EWS scheme of RTE Act – A blind spot or blunder?
The act of policy creation demands empathy and farsightedness. Without these it is likely that the policy framework would begin to collapse at the very onset. The provision of reservation for EWS children in private schools under the RTE Act is a good example of what not to do.
The Right to Education (RTE) Act was enacted in 2009 to ensure free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. Here, free education not only means waiver of fee but also provisions for expenses incurred on uniforms and books. As per the provisions of the Act, every accredited school in the country has to offer at least 25% of seats for children belonging to Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) of the society. This includes even those private schools which do not receive any aid or grant from the central or state governments.
To avail the facilities under this scheme, children have to submit applications online and selection is made through a lottery system. For the state of Uttarakhand, students have to visit the state RTE website and submit their application. Though the Act provisions for reservation of EWS seats across all the schools of Uttarakhand, so far only 13 schools have registered for this scheme (As per the details available on the RTE site of Uttarakhand government). Out of these 13 schools, only 7 stand verified. Considering the fact that these legislative provisions were notified in 2009, over 12 years back, these figures are pretty shocking.
It is important to note that Uttarakhand, a relatively small state, has over 1000 registered private schools. The state has over 15000 primary schools with the net strength of students crossing the figure of 10 lakhs. In spite of that only 12000 students have benefited from the EWS scheme of the RTE Act. If we were to assume that 1000 private schools with an average class size of 20 are functioning in Uttarakhand since last 10 years then, technically, well over 400,000 students should have benefitted by now. It is rather tough to figure out the reasons behind this astonishing gap. By the way, this is not the example of policy blind spot or blunder mentioned in the title of this article. This is just a curtain raiser to illustrate how policies translate into action.
The Right to Education is applicable to all children in the age bracket of 6 to 14 years. The act loses its applicability once a child crosses the age barrier of 14 years. What this means is that a child from a poor family can get admitted to a private school under the EWS scheme but cannot continue with the facility once they reach class 8th. Even in a small town like Almora, children from poor families who availed for this option, without realizing its inherent follies, are forced to pay a fee upwards of ₹2500 per month. As the parents had not anticipated this outcome, they are caught in a tough spot. Pulling out the child from an English medium school and admitting them in a nearby Hindi medium government school is pretty counterproductive, especially when the next four academic years are very crucial for the future of the student. Ideally no parents would want to take any chances. But what options does a poor family have, with a net income of ₹8000-10000 per month.
Most of the parents are forced to somehow manage the money. They may initially delay the payment hoping that something will work out but eventually they are left with no option but to pay up due to impending registration for the board examinations. What else can they do, especially when they have pinned all their hopes on the ‘quality’ education of their child. They are left with no option but to beg and borrow for the next few years to ensure that their children complete their intermediate from the school of their choice. They know that if they succumb to the pressure and pull out their children, the student would end up grappling not just with the challenges of change in board but also the medium of instruction. Under such immense pressure it would be a huge challenge for students to keep alive their dream of faring well in competitive exams.
I wonder if this was a very complex scenario of foresee? My guess is that any person of average prudence can easily foresee such a gap. Then how come our policy makers not only missed it but also failed to do anything about it in all these years? A petition with regards to this matter is pending before the Delhi High Court but it would not be easy for the courts to make a decision because if the court delivers a judgment in favour of the students then who will bear the expenses of the remedial measure?
What I find even more ironical is that the colleges of Uttarakhand offer 10% reservation for EWS students. This scheme is applicable to all the government as well as government aided colleges across the state. So if you are a student of the EWS category, you can avail remedial benefits from class 1 onwards up to class 8th, and when one is pursuing undergraduate and graduate courses. The gap beginning with class 9th and extending to class 12 is designed to test your resilience!
Incidentally there are numerous provisions of the RTE act which are still waiting to me materialized. Some of these provisions have been casually ignored while some have been formally and legally delayed by various state governments. Click here to read the full RTE Act.