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RTE not applicable for nursery admissions: Tharoor

Posted on Feb 02, 10:42AM | IBNS

New Delhi, Feb 1 (IBNS): Union Minister Shashi Tharoor Friday said that Right to Education Act doesn't apply at the nursery level, while the Delhi high court has sought a clarification from the Centre on whether the law is applicable to children seeking nursery admissions, here.

Speaking to a gathering of school children, academicians and teachers at Headlines Today's 'Right to Be Heard' programme, Tharoor said, "The RTE doesn't apply to nursery admissions as the law specifies 8 years of compulsory schooling from the age of 6 to 14. And nursery kids are younger than that."

"As a social mechanism, a school's admission policy has to take into account the enormous pressure of applications. The ministry can only help in encouraging a certain policy. But when children get into the 6-14 age-group, I assure nobody will be left out. Nursery admissions are a little more complicated and the ministry cannot decide."

As a debate raged whether admissions should be conducted on the points system or by a draw of lots, an anxious parent recounted how government notifications are discriminatory as alumni and sibling criteria carve out a big slice of nursery admissions.

Tharoor said, "As a parent, I have been through the same ordeal of admitting my twin sons in the same school. The sibling criteria can help a school take a decision. In our system, ministers do not pre-empt or pre-judge court decisions. We will have to wait for the judges to decide."

While RTE prohibits screening of children, the minister admitted "it's a preposterous idea to interview 3-year-old kids".

Quizzed by Vasant Valley School director Arun Kapoor on the ministry's purported failure to raise the quality of education in government schools, Tharoor accepted there should be a paradigm shift in education policy, but put the onus on state governments.

"Our focus had been on inclusion and promoting equity as literacy was low. And we have frankly left behind the quality."

"This is the new emphasis. We are preparing a national curriculum framework that will help our children compete globally. But education has in the concurrent list and states a task cut out for themselves."

When an NGO member displayed pictures of cattle sheds at an Agra school and the dilapidated infrastructure of government schools despite citizens paying education cess, the minister said, "Funds are being allocated in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan to build classrooms, toilets and funding of midday meals. But state governments need to do more. They have a responsibility to monitor how the money is spent."

He added, "I have gone to school and asked how many students want to be teachers. Very few raise their hands. This is a shame for a country which had a culture of respect for teachers."

"Part of the problem is because the profession is not well rewarded and lacks a glamour quotient. But the recent pay revision has changed all that. Now, a DU professor makes more money than a minister," he said.

Tharoor also promised to crack down on capitation fee in private colleges and root out fake universities.

"There's a legislation pending in Parliament, Unfair Practices Bill, which will outlaw donations and capitation fee with severe criminal penalties. But again, this is a Bill that needs to pass. We will also make accreditation mandatory for universities."

He asserted, "We will tell them that if they don't make the cut, then shut down. We will start taking tough measures."

"We have 11 Bills on higher education pending either in the standing committee or have been introduced, but yet to be voted. Parliament was dysfunctional for the last couple of years. In the last session, the government listed 25 Bills, but only three were passed," the minister of state for Human Resource Development said.

Tharoor also pitched for FDI in higher education, but said reputed universities are still waiting for the passage of the Foreign Education Providers (Regulation) Bill in parliament.

"Yale was willing to come to India, but they went to Singapore. Our students are going to Qatar and Doha to study in foreign universities. And they go to Australia, where some were even beaten up. Why do they do that? This is because there's not enough capacity in India."

"Harvard takes about 10-11 percent of those who apply, but IITs admit only 0.01 percent because that's all the room they have. We are looking at a country with enormous pressure in education, but not enough institutions to cope with the demand."

The minister, however, ended on a hopeful note, saying India today is much better than what it was a few years ago