Last week the new academic year began in most of the schools in north India. New books, often new uniforms and shoes, a freshness that resonates in their gait and expression are all part of the “goodies” students take to school as they report for the first day in their new class. Ever since the Right to Education, enacted in August 2009, became real for children in India, many from the less privileged too went to schools which are normally not easy to get into—Modern, Vasanth Valley, DPS etc.
There are success stories aplenty of how the government's grandiose policy makes dreams come true. But every now and then one hears of a few here and some more there, who got admission but could not reach the haloed classroom. They did not have the books, the uniforms, the shoes and pencils and pens. That is something the schools say they are not meant to provide, the law only requires them to reserve seats for children from these sections, and waive the tuition fees!
A parent, who did not have the Rs 4,500 she would need to equip her daughter to go to school, found a solution. She told her daughter to stay home till she earns and saves that amount!
This is a gap in the RTE that the government is aware of , but as of now, has not filled. Not even addressed.
But beyond the gaps in the RTE that enables poor students to go to schools originally meant for the affluent, there are issues that make it difficult for them to go to the higher class.
Shivam, who has been promoted from class V by his school in Bhowapur, a village in the Ghaziabad district of the National Capital Region, is staring at a blank wall, saying that is how his new academic year will be.
His school does not have class VI. The nearest high school from his house is in Ghazipur, which falls in Delhi state. They refused him seat, saying he does not have a Delhi address, and lives more than 2kms from the school. (There is no government school within 2kms of his house!) The nearest one in Ghaziabad will need the 12 year old to cross a highway where there is no let up in heavy traffic. His mother Sunita won't let him do that on his own. As she and her husband will be away at work, they are not able to accompany Shivam.
Finally when Sunita was persuaded to let the boy cross the road and she went to the school to deal with the official matters. There they wanted a number of documents—Aadhar card, affidavit, police report etc. It became a daunting exercise for Sunita, who thought a Transfer Certificate from the government primary school would suffice!
HRD minister Smriti Irani has her hands full dealing with directors of IIT and vice-chancellor of universities. But she cannot be deaf to the story of Shivam and Sunita. It is the story of millions who will be scared off by the system that is apparently trying to facilitate them, but falls short.
In a land where ability to scribble a few letters of the alphabet counts for literacy, real literacy can be achieved when the likes of Shivam go to high school. This opportunity should not slip out of the state's clumsy, butter fingers.