RTE Act: Too late, too little

Over the past few months, a debate is going on over the failure of the J&K government to implement the Right to Education (RTE) Act for both government as well as private schools in Jammu and Kashmir.

RTE Act is the only central Act whose implementation is delayed as compared to other Acts and Laws which were extended to J&K and were immediately implemented after the abrogation of Article 370 and reorganization of erstwhile J&K state into two Union Territories (UTs).

The Private Schools’ Association of Jammu and Kashmir (PSAJ&K) has already issued a statement that all the private schools under its banner will not charge any kind of admission or capitation fee for new admissions from the upcoming (September- October 2020) admission session.

The statement came as a surprise for the administration and a breather for the parents. But there is another side of the story as well. The majority of schools associated with the PSAJ&K are economical and budget schools. And being affiliated with the association, they have agreed not to charge any donation for admissions.

But it is also a fact that few local schools, mostly termed as elite and top notch schools, are not associated with this association. Also, DPS Srinagar, Baramulla, Anantnag and Budgam do not work under the banner of this association. But these institutions often hit the newspaper headlines for allegedly resorting to illegal profiteering by giving arbitrary hike to tuition or bus fee, donation or capitation fee, and other charges which are never explained to parents. At times these schools sell books and uniforms from the school campus in violation of government orders. But it also is a fact that these schools are preferred by parents over other institutions in the Valley to get admission for their kids.

Apparently, the government has failed to regulate the admission process in private schools affiliated with JKBOSE or CBSE. The RTE Act 2009 which became applicable in J&K from last year October was not implemented in J&K schools before the commencement of admission process in private schools this academic year.

Now after facing severe criticism from parents and other quarters, the government issued an order wherein it imposed a complete ban on private schools to charge the donation or admission fees from the parents at the time of admitting their kid in the school. The order also restricted private schools too hold any screening of the students seeking admission in the school. But, the order was issued at a time when a good number of elite private schools have already collected the admission fee and held proper screening of students for their admission in schools. So for these schools which seemingly run a parallel administration without caring for government diktats, the order will become irrelevant for the current academic session.

No doubt the order states that if any school has already collected the donation, it should refund the money to parents. But will the schools really refund the money to parents; well, seems a distant dream. If the government was serious enough, the order for implementation of RTE Act 2009 should have been issued last year post reorganization of the erstwhile J&K state.

Even no action was taken against the schools who started the admission process despite government directions to hold the process till implementation of RTE Act 2009 in J&K. But the schools as always did not bother about the government directives but continued the admission process, holding interaction with students, collecting donations and  as well. All these practices were banned as per RTE Act 2009. But the government tactfully gave a free hand to these schools to violate the government norms.

Now coming to the point, the statement issued by PSAJ&K has made the job of government easy as the schools associated with this school body have given their consent for not charging donations and work as per the new rules of the department.

In view of the ongoing pandemic the economic situation of people has been badly hit and it is not possible for the parents to pay the tuition fee, annual charges and donation to the schools for giving admission to their kids. This is a crucial time for parents and schools alike.

Also, if the donation is waived off for ever it will help the parents to choose school at the time of admission in kindergarten; they can change the school at primary or middle level as per their own will without paying any donation to the schools. It will be only the monthly tuition fee and annual charges that will have to be paid. With this the schools can regain their lost reputation as most of the schools are accused of doing illegal profiteering in the name of providing education.

The RTE Act has been extended to J&K since its special status was revoked in August last year. But the implementation of the Act was caught in official wrangles. If the Act is not properly implemented within this month then schools will get a free hand in charging donation money at the time of admissions, and children from economically weaker sections will be deprived of getting education in these top notch private educational institutions.

If the government still buys time in strictly implementing the RTE Act then it will lose its relevance for the current academic session. So, this is the time for the government to use their legitimate authority to get the RTE Act implemented in all schools across J&K. The government should ensure that the schools that have already collected the donation or capitation fee from parents should refund it. Otherwise the government order issued will be a mere eyewash.

The private school body has already agreed not to charge the donation from parents. So, it is  a small number of schools where this Act needs to be implemented before the commencement of the upcoming academic session. Hope, the government doesn’t succumb to any pressure and ensures the strict implementation of the Act.