Simran and Rani used to cover only 50 steps to reach their school. Now, they walk almost 4 km everyday to be able to study in their new school. The previous school had to close down due to verbal pressure from the district officials.
In 2013-14, 1170 private schools have been shut down thus affecting more than 40,000 students. These private schools have been closed down on the grounds of non-compliance with the norms and standards in the schedule as per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE), 2009 (‘Act’). These rules are only applicable to private schools. The reasons for non-compliance have mostly been the fact that school building was rented, less-than-mandated plot size and classroom size.
A recent field study conducted in Punjab by Centre for Civil Society (CCS) confirmed the above observations. In some cases, the government officials inisited on a 30 year lease for the school building whereas the common market practice has been a lease for not more than five years. In other cases, they insisted on ownership of plot. The schools were all given temporary recognition certificates in the first year of implementation of RTE and three years to comply with all the norms with at least 40% deficiencies to be removed by the end of the first year. They also have to bear a hefty penalty of one lakh rupees if they continue to run the school after it gets de-recognised, along with a daily fine of 10,000 rupees.
On the other hand, in Gujarat, not a single case of school closure has been reported. Rule 15, sub-section 1 of Gujarat RTE Rules, 2012 says: "In case, where existing recognized schools are not able to fulfill norms regarding infrastructure due to physical limitations, relaxation may have to be given to such schools to protect the education rights of children. Such relaxation may be given to only those schools who achieve certain level of learning outcomes as specified in Appendix- I."
Appendix-I of the Gujarat RTE rules shows how they have assigned only 15% weightage to the infrastructure norms and 85% to learning outcomes. They believe that compliance with infrastructure norms should be a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. A study conducted by Karthik Muralidharan also shows very little impact of improvement in school facilities on learning outcomes.
So, what is more desirable – quality of education or quality of infrastructure? And what is more undesirable – a rented school building, or shutting down the school altogether? It is time we set our priorities straight.
This blog has been co-authored by Meril Antony, Research Associate at Centre for Civil Society, and Prashant Narang, Manager at iJustice. Write to them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com respectively.