Amid the pandemic, when families from underprivileged backgrounds are facing a financial crisis and could benefit from free education for their children under the Right To Education (RTE) Act, thousands of students across the state are at disadvantage. With crores of rupees as reimbursement pending from the government, schools are filling very few of these seats.
According to the data of 2021-2022, a total 9,432 schools in Maharashtra are supposed to provide admissions under the RTE Act, on 96,684 reserved seats. However, merely 23,114 students were admitted, leaving 73,570 vacant seats, which is roughly 76 percent
Mumbai-specific data is no good either, with 4,947 seats vacant out of 6,463 across 352 schools. Only 1,516 students were admitted in the city this academic year.
Under RTE Act, private schools are also supposed to reserve a certain number of seats for children from the underprivileged backgrounds, whose fees are reimbursed to schools by the government.
However, the state hasn’t cleared the pending dues of more than Rs 900 crore, according to a schools’ association. Cash-strapped schools say they are wary of survival due to the pandemic.
“Many schools have denied admissions under the RTE Act this year because of the financial crunch. Over Rs 900 crore in dues are pending from the government as reimbursement to private schools. For many budget schools, their survival has become difficult. If such schools close down, what will happen to children who are getting education at affordable cost?” asked Rajendra Singh, president of the Independent English Schools Association of Maharashtra.
Meanwhile, a statement by State School Education Minister Varsha Gaikwad, while addressing the issue of parents’ complaints about fees, has irked many.
“Education is a basic right of all children and no school shall deny this to any child. If any school is seen taking actions such as blocking access to online learning, not issuing results of leaving certificates and denying exam; then the school can face de-recognition,” Gaikwad had tweeted on Wednesday.
S C Kedia, convenor of the Federation of Schools’ Association of Maharashtra, said, “While the government has failed to raise or disburse the funds for RTE admissions, the minister is warning of de-recognising schools [over the issue of fees]. There is a completely different procedure to de-recognise any school. In the current scenario, the government should rather be supporting education.”
Kedia said the state government has not released the pending amount despite a judgment by the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay High Court to do so.
“First, the government doesn’t release funds, then asks schools to not collect fees. How is this supposed to work?” asked Kedia, adding that the association plans to move court against Gaikwad’s statement.
No. of seats reserved under RTE Act in state
No. of reserved seats vacant across the state
Courtesy: Mid – Day