Taking Ryan International Case as an individual case – Are we again missing out the elephant in the room?

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In the times we are living in, private schools have become like those parking spaces that have a “park at your own risk” notice. The recent case of the murder of a seven year old boy in Gurgaon’s Ryan International School has raised once again the question of the accountability of these schools, who charge exorbitant fees in the name of development and infrastructure, but somehow come clean every time they face a charge of irresponsibility towards its students.

The alarming increase in enrolments in private schools and resulting exodus from government schools obligates the state to hold these institutes accountable. Fulfilling this, should not let the state abdicate from ensuring public (government) schools as a possible alternative choice of private schools.

If we talk of the very recent incidents a 5 year old girl has been raped by the school staff in a private school in Gandhinagar, Delhi, a 7 year old boy has been killed in an elite private school of Gurgaon again by the bus conductor and a 5 year old girl came under the rear wheels of her bus while she was deboarding the bus. These are just the cases which came into limelight in two consecutive days from the NCR region. Despite several such cases happening every day in private schools, why have the private schools in total been left unquestioned?

The increasing control of private schools over the lives and wishes of parents of children studying in their schools has resulted to submissive attitude of parents where important issues are left unquestioned. Private schools are preferred and valued over government schools in India by the parents across classes. Of course, we speak of those who can afford education in one. In spite of apathy displayed by these private schools towards the safety and goodwill of the students, India has seen large growth in private schools among all sections of the society. Between 2011-2015, number of children attending private schools has grown by 16 million as per the DISE (District Information System for Education) data.Despite agencies in place to monitor and audit for checking private schools but still fingers are hardly pointed against them.

State has been continuously taking support of private education to hide its failure in improving the situation of government schools despite 68 percent of the school-going children attending government schools. With section 12 (1) (c) of the Right to Education Act, 2009 mandating non-minority private unaided schools to reserve 25 percent of their seats for children from economically weaker section and socially disadvantaged groups, dependence of states has further inclined towards private schools. States have been projecting their expenditures on reimbursement of fees of children being admitted through section 12 1 (c) as fulfilling its duty to comply with education as a right. Several news reports and petitions in courts mentions that the children admitted through section 12 (1)(C) in private unaided schools are treated differently and discriminated against on various parameters ranging from their dress, color, social background, appearance, dialect and what not.

According to a Ministry Women and Child Development report of 2007 over 50 percent children who participated in their survey said they were sexually abused at their school and no further such study has been done by the ministry since then.

Ironically, the National Policy for Children was announced in 1974. It declared children a “supreme national asset.” However, decades later, about 70 per cent of children reported physical abuse and 50 per cent said they were sexually abused.

 

 

Ms.Ritu Mehra, former  member of the child welfare committee in Delhi, the district-level body set up under the Juvenile Justice Act, had said in a news report, “We summoned principals several times but in most cases, the police would come back and say the child has withdrawn the case,”. She further added that “there is immense pressure from the school and sometimes from parents themselves [to withdraw the case].”

There is, in fact, a need to see an alternate in public schools as good institutes of wholesome education. To achieve this, government efforts and a leap of faith on part of the parents is required. People in general do not consider sending their wards to public schools due to the obvious reasons of poor infrastructure and learning outcomes. This dearth of alternatives is actually helping private schools to flourish, especially the low cost budget private schools. It is important to understand the totality of schooling in the country for both private and public schools. As per the NSS data (2014) which shows that the fee level of more than 80% of the private schools are substantially lower than the per-child expenditure in their respective state. Even the government admits that only 6.4 percent of the government schools themselves have infrastructure as per government norms of the RTE Act, 2009, how can it be possible for majority of the private schools to fulfill the infrastructural norms which run on a very small fraction of the unit cost of their public counterparts. Although, the ASER report data for continuously 10 years have shown that the learning levels of rural private schools are better than the government schools, still who is responsible for low learning outcomes in the government schools is an unanswered question.

Continuous apathy and insouciant attitude of public towards government schools has reached the extent that people are forming parents association to fight continuous injustice of private schools instead of exercising their fundamental right to be a part of such association in government schools. Section 21 of the Right to Education Act, 2009 mandates the formation of School Management Committee with three-fourth majority of parents in every government school and gives it financial autonomy to decide on the development of schools.

And there are instances of public schools attracting enrollments of students previously studying in private schools. Taking a very recent example of a government school in Delhi that witnessed 900 new admissions of children who were earlier in private schools, we see that when a new school with proper infrastructure was built, people preferred choosing it over other private schools in the neighbourhood.

There is a need today to bring down this monster of private schools that we as a society have created. A reinvestment of money and efforts in public schools can turn the picture around for the state and the parents and can be a win-win situation for all. What is needed is a right model of developing public schools and a display of faith by the parents in the education being imparted in these schools, where their child can learn things beyond books—like equality, sharing and compassion. Until public schools will be built as a potential choice against private schools, accountability of private schools will just be limited to such heinous cases.