What is the implementation status of reservation for disadvantaged children in private unaided schools under RTE?

15 September 2017
What is the implementation status of reservation for disadvantaged children in private unaided schools under RTE?
Ambrish Dongre and his collaborators share findings in the latest co-authored State of the Nation report

Context

This report describes the status of implementation of the section 12(1)(c)of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act.

This section sets aside at least 25 per cent of the seats at entry level (pre-primary or grade 1) for children from economically weaker and disadvantaged sections of society at no cost to these children in: i) private unaided schools (non-minority) and, ii) special category schools.

The unaided schools that admit children through section 12(1)(c) are reimbursed a stipulated amount based on the comparison between actual amount charged by the school and recurring per student expenditure incurred by the government. This recurring expenditure is notified by the state governments from time to time, and is referred to as ‘notified costs’.

By mandating the inclusion of underprivileged children in private unaided schools, it acknowledges and challenges the existing hierarchies in access to education. Its effective implementation requires the government to create a system providing administrative, financial, and legal support.

What was the research about?

The report documents:

  • Procedural design of the admissions process and systems – especially online admission processes – followed in Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, as well as the initial implementation of online portals in Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh;
  • Concerns and challenges faced by multiple stakeholders in relation to the online admission process;
  • Parents’ experiences of 12(1)(c) application process, and further experiences once the child is admitted to school through 12(1)(c);
  • Issues surrounding reimbursements to private schools that admit children under section 12(1)(c) and overall expenditure incurred for 12(1)(c) by the government;
  • Legal developments in relation to 12(1)(c).

How was the research conducted?

Information about admission processes was obtained from concerned officials in respective states. Attempts were also made to interact with parents who had applied through 12(1)(c); school administrators; and various non-governmental organisations and individuals who work in this space. Capturing parental experiences during the application process and once the child was admitted to a school through 12(1)(c) was the outcome of an extensive data collection exercise carried out in Ahmedabad. Additionally, budget documents were analysed to estimate per child expenditure on children in government schools while legal documents were scrutinised to understand the legal developments around section 12(1)(c).    

Key findings

Non-implementation of 12(1)(c)

Out of 36 States and Union Territories (UT) in India, only 1 Union Territory and 11 States initiated action as evidenced by their seeking funds from the Central Government for implementation of this mandate, as the rules allow them to. These States include Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh. Despite more than five years of the RTE coming into force, more than half of the States/ UTs have not implemented this section.

Of the states that are implementing this mandate, a number of them implement section 12(1)(c) through a centralised online admission process (details given below).

Admission Processes

The report finds that the centralised admission process has improved administrative control and transparency in the admission process. However, the process, with its reliance on internet and absence of support structure, has also created access barriers.

The report describes experiences of applicants in Ahmedabad (Gujarat) where centralised online application process was implemented for the first time in admissions through section 12(1)(c) for the academic year 2017-18. Though the centralised online application potentially allows for a number of improvements over a paper-based system, the implementation of it highlighted many problems.

Lack of internet access, heavy reliance on cyber cafes and consequently higher expenses incurred for the application process, combined with problems faced by applicants in filling application forms were the direct fallout of the online process. In addition, complete absence of or inadequately equipped help-centres; lack of effective grievance redressal mechanisms; confusion around eligibility criteria; lack of synchronisation with admission cycle for seats, which are not reserved i.e. rest of the 75% seats  exacerbated the complexity of the application process. Some of these problems were evident in other states as well.  

The report offers a range of recommendations to improve this situation.   

Lottery mechanisms

The report also compares the logic (of lottery) used for allotment of seats to applicants. Based on interviews with concerned officials from four states, the researchers found systematic differences in the logic used across these states. There were differences on accounts of public disclosure, ordering of applicants’ preferences for schools, and format of result declaration. For example, in some states (like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Gujarat) applicants received allotment to only one school whereas in Maharashtra, an applicant could receive a confirmed allotment to multiple schools, of which one would be selected by the applicant. On the other hand, applicants in Rajasthan received priority numbers for each school applied.

Evidence from Ahmedabad based on a large scale survey

The report also presents findings from a child tracking study of over 1600 households in Ahmedabad.

The child-tracking study finds that although most eligible households are likely to apply if informed about the provision, information alone is insufficient to successfully navigate the various stages of the application and admission process. There are barriers in the form of transaction costs and information access, which prevent the more disadvantaged households from applying and receiving allotment of a seat.  For example, many households need to procure documents such as caste certificates and income certificates for the process, which is both time consuming and costly.

More educated households and those with local language (Gujarati) as their mother tongue, which increases the access, may be at an advantage, as suggested by higher application and allotment rates of households with these characteristics.

Further, in a first attempt of this kind in the context of section 12(1)(c),  the data shows that over 96% of those who had admitted their child through the policy in June, 2015 continued to attend the same school in December, 2016 (when the data was collected).

Once children are admitted to schools through 12(1)(c), preliminary findings suggest that fewer of them participate in extracurricular activities such as sports and cultural activities compared to those enrolled in private schools without the provision. Such challenges are a cause of concern and merit further exploration.

Issues around reimbursement

Analysis of budget documents reveals that there is discrepancy between notified per student reimbursement costs and actual per student expenditure by government as estimated by the researchers. Sources of this discrepancy are difficult to locate due to lack of clarity on how these notified costs are derived in the first place. Analysis, detailed in the report, also points to the possibility that most of the schools admitting children under 12(1)(c) are low cost/fee private schools. What that means for inclusion and learning needs to be analysed.

Legal Developments

The chapter on legal developments draws attention to issues related to Section 12(1)(c). The researchers find that while the courts have resisted efforts to narrow the eligibility criteria (like using the criteria of having a Below Poverty Line (BPL) card as the only way of identifying Economically Weaker Section (EWS) candidates), they have generally stayed away from ruling on administrative procedures like the mode of admissions. The courts have been particularly proactive with regard to ensuring the benefits of the mandate reach children with needs.

Way forward

The report makes specific and detailed recommendations on various aspects of the implementation of section 12(1)(c) such as clarity in rules regarding eligibility criteria; not relying exclusively on GPS for defining neighbourhoods; more time for application process; building a robust Management Information System to manage expenditure and reimbursement effectively; creative and informative communication campaigns; online and offline modes of application; timely and adequate reimbursements; and child tracking. More broadly though, the report calls upon government officials, judiciary, and private stakeholders for their active participation in ensuring effective implementation of 12(1)(c).

The full report can be accessed here.

The views shared belong to individual faculty and researchers and do not represent an institutional stance on the issue.