In a recent article in Economic Times titled Right to Education is the wrong thing for the right reason, Manish Sabharwal, Chairman, Teamlease Services, very aptly captured the plight designed for low cost private schools in RTE. Manish says, “RTE timetables the extinction of 15 lakh ‘unrecognized’ private schools where parents pay something to avoid something that is free…….. In addition to this recognition license raj, RTE unleashes rules that lead to higher costs, corruption and confusion. This hostile habitat will halt the explosion of education entrepreneurship and blunt competition that creates quality”. This is one of the few written pieces, where someone is risking quoting a figure of the number of unrecognized schools. But the figure of 15 lakh unrecognized schools looks quite misplaced. Even with an average enrollment of 200 per school, the total enrollment in such schools will well overshoot the total number of children in the 6-14 age category. Other experts have quoted the figure of the order of 3 lakhs unrecognized schools, with 4-5 crore children studying in it. Whatever is the number, they don’t exist for the government, they don’t exist for big private school associations; they only exist for the poor parents and their children, who are trying to come out of generations of poverty through education.

Kartik Misra, a researcher at the Center of Civil Society (CCS), conducted a detailed study on RTE compliance in three parts of Delhi state found that the fees at various low budget private schools would have to increase from the current Rs. 295-370 per month to anywhere between Rs. 1040-1612 if all the RTE regulations were to be followed. With such numbers, these low-cost schools will either close on 1st April 2013 or will need to shell out more money to the government inspectors to survive. In both the cases, crores of children going to these schools will be at a huge disadvantage and we call it a pro-poor act !

While bashing the government and the RTE act, Manish did not fail to take cognizance of the innovative Gujarat state rules, which have based school recognition on learning outcomes rather than on hardware. Parth Shah of Center for Civil Society concurs with the same and says in his recent blog , “This is one of the first times in India’s history that public policy has focused on children and parents, instead of focusing on the public sector producers of education services.”

RTE is an enforceable act now. People can challenge it in the courts or push parliamentarians for amendments in the act but at the same time there is strong need for think-tanks, academics and NGOs to engage with the government and the ‘ACT’ at various levels.