of the rights provided under the act and recommend measures for effective implementation. An officer needs to supervise whether the child, after admission, is receiving proper education and facilities at school. Unfortunately, no officer has been deployed so far. Till July 2017, MSCPCR received 62 complaints.
"All the complaints received at child's right commission are addressed case wise and resolved. Generally, we try to resolve the case at the local authority instead of going to higher authorities. Also, it has been observed that parents do not come forward to complain. They are in the dark about the fact that no school under RTE can expel a child until he or she completes Std X. Therefore, the commission is trying to counsel parents and create awareness so that if any such incident occurs, they at least complain,” said Pravin Gugge, Chairman of Maharashtra State Commission for Protecting Child Rights (MSCPCR).
Education Officer of Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), Shivaji Daundkar echoed a similar feeling. “Issues related to RTE are dealt with case-wise. It is necessary to survey what happens after giving admission to these children. We will try to do it from this academic year.”