The organising secretary of the All-India Forum for Right to Education, D. Ramesh Patnaik, has expressed fears that the much-debated legislation that promises universal education might end up facilitating greater commercialisation of education.
Speaking at a seminar here on Friday, organised by Karnataka Janashakti, he cited several provisions in the Right to Education (RTE) Act — such as paying for seats under quota in private schools rather than focusing on providing quality education in government schools — that could be “excuses” for the government to disown responsibility.
Recounting the Andhra Pradesh experience of sponsoring higher education of students from economically weaker sections by funding their fees in private colleges, he said the public-private partnership model had ended up taking away 40 per cent of the total funding for higher education. “This is a way of diverting tax payers' money to private institutions, rather than strengthening public institutions,” he said.
He said the law, while banning capitation fee, had given it an ambiguous definition. “It defines capitation fee as ‘any kind of donation or contribution or payment other than the fee notified by the school.' This only means that schools can notify high fees, under other heads, at the time of admission,” Mr. Patnaik pointed out.
He said the Act did not pay attention to preventing dropout rate or ushering in a common school system with equitable opportunities for all. The Act also did not include secondary and preschool education, which amounted to leaving out two crucial chunks of the educational process, he added.
Mr. Patnaik welcomed the recent Supreme Court judgment for upholding the constitutional validity of the RTE Act and the parallel responsibility of private institutions in imparting universal primary education. However, he expressed concern over the apex court accepting the argument that lack of funds could be reason for the State to transfer responsibility.
G. Ramakrishna, writer and editor of Hosatu, said all the focus on providing reservation in private schools was a ploy to eventually close down government schools. He wondered if such a system would lead to greater segregation of children on caste and class lines within the classroom.
‘Broader vision needed'
H.V. Vasu, State convener of the Karnataka Janashakti, warned against the struggle for equitable education getting restricted to the RTE Act and the debate around reservation of 25 per cent seats in private schools. “The vision should be broader,” he said.