Why the real culprit of school fee hikes is the Right to Education (RTE) Act and not the schools themselves
School fees are revised every year and parents have largely accepted them, expecting to get quality education for their children in return. However, of late parents have started complaining of what they call unwarranted unexpected fee hikes under different heads. They have even started coming out on the streets in protest.
Political parties, both in government and opposition, have identified the issue as an opportunity and are moving towards regulating fee and controlling school managements. Two weeks ago, Gujarat, which is going to go to polls this year, passed a law to regulate fees. However, this is not the first attempt to do this.
Law on fee regulation started with Tamil Nadu in 2009 and now exists in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Punjab. Delhi to the Delhi School Education Act of 1973 to regulate fees which . In Uttar Pradesh, the new month-old government has started issuing orders to examine accounts of schools and control fee determination.
But it is important to first understand the reasons for raising school fees. The most significant factor is the provisions of the , compliance with which has huge cost implications for schools. Some of these are:
- Infrastructure norms: Section 18 and 19 of the aAct have made recognition of schools mandatory. But schools have to meet certain infrastructure norms for this and among these the size of land required to open a school is the biggest constraint. The Act mandates that schools have a to get recognition from the Central Board of Secondary Education. It also mandates availability of and specifications for classrooms, windows, playground, library, toilets etc. Land in urban areas is not available and when available, it is very expensive.
- Teacher eligibility and salary: Section 23 has mandated appointment of only trained teachers with a salary at par with the teachers in government schools. India currently has a shortage of . Trained teachers are supposed to be paid in line with the s. The Act has also mandated a pupil-teacher ratio of 1:30 and therefore the burden of the salary of each teacher on the student is higher.
- EWS quota: Section 12 1 C has mandated 25 per cent seats in private schools be reserved for students from economically weaker sections (EWS) and disadvantaged group. Schools are not supposed to charge fees from these students, and they are to be reimbursed by the state government. The reimbursement mechanism in most states has not been set and therefore schools are not getting reimbursed. In a few states where reimbursement is happening, it is reported to be insufficient and delayed. In order to get around the bureaucratic process of reimbursement, schools are taking the easy route of increasing fee for the rest 75 per cent students.
- School closure: India has a scarcity of good schools which have maintained a reputation of providing quality education over a period of time. While compliance with the above-mentioned provision of the Act comes with huge cost implications, non-compliance leads to a penalty of Rs 1 lakh if the school is found to be in contravention of the Act and Rs 10,000 every day until the contravention is rectified. India has around three lakh low cost private schools (budget private schools) which have started closing down due to non compliance and fear of penalty. The National Independent Schools Alliance, a national federation of regional school associations, estimates that schools have faced closure. This is further aggravating the scarcity of good schools, restricting choice for parents.
It is important to note that the RTE Act was notified in 2010 and states were given a window of three years to comply with the law. No state complies with the RTE Act fully till date. States have only started laying emphasis on a few sections of the Act that apply to private schools post-2013. And most of the states reporting unwarranted school fee hike are those that have laid emphasis on implementation of the RTE Act.
The Delhi-based think tank, Centre for Civil Society, in a study titled “Cost of Compliance to Norms and Standards set forward by RTE Sections 18 and 19” in 2013, had predicted private school fees to rise at least four-fold on an average or closure of around if the Act is complied with fully.
Parents, unfortunately, are at the receiving end and are paying the huge cost of a populist approach of law-making. Parents need to understand that the factors leading to fee hikes need to be eliminated. Regulation of fees might give some gain in the short run but will give a lot of pain in the long run.