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Posted at: Jul 17, 2015, 12:58 AM; last updated: Jul 16, 2015, 11:23 PM (IST)

UP stumbles on the Right to Education front

The lack of political will is visible in the state government’s approach in dealing with schools constantly violating this provision
UP stumbles on the Right to Education front
The indefinite fast by Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey (Centre) has failed to move private schools to accomodate students from weaker sections

Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey’s indefinite hunger strike for the implementation of (Free and Compulsory) Right to Education (RTE) Act  in all intents and purposes has failed to move private schools.

During the day he symbolically sits under the canopy of Mahatama Gandhi’s larger than life statue at Lucknow’s GPO.

 Here hundreds of common people, representatives of civil society, teachers, students and even parents of students affected by the non-implementation of the RTE join him in solidarity.

Similar protests are continuing at the collectorates of eight districts in Uttar Pradesh.

 The ruling Samajwadi Party’s philosophy of “muft padhai, muft dawai and muft seenchai” (free education, health and irrigation) is sharply contrasted by its lack of political will to effectively implement the RTE Act. It provides for reservation of 25 per cent of seats in all schools for free and compulsory education to children from the under-privileged classes.

While the UP government has technically implemented this clause in the state’s elite schools, it is making no effort whatsoever to get it universally implemented.

The lack of political will is visible in the state government’s approach in dealing with schools constantly violating this provision.

Despite the law and pressure from parents, civil society and activists such as Sandeep Pandey, some private schools across the state continue to refuse admission to children from educationally backward and marginalised communities under the 25 per cent reservation clause.

A case in point is Lucknow’s City Montessori School (CMS). With 20 branches in the city, CMS claims to be the largest school in the world with a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records for the maximum number of children on its rolls.

Still, the “World’s Largest School” has no space for children from the underprivileged sections of society. CMS authorities have repeatedly ignored the Lucknow District Magistrate’s orders to admit 31 such students in their school this academic year.

They have challenged the order in the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court citing lack of space and asked why should be admitted when there was a government school and a few private schools closer to the children’s home. The High Court has ordered the administration to visit a CMS branch to inspect if   space was available for the 31 students who applied to join this school branch under the RTE Act. The court has asked the authorities to submit a report when the case next comes up for hearing on Friday.

However, what CMS has conveniently overlooked is a provision under the RTE Act which says that if 40 or more students are already enrolled in Class 1 of a government school, then a child can claim admission in any private school in the neighbourhood.

In this particular case, 52 children are already on the rolls of the closest government primary school.

While the court has given no stay order, CMS is refusing to admit these 31 children ignoring repeated directions by the Lucknow district administration.

Following Pandey’s indefinite hunger strike, Lucknow’s  District Magistrate held a closed door meeting attended by Pandey, Arundhati Dhuru and a few representatives of the 31  families besides the CMS founder Jagdish Gandhi. The talks failed as Gandhi refused to budge.

Despite repeatedly ignoring the government directives and being guilty of violating a national Act, the state government has not taken any punitive action against the erring school.

Emboldened by CMS’s open defiance, a few other elite schools who had initially agreed to admit children from marginalized sections as per the Basic Shiksha Adhikari’s orders have also retracted. Meanwhile, as Pandey’s hunger strike entered the seventh day, doctors describe his health as rapidly declining.

But what has not weakened is his and the large numbers of his supporters resolve to fight for the hard won right to free and quality education.

shahiranaim@gmail.com

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