Event Report: Dharna by NISA & State Associations of Budget Private Schools

Event Report: Dharna by NISA & State Associations of Budget Private SchoolsThe NISA Demonstration to save education of choice was held at Jantar Mantar on the 24th Feb, 2016. It was a first-of-its-kind event that saw a gathering of over 1500 numerous stakeholders from budget private schools from all across the country in the capital. The demonstration was a display of strong disagreement against the select unjust provisions of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2010(“RTE ACT”) which are being imposed  beyond the mandate of the law to serve closure notices to some schools. The event supported by regional and state budget private school associations observed different organization voicing various stories of differential implementation of the Central Act as well as the enactment of the state rules thereof.

School owners from Assam, Delhi, Haryana, Goa, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajastjan,Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and many other states took to the stage to voice their grievances against the existing education law environment in the nation. The prime issues that came to the fore were:

  • Unrealistic infrastructural requirements
  • Commercial taxation
  • Unreasonable government interference
  • Restrictions on school autonomy

The educators took umbrage to being tagged as  ‘Education Mafia’ when they are not only imparting quality education to over 30% (as per U-DISE) of the national student population at a price much lower than the government per-student expenditure, but also providing employment to approximately 2 crore teachers.

According to various industry studies, these schools have been delivering better learning outcomes as compared to government schools. All participating schools appealed to the govt. to base their eligibility on learning outcomes instead of the current regulations which suggest installation of CCTV cameras as vigilance mechanism and other similar financially unsustainable requirements set out by the RTE Act. The associations also asked for recognition to be made contingent on a third party assessment of the quality of education provided at schools by testing learning outcomes. Ms. Ekta Sodha NISA Vice President quality Representative of the Jamnagar Private Schools Association informed the gathering about the model adopted by the Gujarat government in order to safeguard the interest of students in the state by setting up of a government committee that grants recognition to schools based on learning outcomes. As a result, not a single school in Gujarat has been shut pursuant to the enactment of the RTE Act. She appealed to the Prime Minister and the government at large to adopt a similar model countrywide so that the unfair closures of schools can be prevented.

It was also pointed out by some speakers that regulations such as the compliance with the fire safety norms has only been made mandatory for private schools while government schools remain exempted from these. Such differential treatment has led to anger among the budget private school community which lacks the resources to implement these norms., Yet, they continue to serve the most ignored community of poverty-stricken households by presenting them with a choice in education – a choice they can afford.

The president of NISA, Shri Kulbhushan Sharma, spoke passionately about the invaluable role that budget private schools play in ensuring that education as a right may be exercised by each and every child in India. The goal of NISA, he said, is to safeguard this right by not letting government officials shut even a single school on frivolous grounds. He emphasized that there is strength in numbers and it is only if this affected community of people come together, that they may make their demands heard. Lamenting that running schools is getting tougher day by day, he questioned the application of labour laws and commercial taxation for schools when these institutions are not legally allowed to be for-profit enterprises. Opening a new school is a harrowing job with 14 to 32 permissions required from various departments. Due to this and many other difficult-to-imply clauses in the RTE Act, around 1 lakh unaided budget private schools face the threat of closure. This would result into more than 3 crore students being out of schools, he said. He further said that governments do not respect school autonomy and are interfering constantly in the daily functioning of schools. These schools are often forced to go to the courts, which results in waste of time and money and is thus an extra burden.

Addressing the demonstration, Mr. Amit Chandra, National Secretary, NISA said “RTE Act enshrines the government’s responsibility to provide free and compulsory education to students between 6 to 14 years. But the governments have been shifting this responsibility upon private schools. Schools have not been getting reimbursements for admissions against 25% seats reserved for EWS for years and even if they do, the amount is disproportionate with the expenditure incurred by the schools.” Slogans of ‘Fund students, Not Schools’ could be heard among the gathering, which expressed faith in the recommended measure of school vouchers for individual students that can be used at any school of their choice in place of the current reservation law and will further ensure right to quality education by fostering competition between schools.

The Vice President of NISA, Mr. Rajesh Malhotra said that the government can hire para-teachers and volunteer teachers for its schools but private schools are forced to hire only full time teachers. These are low fee-charging schools but are forced to pay teachers a salary equivalent to that of government teachers. Teachers already teaching in government schools for last 3-5 years are exempted from TET but clearing TET is mandatory for teaching in private schools, irrespective of their past teaching experience. He urged the government to take the necessary steps to stop this oppressive treatment of private schools, as these are the ones that are catering to the educational needs of the economically weak sections of the society.

Another grievance the gathering had was the clubbing of budget private schools with higher-priced institutes, which effectively leads to depriving students from economically weaker sections of the choice of quality education. The community also feels especially targeted with school principals and teachers being held responsible for any untoward incidents beyond their control, such as school bus accidents.

The resounding support received from all those present was a clear indication that NISA’s demonstration was successful in bringing together all the parties with the common cause of continuing to provide better education at lower prices in the hope of achieving the ultimate goal of universal education in the country by offering students what they would never have had in the absence of budget private schools – an education of their choice.