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5 Mar 2017

Private schools seek protection from local leaders

Mita Mukherjee, TT, Calcutta, March 4: An association of school principals and owners has urged the Bengal government to ensure that a "proper mechanism" is in place to prevent local politicians from pressuring them to admit students.
"It is our appeal to chief minister Mamata Banerjee to ensure there is no intervention in the administrative matters by outsiders at the local level. We are not against the government's plan to monitor and regulate private schools operating in the state. But we would urge the government to ensure that the directives come directly from the education department. The local administration should not be empowered to interfere with the activities of the schools," Nabarun Dey, the general secretary of the Bengal chapter of the Association of Heads of ICSE Schools, told The Telegraph.
Christian missionary-run Anglo-Indian schools and non-Christian schools run by private bodies are the two main categories of private English-medium schools in Bengal.
The Association of Heads of ICSE Schools covers only the non-Christian private ICSE and ISC institutions that include schools such as Heritage Academy, South City, Future Foundation, Delhi Public School, Rammohan Mission and Vivekananda Mission.
After tabling a bill to regulate private hospitals, the chief minister had told the Assembly yesterday that her next target would be to clean up private schools that "charge so much". However, it is not clear yet whether the government is planning any law or commission similar to the one on healthcare or it would issue only guidelines to schools.
The government's scope to intervene is limited in the case of schools run by Christian missionaries. Article 30 of the Constitution gives minorities the right to establish and administer their own educational institutions. Most of the top private schools like La Martiniere, St Xavier's, Loreto, Don Bosco, St James and Pratt Memorial (all ICSE schools) are Christian missionary schools.
Out of the around 400 ICSE and ISC schools in the state, nearly 340 are run by non-Christian bodies.
Non-Christian private schools do not enjoy such protection and several are now worried, the principal of one such school said.
"We have no idea how the monitoring will be done. We are strongly opposed to the idea of engaging political leaders and councillors for monitoring the schools at the local level. This will lead to vandalism whenever schools increase fees or refuse to accept the recommendations of leaders to admit students beyond our capacity," the principal said.
Several ICSE schools in Calcutta had witnessed vandalism and agitation led by local politicians when the institutions were forced to increase tuition and other fees in order to pay their teachers and non-teaching employees salaries on a par with the recommendations of the Fifth Pay Commission in 2010.
Many private schools had also faced untoward incidents in 2012 after the implementation of the Right to Education Act that says every school should keep 25 per cent free seats reserved for students from underprivileged families.
Local politicians would often force the schools to admit students under this category, citing the RTE Act. "This trend will increase if politicians get into the act and start interfering after using the government's wish as an excuse. The government must ensure that local political leaders do not have any say in the running of the schools," said a principal.
Education minister Partha Chatterjee told The Telegraph the schools should not worry as the government would not leave any loophole that would encourage intervention of political parties in the activities of the schools.
"I can assure you there will be no room for interference of local party leaders in the affairs of the schools," he said.

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