Mumbai school principals worry over High Court hearing to fill vacant seats

As schools may have to admit new students post Diwali, principals say doing so during the academic year is not fair to children as they may not be able to cope well

A recent High Court hearing, which stated that the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) education department must tackle the issue of more than 5,000 seats lying vacant in schools throughout the city, has put school principals in a fix. With the education department yet to issue any official word on the matter and schools on the verge of shutting down for Diwali vacations, the possibility of having to admit new students post vacation is worrisome.

Close to 53,000 RTE seats in schools across the state remain vacant. Pic for representation purposes only
Close to 53,000 RTE seats in schools across the state remain vacant. Pic for representation purposes only

“While the BMC and education officials seemed very confident about the online admissions process, we knew at the beginning itself that it will not help the cause. Instead, they should have focused on spreading awareness about the admissions, which clearly didn’t happen. Now we are being held responsible,” said Ramakant Pandey, principal of Bansidhar Agarwal School in Wadala. He added that schools have been informed by the department that they will have to provide admission to children who approach schools directly. The Right to Education (RTE) Act clearly states that schools cannot deny admission to a student at any point during the academic year. “We are at the end of the first semester and admitting new students now will make no sense as the student will have missed half of the academic year. I hope the education department has better plans for this process,” he added.

5,000 seats still empty
This year, Mumbai and Pune conducted their RTE admissions online. While the process seemed successful, with the first round of admissions in Mumbai receiving over 4,000 applications, over 5,000 seats remained empty after three months and three rounds of admissions.

“We had also requested the court to allow offline admissions to RTE seats but now it makes no sense,” said activist Sudhir Paranjape, from the NGO Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti. The NGO had filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Bombay High Court in the month of June, after they received several complaints from parents who pointed out that although their children were allotted seats through the online process, schools refused to admit them.

According to figures provided by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), close to 53,000 RTE seats in schools across the state remain vacant. “While it is important to provide education to all, the department also needs to ensure that this does not happen at the cost of children losing out on the academic year. Schools are bound by the RTE rule, but it’ll be difficult for children to cope up,” said Fr Francis Swamy, coordinator of Jesuit Schools of Bombay.

BMC speaks
When Sunday mid-day spoke to BMC’s education department officials, there was little clarity on the matter. “We have ensured that students who have already been allotted seats in the first three rounds of admissions be given seats in schools. We have asked officials at Maharashtra Knowledge Corporation Limited to give us a final tally of how many seats still remain vacant and a future course of action will be decided accordingly,” said a senior civic official. The schools, however, are yet to hear from the department.

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