Yoke off, debate on lax schooling
April 20: The Centre has clarified that none of the provisions in the Right to Education Act (RTE) will apply to unaided minority institutes, an exemption that can have several implications for some of the most reputable schools in Calcutta.
The exemption means unaided minority schools, if they choose to, can reconsider the mandatory auto-promotion policy till Class VIII and explore ways of disciplining students without inflicting physical pain.
Although the central clarification is yet to be widely publicised, several Anglo-Indian schools in Calcutta have reached the same conclusion and built a case today for reviewing some of the provisions that may unwittingly end up harming the children in the long run.
Sources said the central clarification was part of a letter human resource development minister Kapil Sibal had written on Tuesday to education ministers in all states in the wake of a Supreme Court order that upheld the validity of the quota for underprivileged students but exempted unaided minority schools.
Although the court ruling was unambiguous as far as the quota for the less fortunate children was concerned, it was not clear if unaided minority schools have been exempt from other provisions as well.
But the following line in Sibal's letter makes it clear that the act itself, not just the quota, will not apply to unaided minority schools. "The Supreme Court has, however, also held that the RTE Act and, in particular, Section 12 (1) (c) and 18(3) infringes the fundamental freedom guaranteed to unaided minority schools under Article 31, and consequently the said Act shall not apply to such schools," according to the letter that charts a 10-point agenda for implementing the RTE Act.
Section 12(1) (c) refers to the 25 per cent reservation for weaker sections and 18(3) to the power to withdraw recognition if a school is found to be violating the condition.
"We have examined the Supreme Court judgment. It is clear from the judgment that the RTE act does not apply to unaided Anglo-Indian schools," Francis Gomes, the secretary of the Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools, told a news conference in Calcutta.
Representatives from several unaided minority schools attended the meeting at Pratt Memorial's conference hall today. The heads of some 30 minority institutions which pay the dearness allowance to their teachers from the government's coffers also attended the meeting.
According to some school heads, the section of the act that prohibits a school from detaining or expelling a child between Classes I and VIII will "weaken the foundations of elementary education".
"None of us wants to fail a child. But it has to be understood that sometimes we have to keep children in the same class for their own benefit," said Gloria Probal, the St Thomas Day School principal and president of the association. "It isn't failure. It is giving the child another year, which is better than pushing him ill-prepared to the next class," she added.
Another principal said that if the provisions of the act were to be strictly followed, "we would have to allow a child to go to the next class even if he/she does not attend school throughout the year".
The harmful effects of cut-throat competition have been widely debated and agreed upon but it is important to maintain a sense of balance. "Healthy competition prepares children to face challenges in life, " a teacher pointed out.
Gilian Rose Mary Hart, the principal of Welland Gouldsmith and spokesperson for the Association of Heads of Anglo-Indian Schools, said it was a matter of grave concern that disciplinary action taken by some schools was often being "misunderstood" after the implementation of the act.
The act bans "physical" as well as "mental harassment" of students, which leaves room for varied interpretation. The ban has virtually meant schools have had to turn a blind eye to indiscipline.
"These schools provide a good academic atmosphere to students and help them grow up as disciplined adults. It is for this that parents are eager to educate their children in our schools," said Hart.
The head of one school narrated how teachers saw a boy bullying his classmate repeatedly but could do little. "Even calling parents for a chat is being interpreted as mental harassment. It's an impossible situation," the veteran teacher said.
One of the sections of the RTE act disallows a school from denying admission to any student between Classes I and VIII at any time of the year. "It allows parents to bring a child in the middle of a session and demand admission. How does it help the student?" asked a school head.