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Quota for poor draws a blank

- Private schools find few takers for reserved seats

Most private English-medium schools in Calcutta reserve a quarter of their seats for underprivileged students in keeping with the right to education act but find few takers because of lack of information and parents’ fear about the campus ambience.

The act makes it mandatory for all schools, except minority institutions, to set aside 25 per cent seats for students from weaker sections. The students being admitted to the seats are entitled to free education.

A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court had on Tuesday ruled that the state could impose admissions on private unaided schools, except minority institutions, if the purpose is to provide free and compulsory education to children from six to 14.

Most private schools Metro spoke to said they had kept 25 per cent of their seats aside for the students from weaker sections since the act came into effect in 2013 but few underprivileged parents had approached them so far.

“We have not received any application so far (for admission under the quota),” said Seema Sapru, the principal of The Heritage School. “One or two children did approach but when we asked them to produce the below-the-poverty line certificate or birth certificate, they did not come back.”

A source in the education department blamed the situation on the institutions.

“Most schools make no effort to make underprivileged students aware of the fact that a certain number of seats are available for them. It is almost as if the schools do not want people to know that such seats are there,” said a source.

Officials in the department said it was the schools’ duty to reach out to students from weaker sections and make the seats available for them.

“We had held a couple of meetings with the heads of all private schools since the act came into effect and told them what steps they would have to take to implement the provisions, including the one related to the reservation of 25 per cent seats,” said Amiya Ranjan Sanyal, a deputy director in the school education department.

The schools’ defence is that they do what they can and it is up to the government to publicise the reservation. Some schools said they had put up notices on campuses as well as on their websites, yet they had not received a single application.

Sharmila Bose, the principal of Sushila Birla Girls’ School, said the government should launch awareness drives. “Schools as well as parents of underprivileged families are worried over how well the children would integrate with the others. The government needs to undertake awareness drives to reassure the parents that the children won’t be victimised,” said Bose.

Many underprivileged parents said they were wary of approaching reputable English-medium schools because they think their children will suffer if the subjects are taught in English. They also fear that their children would not be able to mix with those from affluent families.

“All children should have equal opportunities... teachers have to be equipped to teach such a heterogeneous group,” said Devi Kar, the director of Modern High School for Girls.