New Delhi: Five years since the Right to Education (RTE) Act set aside one-fourth of all seats in private schools for students from poor families, implementation of the move that aimed to combine student enrolments with social engineering remains a study in apathy.

The RTE Act passed in 2009 took effect the next year. Less than one-third of these seats were filled in 2013-14, found the survey conducted by Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A), Central Square Foundation (CSF), Accountability Initiative of Centre for Policy Research and Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.

Of the 2,140,287 seats available with private schools under RTE for economically weaker sections (EWS), just 29% were filled. The survey, which sourced data from the human resource development (HRD) ministry and states, found that Delhi (92%), Madhya Pradesh (88%) and Rajasthan (69%) were among states that fared better.

In nine states, less than 20% of these seats were filled, reflecting poor monitoring by the state and central governments, lack of awareness and disinterest by private entities. Among these, Andhra Pradesh filled just 0.2% of available seats, followed by Odisha (1.85%) and Uttar Pradesh (3.62%). Even in relatively developed states such as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, the figures were just 11.25% and 19.35%, respectively.

The intention of “social engineering and desegregation" among students through the RTE section 1-C (25% reservation provision) has not been achieved fully, said Nalini Juneja, professor at National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NEUPA), which functions under the HRD ministry.

The survey took 2013-14 as base year since the provision was implemented across states only in that year, after several legal hassles.

Ankur Sarin, professor at IIM-A, said Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan did well in terms of absolute numbers. Out of the 600,000-plus seats that were filled in this category nationally, the two jointly accounted for nearly 300,000 seats.

“The number of students who have secured admissions in private schools under the 25% reservation provision is extremely low," said Ashish Dhawan, founder and chief executive of CSF. “Even after five years of RTE, state rules and notifications of this provision are not clearly defined, this is leading to ineffective implementation across states. If implemented effectively, this policy can provide opportunities to 1.6 crore children across India (over a period of time)," said Dhawan, a co-founder of private equity firm ChrysCapital, who started CSF as an education philanthropy venture.

The report also underlined that in 2013-14, out of 206,000 private unaided schools with Class I, only about 45,000 reported enrolling students under the EWS category. States such as Andhra Pradesh (0.1%), Odisha (1%) and Uttar Pradesh (2%) reported the lowest school participation rate, whereas Rajasthan (65%), Delhi (48%) and Uttarakhand (43%) rank among states with the highest school participation rate.

Juneja of NEUPA said there is a huge awareness deficit among parents, society, schools and even government authorities, but Annie Namala, executive director at Centre for Social Equity and Inclusion, said private schools were not willing to admit poor students. This is happening even in the Capital, but there is little monitoring, said Namala, whose organization works in the school education sector.

According to Amit Kaushik, director for education at IPE Global that runs schools in three states, other than poor awareness, the government, which had spoken of reimbursing the cost of educating disadvantaged kids in private schools, has not done much in this space.

Talking about low school participation rates, Yamini Aiyar, director at Accountability Initiative, said there is no clarity on how the reimbursement amount is calculated. In many instances, schools and parents are unclear if the fee waiver applies only to the tuitions or includes other expenses such as books, stationery and uniform.

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