Pune schools bend RTE norms on age-appropriate admission

PUNE: Twelve-year-olds studying in standard I and 23-year-olds studying in standard IV – thousands of students in the state are studying in classes much lower than those suitable for their age, despite guidelines of the Right to Education (RTE) Act that mandate age-appropriate admissions in schools.

The unified district information system for education (U-DISE) data recently released by the ministry of human resource and development has incorporated statistics on enrolment as per age groups. Experts say the statistics reflect the state government’s failure in implementing RTE guidelines effectively, especially in rural areas.

According to the U-DISE data, enrolment started at four years of age for standard I, whereas the highest grade, standard XII, had over 2,000 students enrolled at the age of 23. According to section 4 of the RTE Act, children above six years of age, who have either not been admitted to any school or have not completed elementary education after being admitted to a school, have the right to get a place in a class appropriate for their age to complete elementary education.

“In Pune, I don’t think there are any schools where there will be students as old as 23 years of age. As per the RTE Act, schools here are told to admit students from the 6-14 age group in standard I to VIII. We do make exceptions to the higher limit in aided schools and take in students from the 6-18 group, as we don’t want to disappoint a student who genuinely wants to study. But admitting a 23-year-old student is too much,” said B K Dahiphale, education officer of the Pune Municipal Corporation.

“There is a continuous adult education programme for older students. Through this, people who are above the schooling age, but still want to complete their education, can fill Form 16 and appear for the secondary (Class X) and higher secondary (Class XII) board exams externally,” Dahiphale said.

As per RTE, even after a child is appropriately placed in the formal school he/she may continue to receive special attention from the teacher to successfully integrate him/her into the class, academically and emotionally.

Educationist Herambh Kulkarni said the problem is severe when older out-of-school children are brought into mainstream education through efforts of the government or activists. “Many times, students from a higher age group are enrolled into a lower class. But they end up not going to school because of the embarrassment of attending classes with children much younger than them. The problem is more evident in rural and semi-rural areas than in urban regions of the state,” Kulkarni said.

Dinkar Temkar, deputy director of primary education, said, “As per the RTE Act, children in the 6-14 age group can get free education in their neighbourhood schools. Admissions are done according to the age of the student. Bridge-learning courses are provided to update them with the learning material in their present class if they are being admitted in any class from Standard II to VIII. I have not yet gone through the U-DISE data which talks about enrolment as per age. I will look it up and then take up the matter with the director.”