- Owners of private schools say it is impossible to comply with the guidelines by July 31
Siliguri, July 25: Around 500 private primary and kindergarten schools in Siliguri and the surrounding areas were shut today in one-day protest by their owners who said they cannot comply with the stringent guidelines in the West Bengal Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules by July 31.
Members of the Siliguri branch of the Besarkari Primary Vidyalaya Kalyan Samiti, an association of owners and teachers of private primary schools, said the rules on teachers’ qualification, salary and size of classrooms were stringent.
“The state education department issued a set of rules on March 16 citing certain conditions about school infrastructure, governance, salary structure of teachers and their qualification. The rules state that every school should have a playground and each classroom should be 400sqft and accommodate only 30 students. There should also be separate entry and exit (to the building). All the schools have a fixed compound and infrastructure and it is impossible for us to upgrade the buildings according to these rules,” said Paresh Kirtania, the secretary of the association.
The West Bengal Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules, 2012, comes under the Right to Education Act.“It has been made compulsory to fulfil these criteria by July 31 in order to obtain a no-objection certificate from the district inspectors of schools or else a fine of Rs 10,000 a day will be slapped on the institution. We have called a strike today in around 500 private primary and preparatory schools demanding relaxation of the rules. If our demand is not met, we will go for an indefinite strike,” Kirtania said.
The members said according to the rules, 25 per cent of total students in a school should be from the BPL category and the tuition fees cannot be increased without the approval of the state government.
“The state government has restricted the number of students in each classroom to just 30 and directed us to give free education to 25 per cent of students who would be from BPL homes. With these restrictions, we will not be able to pay salaries to the teachers. It is also financially impossible to arrange for a medical check-up for students every month (as the rules say),” Kirtania said.
Reactions sought from the guardians of the schoolchildren were mixed.
“This would prevent the mushrooming of private schools and keep tabs on the fees, which are exorbitant sometimes. We feel there is a necessity to implement the guidelines to maintain an appropriate atmosphere for toddlers who start their studies in these institutions,” said Rajesh Dubey, a Siliguri-based businessman who son reads in a primary school.
But Sohini Dutta had a different opinion. “There is no doubt that the guidelines are stringent to child education but the authorities should also understand the practical problems. Prep schools in urban areas cannot afford to have a playground overnight. The insistence to develop infrastructure such as spacious classrooms would only add to our financial burden as these schools thrive on tuition fees and donations,” said the mother of a primary school student.
According to sources at the state education department, the guidelines comprise 30-odd rules. “There are rules on school building area and allied infrastructure, teachers, school management and students’ facilities, ownership, location and surroundings, fees, admission of BPL students, fire safety and medical help and inspection and visits by government officials,” said a source. “It is important for private schools to meet the guidelines.”
Officials at the district primary school department refused comment. “The circular has been issued by the state education department and it is meant to be implemented by all schools. We have nothing more to say,” said Abdul Kalam, the district inspector of schools in Siliguri.