By Nisha Vernekar and Karan Singhal:
Recounting field experiences pertaining to the implementation of the RTE mandated 25% reservation in private schools in Gujarat, Nisha Vernekar and Karan Singhal (from Right to Education Resource Centre, IIM Ahmedabad) highlight the various infrastructural inadequacies ailing the execution of this policy. Providing invaluable insights into the on-ground realities, the following article points to the all-too-real possibility of corresponding systemic problems persisting across other implementing States, thus greatly hindering the prospects of the RTE from realising its true potential.
Section 12(1)(c ) of the Right to Education Act that mandates private (unaided and non-minority) schools to reserve at least 25% seats at the entry-level for the socially and economically disadvantaged, is an acknowledgement of the growth of private schools in the country, as well as the segregated school system in India (Majumdar and Mooij, 2011).
Such a policy, since its enactment in 2009, has only seen gradual implementation across states and continues to face resistance from private schools in implementing the mandate. The policy has the potential to impact millions of children. However, it has received very little attention. Barring a few papers and reports by a few organisations (including CCS), and media coverage during the annual admission process in a few states, not much has been written about it.
The recent State of the Nation report outlines the procedural design of admission and allotment process across some of the implementing states, documents the challenges faced by multiple stakeholders, discusses legal developments and issues around expenditures related to the provision. This article discusses a part of the report that documents the challenges faced by the authors, along with others, while assisting applicants and providing information to eligible households during the 2017–18 admission cycle.
The Right to Education Resource Centre (RTERC) at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad, which was set up as an action research centre in 2013, has provided information and assistance to applicants about the eligibility process, documents required to avail the provision and has forwarded complaints to the respective authorities (such as the district or state education department). Our involvement with respect to the admission process began in October 2016 when calls started pouring in about the upcoming admission cycle. Many of our insights are based on hundreds of calls from potential beneficiaries, who mistook our office number for a helpline.
The state of Gujarat started implementing this policy in 2013 (initially on a pilot basis) when knowledge about the policy was fairly low, indicated by the low take-up of the policy in the initial years. Apart from the mandatory advertisement released usually one or two days before the start of the process, limited efforts were made by the government to increase awareness. This prompted many NGOs and civil society organisations to spread information through targeted information campaigns, by utilising various stakeholders such as anganwadi workers, politicians, and volunteers, among others.
Until last year (2016–17), Gujarat followed an offline process that was conducted at the district level completely manual and paper-based. A physical application form was required to be submitted by eligible households and schools were chosen based on a distance criterion. In 2017–18, Gujarat implemented the policy through a new online system, where applicants had to fill application forms through an online portal. After filling the form, applicants had to go to nearby receiving centres to submit the printed form along with their eligibility documents. Such a shift came with a number of challenges for the applicants.
A policy that targets economically disadvantaged households must factor in transaction costs that it might impose on its beneficiaries. Apart from the costs of obtaining information, seeking help, photocopying essential documents to be submitted as proof, the online system imposed additional financial burdens. Owing to the lack of digital literacy or owning devices (such as computers or laptops) that were required to fill an online form, many applicants rushed to cyber cafes. Costs of filling and submitting forms increased substantially due to this.
Cyber cafes overcharging for printouts and accessing the internet and the need for multiple visits due to crashing servers made matters worse. The receiving centres that were to double-up as ‘offline’ help centres to aid digitally illiterate applicants to fill forms were largely not functional, owing to lack of support provided to those handling these centres.
GPS used to determine applicant’s and preferred schools’ location created additional problems. Mismatch of GPS locations to address proofs submitted at the receiving centres and restriction of availability of schools due to incorrect pin locations were some of the common problems faced by the applicants.
Apart from these issues that were unique to the online process, many other problems experienced in previous years continued to persist. Even though there are many households that do not speak the local language Gujarati, or English, the advertisement, forms and now the website continues to only appear in these languages. Many applicants who are Hindi, Marathi, and Urdu speakers (some of the bigger language minorities in the state) miss out. The lack of a proper grievance redressal mechanism and any proper helpline to assist applicants, and solve their queries, continues to remain an issue. If not round the year, but having an active helpline for 3–4 months before the admission process begins would be extremely beneficial.
There is a lot that an online system can offer and fix, but the targeted population is yet to reap its benefits. An online system reduces administrative burden, increases overall transparency, and can help track progress of children that can aid in understanding progress and make better policy. However, for an applicant, it has only introduced new problems and additional constraints. It is important to acknowledge that the state government department has been more responsive to queries and complaints during this year’s process but that alone is not enough. The persistence of previous mistakes made and not equipping itself to handle new problems should not be taken lightly, as these lead to the exclusion of the most disadvantaged households.
While our experiences pertain to Gujarat, some of these issues correspond to larger systemic problems observed in other implementing states as well. Regardless of how contentious the policy may be, it has been established as a ‘right’ and must be given its due importance. Further, having students from disadvantaged communities in ‘elite’ classrooms can increase pro-social behaviour (Rao 2013), and hence 12(1)© is a potential instrument to bridge such social distances if implemented correctly.
i. Dongre and Sarin (2016)
ii. While it is a nationally mandated policy, each state sets admission procedures and eligibility criteria. For the state of Gujarat, eligibility criteria are set based on the age of the child, the income of households and additional allowances are made based on caste groups. BPL card-holders, or non-BPL households having incomes falling under ₹68,000 for Forward Caste categories, ₹1 lakh for Other Backward Classes (OBC), and ₹2 lakh for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ ST). Children must be between five and not more than seven years of age at the time of application.
Dongre, A. & Sarin, A. (2016), ‘Reservation under RTE: Status of Implementation and way forward’. Ideas for India
Dongre, A., Gupta, I., Sarin, A., Singhal, K., & Vernekar, N. ‘School applications under RTE: Gujarat goes online’. Ideas for India
Majumdar, M., & Mooij, J. E. (2011). Education and inequality in India: A classroom view (Vol. 46). Routledge.
Rao, G (2013), ‘Familiarity Does Not Breed Contempt: Diversity, Discrimination and Generosity in Delhi Schools’, Working Paper, Harvard University
Sarin, A., Dongre, A., & Wad, S. (2017). ‘State of the Nation: RTE Section 12(1)©’. Ahmedabad: IIM Ahmedabad.
Singhal K. & Vernekar N. (2017). ‘Mistaken For a Government Helpline: Insights from an RTE Research Centre in Gujarat’. The Wire. Retrieved December 7, 2017.
A version of this article was earlier published on Spontaneous Order, the digital publication of Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi.