Krishan Kumar Committee Report



Freeship Quota for Children from Socio-Economically Weaker Sections



1. Preamble

This committee was appointed in the wake of a matter on which the Government of Delhi had already taken a decision, following the order given by the Hon'ble Delhi High Court. Apparently, the matter had proved more complex than envisaged, and compliance with the Government's order required further clarity. This is reflected in the brief indication that the notification of the appointment of this committee gives of its mandate. The notification (dated March 2, 2006) says that the committee will 'look into the manner and modalities of admission of children of economically weaker sections of society under the freeship quota, including looking into aspects of financial support to students being admitted under freeship quota by the government by way of the textbooks, uniform, etc.' This statement constitutes the 'terms of reference' of the committee and makes it clear that the committee was expected to deliberate only on the 'manner and modalities', and not on any conceptual aspects of the policy under reference. The time allotted to the committee, i.e. six weeks, also indicates that the government did not anticipate that the committee's work would require a more substantial time frame.

However, at the first meeting itself it became clear that the committee was dealing with a matter on which sharp divergence of views existed within it. It was also evident that the divergence had to do not merely with the 'manner and modalities' of execution of an earlier decision but with the decision itself even though the decision is no more open to debate. The divergence remained in the second meeting though a number of aspects that had to do with the 'manner and modalities' did receive attention. It was felt that in order to achieve a consensus on 'manner and modalities' it is necessary to acknowledge the divergence. This feeling deserves to be admitted and its implication explained. The implication is that the report will need to touch upon the conceptual issues involved in the Government's decision and the Hon'ble Delhi High Court's order (dated 20th January 2004). Both resonate a sustained policy, articulated explicitly in the report of Education Commission (1964-66) and nearly all major policy documents prepared in the last 40 years, including the latest National Curriculum Framework, 2005 (NCF). The idea that schooling should act as a means of social cohesion is so common that it seems pointless to debate it. In reality, schooling has become an increasingly divisive process over the decades, the goal of social cohesion receiving little public attention. Of course, schooling cannot be isolated from other social processes. Divisiveness has been the trend in housing, health, transport and many other basic aspects of civic life. However, divisiveness has a special implication when it occurs in schooling, because education is a shaping force. It reconstructs society, and therefore it would be correct to argue that divisive schooling reinforces existing hierarchies and promotes in the educated sections of society an indifference towards the plight of the poor.

The Hon'ble High Court's order signifies a resolve to intervene in a process which places children in different streams of socialization by means of schooling and deepens the differentiation entrenched in the distribution of educational opportunities. The occasion for the order, and for the subsequent decision taken by the government (No PS/DE/2004/10496-11595 dated 27th April 2004), was rather specific, in the sense that both acquired their rationale from the expectation that private schools to whom the state gave land at concessional rates should respond by sharing the state's social responsibility. However, this is not the same rationale which underlies the educational policy of promoting 'common' or neighbourhood schools. The latest policy document, the NCF, explains the educational logic of including children from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. The logic is that a heterogeneous school population provides an enriched learning environment, apart from promoting social cohesion. The currently used term 'inclusive' education implies, as did earlier terms like 'common' and 'neighbourhood' schools, that children from different backgrounds and with varying interests and ability will achieve their highest potential if they study in a shared classroom environment. The idea of inclusive schooling is also consistent with Constitutional values and ideals, especially with the ideals of fraternity and social justice and the importance of equality of opportunity and social justice.

The present school system is a far cry from the above ideal. In the circumstances that prevail, children grow up segregated, not merely because urban development and housing are sharply segregated but also because privately-run schools and those run by the government or local bodies largely cater to differentiated economic strata. The segregation starts as early as the nursery stage and by the time children are nine or ten years old, they are already deeply socialized into economically disparate universes. On the surface, it looks as if the main divider is English as a medium of teaching, but the real division is in the hearts and minds, arising from socialization in separate settings.

We must remember that this is nobody's intention or design, but a social process. It is widely believed that privately schooled children attain a higher standard of learning. However, it is false to understand learning purely academic terms, since the aims of education also include the inculcation of values and attitudes consistent with the Constitution's egalitarian framework. Current day psychological scholarship has established that a heterogeneous classroom ethos enhances learning and development, while segregation impoverishes the classroom environment of all schools, private or government. If education is to be judged not merely by examination marks but also by values and sensitivity, then it is not difficult to see that segregation compromises the aims of education for all. It is in this context that the order given by the Hon'ble Delhi High Court carries a valuable remedy for a distorted situation.

2. Perceived Difficulties

When children from different socio-economic backgrounds are admitted to the same school and taught together, the teacher's role becomes extremely important. A teacher working in a mixed classroom must have substantial understanding of child psychology, especially of the effect of home and social environment on the growing child. The teacher of an inclusive classroom must also be free of bias or stereotypes. Above all, such a teacher must know that language is only a means of communication, not a signifier of knowledge or the quality of a child's mind. This last point implies that the teacher must respect the child's home language and not aim at linguistic homogeneity or standardization from the beginning. The teacher's appreciation of the aims of education, her ability to mediate and persuade, and her capacity to listen to children with a desire to build on what the child already knows, are of utmost significance.

Needless to say, our system has rather few teachers of this type, and the reasons for this are well known. Over the years, the dignity associated with teaching has got eroded and especially so the teacher of young children who has become a 'nobody' in terms of social status. This erosion has made teaching an unattractive profession. The training available for teaching as a professional activity has also remained unreformed, especially in the case of the primary years. For these and several other reasons well documented in the 1983-85 Chattopadhyaya Commission Report, teachers are seldom able to devote their energies to nurturing a creative classroom environment. Instead, they focus on examination skills, and since the examination system has remained largely unreformed, the teacher's efforts seldom go beyond ensuring that children can reproduce what they have learnt from the textbooks. Understanding and application of what has been taught receives scant time and attention, and so do values such as tolerance of differences and positive attitudes towards the deprived. This situation has been complicated further by the poverty of curricular reforms, resulting in the phenomenon that the Yashpal report of 1993 called the burden of incomprehension. Syllabi and textbooks got so fat and dull that children ended up at the doors of coaching institutions and private tutors from an early age. This distorted situation was further compounded by the proliferation of commercialized coaching institutions, and the practice of drilling for admission to private schools beginning right from the nursery stage and continuing on to engineering and medical colleges.

In this scenario, it is not surprising that many private schools feel reluctant to follow a policy of integrating children from the socio-economically weaker sections of society with those from the better-off strata. The authorities and teachers of these schools feel that children who get admission under the freeship quota will not be able to cope with the amount of work required to survive in the competitive environment of their schools. They feel so especially in the context of the use of English as a medium of instruction. Another reason for their reluctance is financial. The expenditure to be incurred for keeping a child at a private school has become so high that a child whose education is not financially supported will become a burden on the school, they feel. This feeling among private schools runs counter to the popular perception that many private schools charge exorbitant fee. Research on the financing of private schools is scant, but it needs to be acknowledged that there is a very wide variety of private schools in cities like Delhi. The range includes schools flush with funds to those running on a subsistence budget.

Finally, the question of fulfilling social responsibility in return for land received at concessional rates elicits a variety of arguments, including the one which leaves a school free to fulfil its social obligation in a manner it thinks fit. For instance, there are schools running an afternoon shift of the poor, or those running a separate school or an non-formal centre for vulnerable children. Among fee-paying parents too, there is a feeling that they are being asked to carry an additional burden. Among certain principals and teachers of private schools, there is also an apprehension that children from sharply varying socio-economically classes will find it hard to mix, that the freeship quota children might end up becoming a sub-group alienated from the larger group of better-off children. These fears cannot be dismissed and need to be taken into account as we draw up a sustainable strategy of implementation of the judicial order.

3. The New Context

The NCF, which was approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education last September, responds to the first set of problems mentioned in the last section. It presents significant steps to be taken to reduce curricular load in order to make learning at school joyful. It also suggests ways in which inclusive schooling can become a reality. NCERT has already drafted a new syllabus for all stages in accordance with NCF. In the first phase, textbooks for Classes I, III, VI, IX and XI, which reflect the new syllabus have already been published. Both the syllabi and the new textbooks were approved by the National Monitoring Committee which was appointed by Ministry of Human Resource Development in accordance with CABE's decision to ensure that the new syllabi and textbooks reduce curricular load, make learning more meaningful, and rigorously follow other recommendations of the NCF. The new textbooks have received a widespread welcome. In a related development, the Central Board of Secondary Education has initiated a series of examination reforms which are consistent with the recommendations of NCF. These reform initiatives are sufficiently significant to warrant the hope that the fears and doubts expressed by private schools in the wake of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court's order will be adequately addressed and, as the reforms unfold and gradually move towards maturation, allayed.

These positive developments require us to ponder deeply on the 'manner and modalities' issue afresh, rather than merely in the light of the April 27, 2004 order issued by the Delhi Government. This order required all private schools to allot 20 per cent of their seats to children from economically weaker sections of society. If we were to interpret this order literally, then seats should have already been allotted in all schools in all classes. Apparently, this has not happened although some schools have made a beginning in their own way. The recommended strategies given below suggest an alternative which might be more sustainable as it would provide a time-frame for the policy to fully unfold while giving the system time to prepare itself for a major shift. There is simply no doubt that the Delhi Government has an obligation to execute the court's order; also, there is no doubt that the move is in the right direction, both in terms of educational reform and social priority. It is important that the first steps taken in the new direction prove sustainable and also prove resistant to misuse or distortion.

4. Recommendations

1. Coverage

Although specific in nature, the step is consistent with the long-term goals of educational policy and takes the system forward becoming a common school system. In view of the conceptual soundness of inclusive schooling, it is recommended that the policy to provide a freeship quota be applied uniformly to all private schools, and not merely those which received concessional land. The step needs to be viewed as a long-overdue systemic reform, rather than merely as a step to establish a means whereby beneficiaries of a land-grant policy can fulfill their social responsibility.

1. Proportion

For children of socio-economically weaker backgrounds to feel at home in private schools, it is necessary that they form a substantial proportion or ‘critical mass’ in the class they join. The relevant universe in which the proportion needs to be considered is the class, and where a class has several sections, then it is the section. This implies that the beneficiaries of the freeship quota cannot be pooled together in a separate section or afternoon shift. Any arrangement which segregates, or treats these children in a differentiated manner vis-à-vis the fee-paying children, must not be allowed. They should constitute the desired proportion of each section of a class. As the Hon’ble Delhi High Court’s order stipulates, one fourth or 25 per cent would constitute a feasible proportion. Schools which want to cover a higher proportion-and there already are such schools in Delhi, although they are very few-should be encouraged to admit more than one fourth, but the proportion should not be less than this ‘critical mass’. Any lower proportion would jeopardize the long-term goal of the policy which is to strengthen social cohesion and bring out the best human resource potential inherent in our society as a whole. A smaller proportion might serve a token purpose but it will run the serious risk of creating the feeling of alienation among the beneficiaries. Their participation in classroom interaction will be neither strong nor sufficiently manifest to enrich the overall experiential learning taking place in any given subject area. Only a critical mass can play such a role.

2. Pace of Implementation

The new policy must not be seen in terms of a mechanical insertion of a certain proportion of the poor into private school classrooms. The meaning implementation of this policy must be appreciated the human terms, and the planning to make the policy a successful reform must take into account its human dimensions. Teachers who are used to a selective, homogeneous classroom environment cannot be expected to develop the required positive attitude and professional skills to deal with a diversified class overnight. The same applies to children. On the other hand, children who have grown up to an age of eight or nine in a homogeneous or segregated environment have been socialized into a structure of norms and behaviour. They cannot be transformed on demand. Also, the overall school ethos cannot be expected to respond to a new policy in a positive manner all of a sudden. No educational policy can be seen purely as quick-fix social engineering. The provision of a freeship quota in private schools is a major and radical step forward towards fulfilling a policy objective which has been ignored for decades. Such a long backlog of implementation cannot be meaningfully overcome in a day, nor should such a move be attempted in a hasty manner.

In view of the fact that children take time to socialize and teachers take time to develop new attitudes and pedagogic skills, it is recommended that the freeship quota system should begin at the entrance level, covering nursery/kindergarten and Class I in the first year of the operation of the new policy. With the children moving up, and a new cohort of beneficiaries entering nursery/kindergarten and Class I in each successive year, the school will gradually have freeship quota spread across all classes. Progression at this pace may appear to be slow, but it will allow children the opportunity to grow up together and the school to develop the professional capacity to respond to the intellectual and emotional needs of children from diverse backgrounds. Children who are younger than eight years of age are yet to develop a stable social identity. Their values are still forming, and their motivation to derive meaning from experience, both concrete and social is very strong. Therefore, it is a valid argument that the policy of mixing children from different socio-economic strata has the best chance of succeeding if it starts from the formative years of nursery/kindergarten and Class I. Such a beginning will also permit the school authorities to develop appropriate measures and mechanisms to equip their institutions for long-term effective implementation of the new policy.

3. Beneficiaries and Admission Process

Precisely which children from among the socio-economically weaker sections of society should be the beneficiaries of the new policy is a moot question, and there is no easy answer to it. It needs to be recognised that there is a vast number of children in Delhi who are living a vulnerable life. No generalization can cover them all, but it would be fair to say that they are victims of extreme circumstances which deprive them of any semblance of experiences normally associated with childhood and education. Therefore, it is recommended that the eligibility criterion for availing the freeship quota should be the possession of a Below Poverty Line Card (BPL Card), or an income certificate proving that the annual family income is below Rs. 1 lakh. The government must ensure that the Sub-Divisional Magistrate does not take more than 3 weeks to issue an income certificate. In the subsequent years the parents’/guardians’ declaration of income should be treated as sufficient indicator of eligibility for the continuation of child’s inclusion in the freeship quota. For destitute children the government should evolve a policy in order to ensure that they also become potential beneficiaries of the new policy. As a result, children in vulnerable circumstances such as those indicated above will also get covered under the freeship quota policy. However, a concerted effort will need to be made to bring them into the school system under the auspices of the freeship quota policy.

The government shall set up a District Admission Centre (DAC) in each district of Delhi to regulate the admissions process under the freeship policy. Private schools shall have the first opportunity to fill up the freeship quota seats up to a specified date by notifying the number of seats available. A copy of the application from received from parents whose wards have been admitted will be submitted by schools to the DAC for the purpose of verification. Following this, in case there are seats remaining which the schools have been unable to fill up on their own, the DAC will provide names of children whose applications have been received directly, in order to allow the schools to choose from amongst these applicants.

Since the new policy is based on the premise that integrating children from diverse background is educationally sound, there is no alternative to a lottery system for filling up the freeship quota wherever the number of children available for admission under the freeship quota exceeds the number of available seats in school. The tendency to treat children in terms of stereotyped notions of brightness of intelligence is extremely common. It is reflected in the widespread practice of selecting children for admission on the basis of an interview or test. Recently, the Hon’ble Delhi High Court has banned the interviews routinely conducted by private schools for admission to nursery. The goals of the new policy of providing for a freeship quota in private schools will be seriously compromised if the quota is filled up by private schools by selectively choosing candidates for admission under the freeship policy. As a result, it is imperative that a lottery system of selection be employed wherever the number of applicants exceeds the number of available seats under the freeship policy. Distance from school should be used as a criterion to decide which DAC a parent can apply to, as a result of which the eligibility to participate in specific lotteries would be determined.

It will be highly appropriate to ensure that at least half the children who are admitted to private schools under the freeship quota are girls. The gender gap prevailing in education has been highlighted by several studies, including the recent report approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE). Allotting 50 per cent of the freeship seats to girls will reflect the government’s commitment to the Constitution which guarantees gender equality in all spheres of life.

4. Finance

The new policy calls for a significant role to be played by the government. Children from the socio-economically weaker sections of society, including those who are presently outside the formal school system would have to be served not merely with the provision of an opportunity to be educated, but also with the provision of their basic needs, such as food, clothing and health. Financial support for a nutritious morning and mid-day meal, health check-up, and medicines whenever needed would form the first obvious set of needs. School-related expenditure covering essential requirements such as textbooks, notebooks and stationery, geometry box and art material, uniform and shoes, and other sundry needs would have to be met by the government. Similarly, the cost of daily transport to school as well as the cost involved in excursion activities would also have to be covered. There is a widespread feeling, based on reasonable amounts of experience, that in matters of disbursal of funds and reimbursement, the entrenched procedure are extremely slow and inefficient. If these procedures are not urgently improved, the capacity of private schools to serve the needs of the children admitted under the freeship quota will suffer as a result of which, not only will the policy itself get undermined, but the ultimate beneficiaries-i.e. Children admitted under the freeship quota-will consequently suffer loss. Indeed, in order to build confidence in private schools regarding the viability of the new policy, the government must ensure that expenditure made on school-related needs of the beneficiaries (on items such as transportation, food, school uniforms, textbooks etc.) is either provided in advance or reimbursed expeditiously.

Private schooling has increasingly become an expensive proposition even though patterns of expenditure vary greatly. Certain schools may find the new policy an affordable financial burden, whereas others may have to generate additional support from philanthropic sources. Under no circumstances should the new policy be allowed to be used as a basic for hiking tuition fees. The government should look into the possibility of creating incentives for encouraging philanthropy in the field of children’s education, not only for the success the new scheme under reference, but also for the wider cause of educational reforms. The new policy will cover both kinds of private schools as recommended above, namely the beneficiaries of a land grant on concessional rates, as well as those which acquired their land otherwise. Schools in the latter category must receive additional support from the government for their teaching staff requirements. In the context of the relevant classes, wherever required, up to a maximum of ten per cent of the schools’ teaching staff salary must be supported through government finance, even as selection of additional staff, will be carried out by the school with a government representative involved in the selection process. Financial implications for successive years on account of this recommendation must be worked out by the government.

5. Training

The effective implementation of the new policy will necessitate the immediate launch of an orientation programme for teachers in charge on nursery/kindergarten and Class I in all private schools. Such an orientation programme should focus on familiarising teachers with the rationale of the policy and on creating a positive attitude towards it. Other aspects of the orientation programme should constitute the development of pedagogic techniques and skills necessary to teach in a heterogeneous classroom. Special importance should be attached to cultivating the skill to nurture a multilingual ethos in the classroom as the NCF recommends. Teachers must be familiarized with the values and ideals of Constitution, especially equality, social justice, liberty and fraternity. Emphasis on the cultivation of professional values relevant to teaching, such as patience, fairness, non-violence, respect for differences and commitment to one’s role as a teacher, should also form the core curriculum of the orientation programme.

The SCERT of Delhi should be given the responsibility to conduct the orientation programme for teachers of private schools as well as parents of applicants. In order to design and execute the programme, the SCERT can draw upon the expertise available from NCERT, NIPCCD and the four universities located in Delhi, and the various Non-Government Organizations active in the field of children’s education. Since the new policy will become a lasting feature of the system, it will be appropriate for the government to encourage the development of institutional expertise in Delhi in the field of early childhood education. A long-term plan needs to be developed for this purpose along the lines recommended by NCERT’s National Focus Group on Early Childhood Education. Indeed, the city of Delhi needs a substantial number of institutions providing training and expertise in Early Childhood Education and a regulatory framework to govern them. As the children admitted to nursery/kindergarten and Class I each year move to upper-primary and higher classes, the need for in-service training will have to be addressed in the context of an increasingly larger body of teachers. The SCERT will have to be strengthened to cope with this need. Also, firm bridges would need to be built between the institutional apparatus of SCERT, which includes DIET’s, and the Faculties of Education in the four universities located in Delhi.

6. Monitoring

The policy comprising the introduction of a freeship quota in private schools marks an important beginning towards approved policy goals. The Government of Delhi can truly take pride in making a move in this direction. The implementation of this policy will undoubtedly bring new, unforeseen experiences which will need to be analyzed and interpreted, so that the process of implementation can gain smoothness over the years. Also, the policy will require systematic review so that new circumstances arising out of social and demographic change are taken into account. As the children admitted under the freeship quota grow older and enter higher classes, their school-related needs will multiply, and the government’s provision for these needs will require review and updating. A major concern of the Government will be to ensure that children admitted under the freeship quota maintain regular attendance and do not drop out of the school to which they have been admitted over the course of their entire schooling. To strengthen this role, the government should consider providing an adequate number of counselors and mobile counseling facility. This will constitute a significant challenge, in meeting which several Non-Government Organizations which have experience of working with the community and parents’ counseling, can play a valuable role. On its part, the government should appoint a monitoring office with sufficient staff under the authority of a retired judicial officer to closely monitor cases of dropouts-both individual cases as well as schools where significant dropout is observed. This monitoring office should also provide grievance redressal to all those affected by the freeship policy, including parents, schools and children themselves.

The 1986 National Policy on Education had envisaged the appointment of State Advisory Board of Education (SABE). The constitution of such a body would assume increased importance in light of the various issues which policies such as the freeship quota will throw up in subsequent years. The SABE would provide a much-needed forum where government, autonomous institutions such as universities, and civil society organizations will be able to discuss, shape and direct educational reforms in a fast-growing metropolis such as Delhi. SABE should appoint an independent committee comprising eminent educationists, representatives of civil society (such as retired judges, lawyers, doctors, media personalities and artists etc.) with powers to visit schools and report to the government from time to time the progress of the freeship quota policy. This committee should guide future decisions and suggest corrective action for the effective implementation of the new policy.

Sd/- Sd/ -Sd/- Prof. Krishna Kumar Prof. Furqan Qamar Mr. Ashok Agarwal Chairman Member Member Sd/- Sd/ -Sd/- Sh. S. L. Jain Sh. B. L. Yadav Sh. V. K. Sharma Member Member Member Sd/- Sd/- Prof. Nargis Panchapakesan Dr. Y. Sreekanth Special Invitee Special Invitee