BHUBANESWAR: When the School and Mass Education (SME) department took the online route for admission of students from economically weaker sections (EWS) to private schools in their neighbourhood under the Right to Education (RTE) Act this year, it had aimed at bringing transparency in the process.
But the move has only widened the gap with only around 5,000 students registering for admission so far which is a little over 12 per cent (pc) of the enrolment achieved in the last academic session. Earlier this year, the SME department had opened a dedicated portal ‘RTE Paradarshi’ for admission of the EWS students to private schools under RTE which mandates 25 pc reservation of seats for such sections.
The decision to go online was taken after it was found that the schools were not following the norms in true spirit. There were allegations that vacant reserved seats were being de-reserved and sold to general students. The registration process started in March and was supposed to end in April. However, the department extended the deadline twice as the registrations failed to pick up.
The main reason being the lack of awareness on the online process and access to internet, computers and mobile phones among the poor families. A complete absence of government initiative to identify such students and ensure their registration also compounded the problem. The registrations ended on June 30.
Till Thursday, only around 4,462 schools and 5,115 students have registered in the portal. Three districts have complete student registrations in single digits - Boudh (1), Malkangiri(3) and Sonepur (8). The highest registrations of 541 is from Khurda district followed by 377 in Jharsuguda.
Sources in the department said there are around 46,000 seats for students from disadvantaged groups in private schools across the State. The SME Minister Samir Ranjan Dash had in March this year informed the Assembly that 39,867 EWS students were admitted to 2,256 private schools in the 2019-2020 academic session.
Activists slammed the move to shift online without giving thought to the huge digital divide. “How does one expect the poor families and children, many of them first-generation learners, to have access to mobile phones or money to visit a computer centre amid this lockdown to enrol in the website”, asked social activist Ghasiram Panda.
Former chairperson of OSCPCR Kasturi Mohapatra said, “It is the government’s duty to identify the beneficiaries and register them in the portal besides ensuring that private schools do not sell these seats in case they remain vacant for whatever reasons.”
Refusing to comment on the digital divide, the Minister said that after admissions to the present registrations, there will be a second round of registration for 10 days in July to fill up the vacant seats.