A month after the Delhi High Court ordered private schools and government schools like Kendriya Vidyalayas in the capital to provide devices and internet free of cost to students from economically weaker sections (EWS) and disadvantaged groups (DG), the court’s directions are yet to unfold in practice.
On September 18, the court had also ordered constitution of a three-member committee within a week, comprising the Union Secretary of Education or their nominee, Delhi’s Education Secretary or their nominee, and a representative for private schools. The panel was to frame a standard operating protocol for identification of standard gadgets, the manufacturer or supplier, and the internet packages. However, such a committee has not met yet.
“To ensure level playing field and to remedy this digital divide… if the private unaided school has to bear any additional cost, it must bear it in the first instance with a right to claim reimbursement from the State…,” a division bench of Justices Manmohan and Sanjeev Narula had said.
Schools in the city said they will not make any purchases till they get clear guidelines. “Low-cost schools like mine have no surplus funds and are still collecting only tuition fees, and that too from about 30-35% of parents. If the government will pay for it, we don’t have a problem implementing the order,” said Sushil Dhankar of the South Delhi Public Schools Association, who also runs a school in Sangam Vihar.
S K Bhattacharya, president of the Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools, who has been nominated by private schools as their representative in the three-member committee, said schools required clarity.
“A clear procedure needs to be drawn up which can only be done if a meeting of the committee is convened. Apart from identifying the nature of devices, it also needs to be determined if these devices are to be purchased or taken on lease. Schools in the city will be reopening, at most in a few months, which means the gadgets will be required only for a short time while the investment in purchasing them will be huge. And the reimbursement to schools will have to be guaranteed…,” he said.
The Delhi government is in the process of filing a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court against the High Court’s order. “This order will open a Pandora’s Box. The reimbursement done by the government to schools for EWS/students was governed by section 12 of the RTE Act and the court has redefined the ambit of it. We are challenging the implementation of this order on various grounds,” said an education department official.