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Rules set, but will EWS kids really benefit from RTE?

The countdown to the nursery admissions in Delhi has begun. On Thursday, the Delhi government released guidelines, announcing the schedule for nursery admissions. (Read guidelines here)

For parents from the economically weaker sections (EWS) expectations of admitting their children in private schools are high. But they are equally anxious about succeeding, given the tactics and high-handedness school managements have employed in the past to discourage them.

Following the passage of the Right to Education Act in 2009 and a Supreme Court judgment (in April, 2012) that upheld the Act, all private schools are required to reserve 25 per cent of the seats in the entry-level class  for children from the disadvantaged or the economically weaker section.

Can students from pubilc schools make the switch to private schools? AFP

However, gaining admission to private schools in the EWS category remains a daunting task for parents and often ends in frustration. (Read report here)

Last year, for instance, of the 122 application forms submitted from two resettlement colonies – Trilokpuri and Kalyanpuri – in East Delhi to eight private schools, only 22 made it.

Nirmala Devi, a resident of Trilokpuri, wants to admit her 4-year-old daughter Bhavana to a private school. Devi’s husband is employed as a security guard. Their elder daughter Bhoomika is in Class II and goes to a government school.

“Even though she is Class II she cannot read and write properly. In her school, they don’t even check if the students have their homework. We have pay extra for her tuition,” says Devi.

Asked if she was apprehensive about the admission procedure in the private school, she says, “It will be the first time I will be stepping into a private school. But if it is possible for my daughter to get admission in a private school, why not apply.”

There are no private schools in Trilokpuri or Kalyanpuri. The nearest one is between 3-4 km, in Mayur Vihar. And there lies a key concern for parents like Devi. (Admission for the seats in the EWS quota is a combination of the neighbourhood/distance criterion and the draw of lots.)

Overturning a Delhi government directive that had done away with distance as a basis to deny admission to children from the disadvantaged section, the Delhi High Court in January 2012 made distance of the school from the child’s residence a criterion for admission.

The order of the High Court, which came in the middle of the admission season, led a lot of confusion among parents and schools. As per the court order, “Admission shall first be offered to eligible students belonging to EWS and disadvantaged group residing within 1 Km. of the specific schools..” And should EWS seats remain unfilled, only then can applicants residing within 3 km (and then subsequently to 6 km) be considered.

This resulted in parents in East Delhi’s resettlement colonies, for instance, being turned away half-way through the admission process because they didn’t meet the 1 km distance criterion. (Read report here).

“There are no private schools within 1 km distance of the resettlement colonies in Trilokpuri and Kalyanipuri. The nearest private schools are 3 km away and some are even 6-7 km away. And this is the case with many other resettlement colonies too. So when there is no neighbourhood school, where should the children apply?” said Thomas Antony from Joint Action for Social Help (JOSH), an NGO that runs a project in East Delhi’s resettlement and slum clusters to create awareness about right to education.

A community meeting held on Saturday to discuss the nursery admission guidelines, said Thomas, drew upto 100 members from two colonies. “We are planning to make a team and write a recommendation to the Directorate of Education on the neighbourhood issue,” says Thomas.

While challenges in implementation remain, that a legal framework has been put in place to ensure the right to education to disadvantaged children is a big step forward, said education activist and senior lawyer Ashok Agarwal.

“I am very optimistic about admissions in the EWS category. Also now schools built on government land are required to reserve 20 percent of the seats for EWS in all classes (not only entry level as prescribed by RTE Act). This too will have an impact. The legal structure is complete. Sometimes, it is not implementation but the law that is bad. Now the legal framework is very good. Dispute over entry-point have been sorted out. There is more awareness,” he said.