Four Don Bosco schools have decided to pay dearness allowance to teachers from their own coffers to shed the tag of “aided” minority institutions and escape being dictated to by the government in matters of internal administration.
The Don Bosco schools in Park Circus, Liluah, Bandel and Siliguri are the first to take this step since the Supreme Court clarified on April 12 that unaided minority institutions were guaranteed administrative freedom under Article 30(1) of the Constitution.
In the context of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, switching from “aided” to “unaided” status exempts these schools from reserving 25 per cent of their seats for underprivileged children.
The act empowers the government to ensure that all other schools, including aided minority institutions, adhere to the reservation rule and automatically promote all students till they reach Class VIII. Schools are also barred from closing admission till Class VIII at any time of the year.
“We welcome any move by the state or the central government to reach out to the poor. Our concern is that some clauses of the act infringe on our rights as a minority institution, as guaranteed by the Constitution,” said Father K.T. Thomas, a spokesperson for the Don Bosco schools.
Some see the move to take a financial hit rather than give up administrative freedom as a deviation from the original objective for which the Christian missionaries had set up schools in India: to impart quality education to the poor.
Father Thomas said the decision was being “misinterpreted by some sections of people” as being guided by the sole intention of not having to reserve a quarter of the seats in each school for the underprivileged.
“We have been offering free education to the poor anyway. The four Don Bosco branches that have decided not to take financial assistance from the government to pay DA to the staff already keep more than 25 per cent of their seats for underprivileged students. Their education is free,” the Don Bosco spokesperson said.
According to Father Thomas, what prompted the four institutions to forgo the DA assistance was a clause in the right to education act that mandates restructuring of the managing committees. All such committees are supposed to have elected members. The principal will be the only member of the school administration to be included in a committee without an election.
“If we are required to follow this system, our managing committees will be packed with people from outside the institution who might not be conversant with or agreeable to our philosophy and education policies,” said Father Siby Joseph Vadakel, principal of Don Bosco Park Circus.
Brother Jose Puthenpurackel, principal of Don Bosco Liluah, spoke of other difficulties schools would face if they needed to follow the right to education act in its entirety. “The clause that bars a school from denying admission to any child even if he/she seeks entry in the middle of a session is one….Our main concern about the act is that it exposes schools to the risk of losing minority rights.”
Sources in the school education department said the government would be within its rights to “meddle” in the administration of minority institutions as long as they received funds from the state exchequer.
A senior official said many minority institutions, most of them schools run by Christian organisations, had long become schools for the elite with little to show for their professed goal of providing education to the poor. “The main objective of the right to education is to ensure elementary education (till Class VIII) for every child. We expect Christian missionary schools to extend their cooperation to enable us to achieve the target.”
The Salesians of Don Bosco run nearly 19 schools in Bengal, some of which are located in the remote areas of the state. These schools do not get any assistance from the government.
“We have schools where 100 per cent of the seats are meant for the economically weaker sections and backward classes and where not a single child is required to pay fees,” Father Thomas said.