Monday, October 10, 2011

Right to education: Who’s right is the government talking about?

It is one of those rare cases where both the opposition and the treasury bench discarded their animosity and partisan politics to unanimously support a resolution in house.  Normally one would see legislator’s rare unity in the house only when it comes to supporting the bill to enhance their pay and perks or to increase the MLA Constituency development scheme. But this autumn session our legislator has once again risen beyond partisan politics when it comes to education.
The resolution that was agreed in the august house was to write to the Central government to bring an amendment to certain section of the act on the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Govt. to move centre for RTE Act amendment ST September 13, 2011). The basis of the move was because section 20 of the RCF&CE Rule 2010 says that seventy five percent of the strength of the school managing committee shall be constituted from amongst the parents and the guardians of the children studying in the school. It was reported that the house agreed that the provision on this section will have adverse impact on the school run by religious minority especially in the state of Meghalaya where majority of the prominent schools are being run by Christian missionaries, the paper reported. It was also mentioned that it is highly impossible for a small state like Meghalaya to have seventy five percent of parents’ representation in the School Managing Committee (SMC).
I for one fail to understand the ground on which our legislators assume that it is impossible to have 75% parents and guardian (P&G) representation in the SMC? Isn’t this; a case of the august house over-under-estimate the capacity of the citizens of this state? What kind of SMC members does the government have in mind? I know of a former Lyngdoh or Headman of a village who can barely read and write and yet when the Nongtalang College was in dire financial constraint, the gentleman will open the string of his purse to support the college. This story was told by the former Principal of the college who spend few of his retirement years helping the college.  If a parent of a student who studies in the school is not fit to be a member of a SMC then, tell me can a non-parent be a better candidate to the membership of the SMC?
The question is who’s right is the government talking about here? The requirement in the bill is that 75% of the members of the SMC should comprises of the parents and guardian of the students who studies in the school, and if I am in the same page with the government that the education we are talking about is still a child centered education, then is there a better person than the parents of the child to be in the School Managing Committee?
Obviously the government and the entire Assembly is only trying to protect the interest of those who govern the schools in the state particularly the faith base organization than the interest of the child. I am still confused when ever people use the term minority institutions in the state of Meghalaya. Are Christians still minority in the Christian state? Can we still call the schools run by Christian missionaries in the state minority institutions? This is a question that the government needs to answer. The government including the opposition and the fence sitters have failed to understand or rather choose to ignore the truth that the spirit of the bill centers around the interest of the child not the managing committees whoever that may be. It is the interest of the child that is paramount here and I cannot foresee a parent who would not like to see that her child have a good education. How can the sponsors be a faith group or the private trust claim that they are expert in taking care of the children’s interest and have children’s interest high on their priority than their parents?
The other question is why would the FBO be afraid of the MC which will include 75 % of P&G of the children; again if the education that the school provides is still a child-centered education? If the interests of the FBOs are really to provide education to a child only, I don’t see why mere inclusion of parents as members of the SMC is a threat to the FBOs run institutes? My fear is that the MC of the schools sees the inclusion of the parents in the MC as an intrusion to the way they operate the schools. If 75% of the SMC are P&G then they will know how much the school really earn from the school fees? How much they pay their teachers? The parents will also know the fact that there are schools which are on deficit patterns and yet they still charge school fees from the parents. The parents will also know that annually, schools earns lakhs of rupees from school fees and in spite of that they pay their teachers peanuts and they will also know that real cost of the school bags, school’s uniforms that the SMC supplied to the students every beginning of the school season some of which are not necessary in the first place. With this information the members of the SMC can question the MC including the FBOs where and how has the remaining money been used?
Last year when I request for information as per RTI Act from the prominent schools in the Shillong on the method they use to admit students to class 11 science, one of the prominent school, did not provide me the information on the ground that they have not had any support from the government (till last year) so they are not bind by the RTI Act and this is a prominent school run by one of the largest FBO in the state that I am talking about. I was hoping that the FBO institutes have nothing to hide and whatever they do is transparent and do not need RTI in the first place and they have all the information readymade, but I was wrong. Inclusion of 75 % P&G will only help bring transparency in the way the school is governed and I don’t see the reason for the MC especially FBO or the government to be afraid of transparency?
Inclusion of 75 % of parents and guardian as member of the school managing committee will only help to improve the way schools are governed, because parents and guardian are the only persons who are really interested in their wards education, not the minister or the officers in the education department or in some cases even the promoters of the school. Therefore if in the education policy of the government of Meghalaya the interest of the child is paramount, then the propose resolution should be dropped.  The FBOs or any private entity which owns schools have no reason to be afraid that they may lose ownership of the school. Ownership of school will still remain with them because the 75% members of the school managing committee will come and go; no parent would be foolish enough to even contemplate on taking over any institute when the title and ownership of the land and the building is in the FBOs name. Moreover parent’s interest in the school will only remain as long as their kids are in the school, and the school can nominate the 75% members on a rotation basis so the chance of parent taking over the school is simply not there. In fact the rule is an opportunity for the sponsors to prove to the world that their motive is to provide education and they have the interest of the child high on their agenda and they are not interest in controlling the school (well as long as they own it). The rule is also a perfect opportunity for the FBOs to show to the world that they are not so much for power or control but to provide the best of education for the child and they are happy to be part of the mission in any which way it requires. If the faith groups have nothing to hide in the way they run their educational institutes, they should have no fear of rule 20 and I hope the FBOs should practice what they preach and lead from the front by implementing the rule in letter and spirit.

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