A recent memo of the Department of Personnel and Training presents glaring evidence of institutionalized elitism in the education system. The department has come out with draft guidelines for setting up "Sanskriti-type" schools in the country. The Sanskriti school in Delhi, until recently, had a unique policy of reserving 60% of its seats for the children of Group A Central Government officers. The school was started in 1998 to provide quality education for the children of such officers. The government had provided concessional land for the school, and financed its construction, infrastructure and corpus fund. Today Sanskriti is counted among the top schools in the city.
The government wants to use public resources to set up schools catering disproportionately to the children of its most elite employees.
Noting its success, the department wants to set up similar schools in other parts of India. These schools will also receive free land and non-recurring grants for infrastructure, and they will reserve 60% of their seats for Group A officers and other government officers in transferable services. They may also charge differentiated fee from children of the general public. For context, in 2015-16, Sanskriti's annual fee for "government category" nursery students was 33% less than that for the "general category."
Let us take a moment and consider what this means. The government wants to use public resources to set up schools catering disproportionately to the children of its most elite employees. It has been termed as a "welfare measure" for government officers. School education in India is, as it is, characterised by de facto segregation, where socio-economic background largely influences the kind of school one can access and by extension, the quality of education one receives. This memo makes it a matter of official policy.
Sanskriti's admission policy was challenged last year in the Delhi High Court. The court observed that the reservation of seats for Group A officers was inconsistent with Constitutional guarantees of equality and the fundamental right to education under Article 21A. It accordingly declared that the government cannot legitimately provide free land and finance the construction of a school which caters to an "elite segment of society", and went on to quash the 60% quota. An appeal against this decision was lodged in the Supreme Court.
Is the burden of seeking admission upon transfer unique to select officers of the government? Why not extend this concern to migrant workers...?
In January this year, the Supreme Court stayed the High Court's order and issued an interim order which reinstated the 60% reservation but with a modification. The reservation is now also open to children of defence officers and other government officers coming to Delhi on transfer. However the court inserted a vaguely phrased provision specifically for the Group A category, stating that their children should be not be denied admission, even if in mid-session, "on first cum first serve basis." The appeals were scheduled to be heard in April and the final judgment on the matter is still pending. The new memo takes cognisance of the interim order, but provides that half the reserved seats in the new schools will necessarily go to the Group A category. Thus it is clear that prioritization is still being accorded to Group A officers. In any case, it would have been more prudent to wait for the final judgment -- which may have the effect of revising the interim order.
Legality notwithstanding, the rationale provided for setting up Sanskriti style schools is highly problematic. The memo argues that such schools are needed to address the difficulty faced by government officers in transferable jobs in "arranging quality education for their children." It further states that their children undergo stress because of the ensuing change in education boards and that schools often refuse admission in mid-session. The hypocrisy is astounding when we consider that the government, apart from being an employer that must look out for its officers, is also a provider of education. Several questions arise.
The government is openly claiming that its officers' children deserve the quality of a Sanskriti and not that of a regular government school, not even a KV.
Firstly, is the burden of seeking admission upon transfer to different cities unique to select officers of the government? Are there not other categories of employees in transferable jobs who must seek mid-session admission for their children? Why not extend this concern to migrant workers whose children often do not make it to school at all? Section 15 of the RTE Act already prohibits schools from denying admission to a child in elementary classes even if it is sought after the prescribed period. Instead of allocating funds to set up near-exclusive schools, it would be helpful if the government improves the enforcement of the RTE and takes steps towards alleviating these problems across the board.
Secondly, we must ponder the phrase "arranging quality education". Is this not tantamount to an official admission of failure on part of the government in providing quality education? The government is openly claiming that children of its officers deserve the quality of a Sanskriti and not that of a regular government school, not even a Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV). The memo states that a Sanskriti-type school will meet its recurring expenditure from fees and not drain public resources unlike KVs which are heavily subsidized. This still does not justify the provision of free land or initial assistance in funding, nor the other perks these new schools will be entitled to -- a differential fee structure and technical support from the society running the Sanskriti in Delhi.
Isolating [disadvantaged] children while running a separate class of schools for the elite is neither an efficient nor a fair use of public resources.
It is perhaps a good time to question the existing stratification in the public provision of school education, especially considering that the new National Education Policy is going to be finalized soon. Where is the merit in spending public money on running special schools for the children of government employees, be it Sanskriti or KVs or schools for the children of armed forces personnel? The concerns of unimpeded access and quality should apply equally for all children. School education has no dearth of challenges -- be it poor infrastructure, shortage of qualified teachers or abysmal learning outcomes. The large brunt of these issues is faced by the most disadvantaged children studying in bottom-of-the-rung government schools. Isolating these children while running a separate class of schools for the elite is neither an efficient nor a fair use of public resources.
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