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On another quota, a rethink

New Delhi, May 21: The Centre is likely to go back on its commitment to providing a 25 per cent reservation of seats for children from weaker sections in private unaided primary schools.

Faced with protests from the private school lobby, the government is preparing to drop the quota clause from the free and compulsory education bill that has been in the pipeline for four years.

The move comes at a time when the human resource development ministry is seeking to introduce a bill to give 27 percent reservation to students of the other backward classes (OBC) in higher education institutions.

Both bills have a similar trajectory. The free and compulsory education bill will translate into action the government’s commitment in the 96th Constitutional Amendment Act to provide free education to all children in the 6-14 age group.

Similarly, the controversial bill for OBC reservation will fulfil the government’s commitment, made in the 93rd Constitutional Amendment Act, to introduce a quota for students from socially and educationally backward sections.

The question of a quota in government schools does not arise since they tend to get children primarily from weaker sections in any case.

Private schools have been lobbying with the government to get the clause scrapped. They argue that children from weaker sections will find it difficult to cope with the syllabus. Their backgrounds will be very different from those that usually study in these schools, causing a mismatch the authorities will have trouble coping with.

It is also true that if these schools were to make space for underprivileged children, they would have to accept loss of some income.

Members of the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), a body that helped draw up the bill, say they will not allow the government to scrap the quota.

There have been precedents, however, of the private school lobby getting its way with the government and the examination boards.

Recently, the Central Board of Secondary Education left it to the discretion of private schools to give free education to a girl if she were the only child of her parents. But it was made mandatory for government schools.

Barring a few, most Delhi schools have reneged on their commitment to keeping a 15 per cent quota for children from poor families. The commitment was part of the understanding with the Delhi government that gave them land at a concessional rate.

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