Still recovering from an admission season that has left them humiliated and angry at being treated like second-class citizens by a hostile private school culture and an indifferent government administration, it isn’t surprising that last week’s Supreme Court (SC) judgment has failed to cheer up parents from the economically weaker sections.
In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court last week (12 April) directed all private schools (excluding unaided minority schools) to immediately reserve 25 percent of their seats for children from economically weaker sections (EWS) as per the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
In the shanty neighbourhoods of East Delhi’s resettlement colonies and slum clusters, parents are deeply disillusioned by the government’s shoddy and apathetic attitude in enforcing the 25 percent reservation in private schools.
After running pillar to post – first to get the necessary documents and then to submit forms in multiple private schools, Mamta’s son was denied admission in the ten schools she applied to. She has now admitted her son Ankit in a government school.
“After all the hardwork and money we put in to submit those forms, we were not even allowed to enter the school premises to meet the principal to ask why my child didn’t make it to the lucky draw,” says a distraught Mamta, who earns money selling vegetables. She makes about Rs 200 a day.
Mamta, a fruit vendor, hasn’t recovered from her bitter experience of trying to admit her son Ankit in a private school under the EWS category as per the RTE Act.
“Why bother giving us forms. Why not tell us before that we are not eligible. We didn’t put all our money and sweat just to have our forms rejected,” says Mamta referring to mass rejection of forms by private schools in the middle of the admission season after the Delhi High Court (HC) order in February.
The HC order introduced a neighbourhood criterion for admitting children from EWS category which automatically excluded majority of the children from applying to private schools that are located in richer neighbourhoods, beyond 1 km from their houses.
Copy of the HC order pasted outside their school walls, private schools didn’t waste any time closing their doors back shut to students from the EWS category.
“Which private school is going to be located in the slums? The majority of the private schools are located at distances more than 1 km. So where are we supposed to go?” asked another angry mother Santosh.
The frustration is widespread. “How can it be that nobody from our neighbourhood has been selected in any of the schools? We don’t even know when these schools conducted the lucky draw to select students. They should conduct the lucky draw again,” says Ashu, whose efforts to get her niece admitted in a private school have come to naught.
Of the 145 applications submitted from Trilokpuri slums, only 28 students were accepted by over dozen private schools that are located in the vicinity.
The opaque system and absence of a people-friendly atmosphere in private schools and in the government education department is making a lot parents angry and that is not healthy, says Thomas of Joint Action for Social Help (JOSH), which is working with parents in Trilokpuri’s resettlement and slum clusters to enforce the Right to Education Act.
Thomas explains, for example, how the draw of lots in schools this year caused problems for parents. “The order of the education department says that the school should put up notice on their premises a week before the draw of lots for selection of students. The schools simply send an SMS in English. Parents who are daily wage earners would come to us a day later and ask us to read out the message to them. By then the draw of lots was done. Some schools sent couriers. Parents who live in slums, don’t have door numbers. The courier reached five days later. What are the parents to do?”
So while there is a lot of fanfare that the RTE is being implemented, the reality seems to be a series of hurdles designed to eventually frustrate parents to opt out.
“And that is already beginning to happen. Parents are fed-up. They don’t want to forego yet another’s day’s wages to run from office to office. It is an eye-wash to the community,” says Thomas.
Between mid-January and beginning of March, JOSH sent 135 complaints of violations by private schools in EWS admissions to the department of education and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). Response by the department of education to last year’s complaints, inspires little confidence. “For the complaints we sent last year, the department of education sent us a letter in December saying that they have received our complaint. We are filing an application under RTI (right to information) to know the status of our complaints,” says Thomas.
For Reeta and Jyothi, residents of Trilokpuri and field workers with JOSH, the task of convincing mothers to demand their rights has only got harder. “Parents are angry with us because they feel all their efforts have been in vain. But we will have to get people together again and make sure that they don’t give up on their dreams,” says Jyothi, whose two children like many others weren’t able to get admission in a private school this year in the EWS category.
JOSH is working in 12 slums (each slum has about 300 households) and 18 blocks (each about 500 households) in Trilokpuri and five blocks in Kalyanpuri.