| Mumbai |
Updated: March 9, 2020 7:47:24 am
In 2016, Ravindra Deshpande, an alumnus of Sainik School in Satara, was surprised to find out that his son was overage to apply for Class VI in the same school, even though he had never failed an academic year.
Deshpande later found out that his son was ineligible to apply to the school due to a discrepancy in the entry age for admission to Class I, set by institutions under the central and state governments. Certain clauses in the Right to Education (RTE) Act imply that the entry age to Class I should be six, which is followed by some state governments but not by others including the central government.
It was the likes of Deshpande and other parents, who were facing similar problems, that led them to come under the banner ‘Jagruk Palak’ to fight the “inequality” faced by their wards.
Even as some clauses in the RTE Act imply that the entry age should be six, it has not been clearly specified, causing an ambiguity. Section 11 of the Act says: “With a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary education and to provide childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate government may make necessary arrangement for providing free preschool education for such children.”
Officials have pointed out that these clauses imply that the entry age to Class I should be six. Some states, including Maharashtra, Bihar, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Punjab, Sikkim, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and union territory of Lakshadweep, have implemented the Act and made the age of six mandatory for admission to Class I.
However, the entry age for children in other states and UTs is still five, stated members of ‘Jagruk Palak’. This non-uniformity has resulted in a discrepancy over eligibility to institutions and loss of opportunities for students of states that have implemented the Act, parents said.
Enrolling his son for Sainik School from Class VI was also an aspiration for Prof Shivraj Nikam. “My son had crossed the eligible age. After the school increased its eligibility age by a year, the number of students who enrolled also increased twice. This proves that students of Maharashtra have been suffering when it comes to enrolment to such schools,” he said.
Nikam, along with other parents, filed a case in the Bombay High Court, after which his son and others were allowed to sit the entrance exam of Rashtriya Indian Military College despite passing the upper age limit. “We don’t want other parents to endure the same trouble. Not everyone can knock the doors of the court,” he said.
The age criteria of six implied by a couple of clauses in the RTE Act, implemented by education departments of some states and UTs, however, is not applicable for Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs) as these schools are controlled by Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan, Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD).
Moreover, the age criteria (upper age limit and lower age limit) for all educational institutions, establishments and career avenues under the central government are also fixed considering entry age of five for Class I, parents said.
The state government had written to the MHRD, asking for uniform entry age, but the ministry in its response in August last year stated that the central government had not fixed any statutory minimum age limit for admission to Class I.
The then school education minister, Vinod Tawde, had written to then HRD minister Prakash Javadekar in December 2018, stating that this age gap “creates disparity among students in the number of attempts or disqualification, promotion opportunities”.
Tawde, in his letter, said students of the state were suffering and lagging behind students of other states. Tawde had proposed that the provision of the RTE Act related to admission to Class I (six years of age) should be implemented in all central schools such as KVs, Navodaya Vidyalayas, military schools, National Defence Academy (NDA) and in sports competitions.
Before Tawde’s letter, Additional Chief Secretary (School Education and Sports Department) Vandana Krishna also wrote to the secretary, Government of India, pointing that students of Maharashtra completed their elementary, secondary and higher secondary education a year later than students from other states.
“Consequently, students from Maharashtra are getting fewer chances at admission to Sainik Schools, military college and NDA, among others,” states the letter accessed by The Indian Express.
ACS Vandana Krishna said, “We will be working as per the directions of the minister (Varsha Gaikwad).”
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