Latest in the string of litigations filed after the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), the Delhi High Court ruled that the Act shall not apply to nursery admissions in unaided private schools for the unreserved category of students. The decision, given on February 19, was in response to writ petitions filed by Social Jurist, a civil rights group and the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights. It contended that the guidelines of the Ministry of Human Resource Development related to schools’ selection procedure should also be applicable to pre-primary and pre-school classes. The right to education is applicable to children between the age of 6 and 14 years. The RTE Act states that schools have to reserve certain proportion of their seats for disadvantaged groups. It adds that where the school admits children at pre-primary level, the reservation for children of weaker sections shall apply. However, it does not mention whether other RTE norms are applicable to pre-schools. It only states that the appropriate government may make necessary arrangements for providing pre-school education to children between the age of 3 and 6 years. Guidelines of the Ministry with regard to selection procedure of students:
- Criteria of admission for 25% seats reserved for disadvantaged groups: For Class 1 or pre-primary class, unaided schools shall follow a system of random selection out of the applications received from children belonging to disadvantaged groups.
- Criteria of admission for rest of the seats: Each unaided school should formulate a policy of admission on a rational, reasonable and just basis. No profiling shall be allowed based on parental educational qualifications. Also, there can be no testing or interviews for any child or parent.
The two issues that the court considered were: (a) whether RTE applies to pre-schools including nursery schools and for education of children below six years of age; (b) whether RTE applies to the admission of children in pre-schools in respect of the unreserved seats (25% of seats are reserved for children belonging to disadvantaged groups). According to the verdict, the guidelines issued by the government do not apply to the unreserved category of students i.e. 75% of the admission made in pre-schools in private unaided schools. This implies that private unaided schools may formulate their own policies regarding admission in pre-schools for the unreserved category of students. However, they apply to the reserved category of students i.e. 25% of the admission s made in these schools for disadvantaged groups. The court has however stated that in its view this is the right time for the government to consider the applicability of RTE Act to the nursery classes too. In most schools, students are admitted from nursery and they continue in the same school thereafter. Therefore, the RTE Act’s prohibition of screening at the time of selection is rendered meaningless if it is not applicable at the nursery level.