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Private schools across the country will be required to do its part to ensure all children between 6 and 14 receive free and compulsory education. The Right to Education Bill, 2008, makes it mandatory for private unaided schools to set aside 25% of their annual intake at the entry level (class one) for disadvantaged children in the neighbourhood. With this, the HRD ministry has given its own spin on the much-vaunted publicprivate partnership mantra of the UPA government.

Private unaided schools, that is schools that don’t receive funds from the government, will not lose out financially. The government will foot the bill for the disadvantaged students on the basis of what it sets aside per child in government-run schools. The government spends roughly Rs 1,700 per child as against an average of Rs 1,100 by a private school.

However, if the school has received concessions, such as cheaper land, in lieu of a promise to provide for disadvantaged children, then there will be no payment involved, as is the case in many of Delhi’s private schools.

The other category of schools — private aided, that is schools that receive substantial grants, more than 51%, from the government — would have to provide for children from the neighbourhood, to the limit of the concession if need be to full capacity. These aided school system has a strong presence in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Kerala, this sector accounts for 60% of elementary schools and 20% in Tamil Nadu.

This step is in keeping with the Kothari Commission’s recommendation to introduce a common school system, as well as the Supreme Court judgement against commercialisation of private schools. The suggestion to draw private schools into the net was first suggested by the NDA in its draft Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill. The idea was refined by CABE subcommittee on the Free and Compulsory Education for Children Bill. This was improved in the subsequent August 2005 version of the Right to Education Bill.

As against earlier versions of proposed legislation, the 25% seats will be only at the entry level, Class I. This, it is believed, will help the cause of social inclusion. It would help students from disadvantaged sections to be a sizeable number in a class and not be scattered through various grades, as would have been the case if schools had to take in 25% of its total annual intake. Senior officials are of the view that introducing students from disadvantaged sections at the entry level will help assimilation as children at that age are more flexible and less mindful of differences.

This would also ensure that these disadvantaged kids are integrated with paying students and school management cannot take cover of ‘afternoon schools for the disadvantaged’ to work around the provision.

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