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Private School  Regulatory Framework: Beyond Hype

 

By Anurag Kundu

Government of Delhi passed two bills titled as ‘Delhi School  Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015’ and ‘Delhi School (Verification  of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 in November, 2015.  The bills had been hotly debated, received mixed reactions and now have been  lying pending with the Lieutenant Governor for more than 8 months.

In first of the two part essays, let  me explain the context, rationale and the key features of 'Delhi School  Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015’ and ‘Delhi School (Verification of  Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 and then spell out the  importance of the bills. This essay deals with the former only.

Context:
  Let me first start by explaining how  important private schools have become for the city in the last few years:

With nearly 35 percent of our  elementary students studying in private schools, there needs to be some  regulation for a variety of reasons.

There has been complete opacity and  arbitrariness in the nursery admission process. The Department receives several  complaints of favouritism, request for bribes in the form of donations or  capitation fee and complaints where the education levels of parents determine  the odds of admissions of their children. Though, these issues have been  addressed in the Right to Education Act but the regulations are limited to  Standards I to VIII and do not cover pre-primary sections. Nearly two-thirds of  Delhi private schools have pre-primary sections. It, therefore, becomes  necessary that government amends the Delhi School Education Act to ensure no  such practice continues even in the pre-primary sections where bulk of  admissions take place in private schools. It is in this context that Government  of Delhi has brought ‘Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015

    Salient Features and Rationale of  Provisions:
          
          Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015 makes following  amendments:

i.           Ban on Screening  Methods for Admissions in Pre-Primary: Insertion of new Section 16(A) has  prohibited subjecting either the child or the parents to any screening method.  It will be a travesty if the education levels of the parents or the knowledge  and skills of a 3-year child were to determine his/her odds for admission in  Nursery class. However, the screening of the child can be done for admissions  to higher classes.

ii.        Ban On Capitation  Fee The bill defines capitation fee as any kind of  donation or contribution or payment, directly or indirectly, other than the fee  notified by the school.

iii.      Amendment of Norms  to Determine Teacher Salaries: The Section 10(1) of the act which  earlier prescribed that the salary and allowances of the teachers in private  schools should not be less than government school teachers has now been amended  to allow government to prescribe norms to determine salaries and allowances of  private school teachers. This amendment has attracted lot of attention and  there has been mixed reactions with private schools welcoming it while the  teacher fraternity severely criticizing it. Let me articulate two reasons why  the amendment is a necessity.

a.       Existing Law  Institutionalized Corruption: Most private schools in Delhi are  low-income schools i.e. they charge anywhere between 300 rupees per month to  1,000 rupees per month. Assuming one such school has 500 students and thereby  collecting  5,00,000 rupees monthly  (assuming fee to be 1,000 rupees).  In order to maintain Pupil-Teacher Ratio of 30:1 as prescribed by Right to  Education Act, the school needs at least 17 teachers. According the government  school teacher salary norms, the starting salary could be around 30,000 rupees  per month. Therefore, the total salary expenditure per month shall be 510,000  rupees.

With revenue of 5,00,000 rupees, how  can any school incur expenditures worth 510,000 rupees? This is assuming that  electricity tariffs, house tax, rents, water bills, non-clerical staff  salaries, Principal salary, expenses on computer & technology and repair  works to be ZERO!

If this cannot hold true for a school  charging 1,000 rupees per month, how can it hold true for schools charging  less?

How were schools, thus far, complying?

The State had institutionalized  corruption by means of force of a thoughtless law leaving no choice for any  school management but to either shut down or be corrupt. 
   
   
  Turning a blind eye was the only response of the State thus far.  With VII pay commission soon to be  enforced, the proposed amendment will save anywhere close to 1, 500 schools  from the threat of being shut.

The proposed amendment limits itself  to allow the government to prescribe norms to determine salaries of the private  school teachers. These norms must be sensible, progressive and thought through.  The rules shall be notified once the Lieutenant Governor gives his assent to  the bill.

b. Proposed Amendment  Will Increase Teachers’ Salaries: The modus operandi, thus far, for  these low-income schools has been to hand out the cheques to their teachers of  legally allowed salaries only to collect money back. The actual monthly  salaries of teachers in low income schools range from 1,500 to 10,000 rupees  only. Since the schools were anyway in violation, it mattered little to them if  they paid 5,000 or 10,000. But the proposed amendment seeks to allow government  to prescribe fresh norms that factor into the schools’ financial health as well  as ensuring the highest possible salary to the teacher. Now, engaging in  corruption shall be a matter of choice not choicelessness. The schools may  record truthfully the actual salaries being disbursed to teachers. If anything,  the proposed amendment will not lead to any reduction in actual salaries of the  teachers in private schools rather may increase it by 4 to 5 times.

iv. Addition of More Penal Provisions: Presently, Delhi  School Education Act, 1973 has two penal provisions, namely withdrawal of  recognition and taking over of management. Withdrawal of recognition means the  students will be suffering because of the misdeeds of the management and hence  must be resisted unless as last recourse and that too with alternative  mechanisms put in place for the children studying in that school. Taking over  of school management is also an extreme penal action. As a result of this,  nearly all schools get away with any misdeeds since government exercises  tremendous restraints before taking over management or derecognizing schools  and thus hampering any compliance. The proposed amendment now includes written  warning, heavy fine, stoppage of aid, suspension of new admission and even the  imprisonment apart from the existing provisions of taking over management and  derecognition for any violations of the law. This will lead to greater  enforcement since now the repeated offenders cannot shield themselves under the  guise of the threat of children suffering on account of school derecognized.

Laws are an instrument to improve  governance, discourage corrupt or criminal practices and act as shields for the  possible victims against the oppressor, however powerful. Laws, therefore, must  reflect the needs, social values and the aspirations of the society. They too  need to evolve with time. The Delhi Education Act was conceived and drafted at  a time when private schools hardly existed. 40 winters have passed and lot of  water has flown through our rivers since then. Now, half of our children go to  private schools. It was time the law was amended to suit today’s needs and the proposed  amendments are a step forward in that direction.

I rest my case.

 (The author is a member of  Education Task Force, Delhi Dialogue Commission, Government of NCT of Delhi and  was involved in formulation of the bills. Views expressed are personal)