‘The State Is Abdicating Its Responsibility’

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Annie Koshy | 46 | Principal 
St Mary’s School, Safdarjung Enclave, New Delhi

Annie Koshy
Annie Koshy

What do you want from Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal?
We want honesty of purpose from the minister. He should definitely try to put into place what the Constitution promises as rights to the people, most importantly the right to an equal and quality education.

Is RTE really inclusive in the way it’s been framed?
RTE is not as inclusive as the Centre claims. Inclusion is about changing the system to suit the child. The child is at the centrestage. RTE offers one kind of education, which it considers the best, and asks all children to fit into that system. The minute you speak of different kinds of schools, you are acknowledging that there is a hierarchy. I’m talking of Kendriya Vidyalayas and Sarvodayas. When you admit that there is a hierarchy, you are endorsing their existence.

What is your take on children from underprivileged backgrounds getting into private schools, especially since your school has taken children from these backgrounds?
First and foremost, it needs to be said that private unaided schools don’t step back from their responsibilities of educating the underprivileged. They have done it in the past and will do it in the future. A diverse profile in the classroom is a wonderful way for kids to understand India’s diversity.

But the State is responsible for the education of its people. Now the State seems to want to abdicate its responsibility to the private sector. If so, then that is something they should openly say.

If you tell me to take in a child from an economically weaker section and if I want to give that child access, equity and quality, I will have to collect a lot of money. It is not just fees. We have street children in our schools but they can’t keep their uniforms clean because they don’t have a place to wash their clothes; and that is if they get any water. So, if they come dirty, they will not be accepted. I have to make sure that this does not happen. So, now they bathe in the school and the school gets their clothes cleaned. Then are they eating well? Because they have to stay back after school for remedial because there’s no one at home to teach them. Do they have food? No they don’t. So the school has to provide lunch. Who does the remedial? I have to hire an extra teacher for that. Who pays for it? The school. Education is not just academics, it’s also nutrition, hygiene, family life, mental and emotional well-being. It’s an unending expenditure. Because education is about a whole life that’s built around it to support it. That’s not cheap. It’s not money, it’s time and attitude. So the State should at least give some money to support the right attitude.

I’m pro-diversity. But to do it properly, the State should fund it or acknowledge that it is abdicating its responsibility. I have yet to hear of any great scheme to raise the standards in government schools. Who will make government schools accountable?

Revati Laul is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
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