The TSR Subramanian Committee’s National Education Policy (NEP) of 2016 portrays Kendriya Vidyalayas (KV) and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalayas (JNV) as harbingers of hope in the face of a broken public education system. It has been observed that these schools break stereotypes about government schools and prove that state-run schools can provide high quality education with a social objective. The NEP also explores possibilities of replicating these standards in other government schools across the states. A similar observation has been made in the ministry of human resource development’s (MHRD) inputs on the policy. However, these observations ignore some hard facts which are responsible for the perceived success of these schools.
A class apart
The schools mentioned above are not ordinary government schools. They have been treated differently by law and policy alike. KVs and JNVs are categorised as specified category schools under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE). As per the Act, these schools have a distinct character and are notified by the appropriate government. Accordingly, several states have notified schools such as KVs, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBV), Sainik Schools, etc, as specified category schools.
The distinct character of schools such as KVs and JNVs specifically acclaimed by the NEP and MHRD can be attributed to a host of factors. The administration and staffing of these schools is vastly different from the ordinary government schools. They have qualified and committed teachers and an excellent infrastructure, a fact that has also been acknowledged by the NEP. Additionally, the dedicated expenditure for schools such as KVs and JNVs is high.
This is reflected in their per-child expenditure which has been reported to be significantly higher than that in an ordinary government school.
Propagating selective access
Another reason for the perceived success of these schools is their policy of selective access. The RTE mandates all government schools to provide ‘free and compulsory’ education to children. However, specified category schools provide education to a limited percentage (25%) of students belonging to economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups as provided by Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE. In this regard, they are placed in the same bracket as unaided private schools. Moreover, schools such as KVs and Sainik Schools largely cater to children of government employees, and JNVs cater only to meritorious students from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups.
Admissions, apart from the ones mandated by Section 12(1)(c), are made either through a points-based criteria or admission tests, both of which are illegal as per the RTE. The Act bars all schools, including specified category schools, from conducting screening tests at the time of admission (from classes I-VIII). The definition of ‘screening procedure’ as provided in the Act is wide enough to include any method of selecting a student over another, other than a randomised selection. An executive order passed by the MHRD in 2010 has significantly diluted the application of this provision to unaided private schools and specified category schools. However, in the absence of an express amendment to the RTE, the order cannot override statute.
Courts, too, have aided aberration from the original legislative mandate. Let us take the example of Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas (specified category schools as notified in Delhi) and their method of admission. A student desirous of getting admitted to class VI must appear for an entrance test, which is a direct violation of the RTE. The issue was considered by the Delhi High Court in the case of Social Jurist, A Civil Rights Group vs Govt of NCT of Delhi & Anr (2012). The court ruled that a selection procedure for meritorious children who show potential does not violate the Act.
It also pointed out that ‘every march in the direction of excellence has its own martyrs and such martyrdom cannot be allowed to thwart or scuttle a step taken in public interest’. The court’s strong belief in propagating selective access might have remedied an immediate admission dispute, but it has dangerous consequences for a system that is gradually becoming dependent on
Stagnant policy recommendations
In order to improve the state of public education in India, the Kothari Commission in 1966 recommended that a nation-wide programme of school improvement be organised, with the objective of raising at least 10% of the institutions to an optimum standard. Over the years, a large proportion of specified category schools have been created to provide good quality education in the absence of significant systemic reform. However, in the span of 50 years since the Kothari Commission report, not much has changed in terms of policy recommendations. The NEP as well as the decision of the government to create more KVs and JNVs continue to echo earlier policies.
Admittedly, JNVs and KVs are excellent models of quality education. JNVs, in particular, have played a major role in providing education of an acceptable standard to the disadvantaged in the absence of government schools of similar stature. However, one must recognise that the success of these institutions can be attributed to the host of privileges enjoyed by them, and that they are short-term solutions for a complex systemic malaise.
The persistent trend of expanding and replicating these models raises several questions about our approach to improve the public education system. Going by the government decisions and budget announcements, if we are to create more such schools, would it not be a propagation of selective access which also violates the law? If we are to replicate their quality, is it possible to do so on a large scale both from the angle of financial resources as well as human resource and managerial capabilities? The NEP’s recommendations, good or bad, highlight the fact that the existing cracks in the public education system require urgent reform. However, any decision to multiply or standardise the outliers must acknowledge the crutches on which they stand.
The author is research fellow, Education Initiative, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, New Delhi