Ananya Dixit
April 9, 2020
“Through a promise of holistic education at the school level, Section 12(1)(c) could provide for a way to uplift the underprivileged sections of society." Ananya Dixit in her article explores the inadequacies of the policy which has the potential to transform the lives of millions of children in India.


When the British relinquished power and India became independent, the constitution-makers envisioned the country to foster social justice and equality1. Social justice is not limited to the distribution of rights; it requires active participation by the State to bring parity in development by orienting policies towards it2. ​A serious impediment to achieving this vision of India has been the difference in educational opportunities offered to children from disadvantaged and economically weaker sections of society. ​According to the Annual State of Education Report (ASER) published by NGO Pratham in 2013, the gap between private and public-school children’s learning outcomes has been widening. 3 As a result, the number of rural students in private schools has increased steadily over the past decade, and now, more than a fourth of rural students are choosing to enroll in private schools for better education.​4 The deteriorating quality of education in government schools may have a strong correlation with the falling number of students in government schools.

As illustrated in Figure 1, private schools have been consistently performing better than government schools to improve learning outcomes. In contrast, the learning outcomes of government schools have been declining since the year 2010. A Centre for Policy Report suggests that despite their economic background, parents desire to send their wards to schools providing good quality education.6 Therefore, through the Section ​12(1)(c)​ of the RTE Act, the Government of India is providing parents with the choice to enrol their children in private schools.7 Before this provision was inserted, the choice of school was primarily governed by a family’s financial ability to pay rather than the learning outcomes. This resulted in the systematic exclusion of children from the disadvantaged sections of society to receive a good quality education. ​In light of this, Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act was introduced as an instrument to create a level playing field by offering equality of opportunity in education. Providing good quality education to children from the disadvantaged section provides for a way for the state to mitigate the impact of differences arising out of the socio-economic background of students. ​

According to 2014-15 data,  private schools only managed to fill 6,762 of the 96,870 reserved seats in the state of Gujarat, which accounts for 6.98% of the total reserved seats.8 With the national average of 15.2 %, the difference between the State and the National average is significant.9

Lack of Political Will

Gujarat initially implemented the policy as a pilot,  when awareness about the policy and its provisions was relatively low.10  Consequentially, this reflected in low enrolment rates during its initial phase of implementation. Apart from the mandatory advertisements before the start of the admission process each year, the State Government did not take any initiative to inform the people about this policy.11 ​In 2017, advertisements were published by the State Government only a day before the commencement of the admission process. Such short notice does not leave time for applicants to obtain necessary documents and thus may lead to students losing a year. Various NGOs and civil societies took the onus upon themselves of disseminating information and creating awareness about this policy and its provisions among beneficiaries and stakeholders through targeted information campaigns.12

Additionally, the information given by the government circulars and the website has several inconsistencies. According to the government notification, General category households who did not have Below Poverty Line cards would be eligible if their annual income was less than Rs. 68,000, and Rs. 47,000 in urban and rural areas, respectively. 13  However, the online application form did not provide for such applicants to apply. After the application process was already halfway through, with just ten days to go, the Government published a notice that rectified this but did not publicize it as much. Many potential applicants would not have applied because they thought they were ineligible.14

Another problem that surfaced was the language of communication. Even though a large number of households eligible for this policy do not speak Gujarati or English, the advertisements were widely published, and the web portal for application only supports English or Gujarati. As a result, advertisements do not reach linguistic minority groups (Hindi and Marathi). Moreover, the absence of a functional helpline number required people from disadvantaged sections of society to physically go to either the Zila Panchayat or the District Education Office (DEO) to register their grievances.15 The travel time added to the delay in the admission process. Furthermore, the timing of board examinations coinciding with the admission process led to the unavailability of most officials to address the issue of the applicants.16 Therefore, the lack of a functional and efficient grievance redressal helpline to answer the queries of applicants only exacerbates the problem.17

What about pre-primary education?

Unlike other states such as Karnataka, Gujarat implemented Section 12(1)(c) beginning with primary school.18 Students from underprivileged sections, therefore, miss out on the crucial pre-primary and kindergarten years of education, which lays the foundation for further studies. As mentioned by the director of a private school, students of the first standard learn words in private schools; however, the ones admitted under Section 12(1)(c) barely know how to write alphabets correctly.19 The ASER report bolsters the claim about learning gaps by highlighting the constantly widening inequality in learning outcomes as students advance to higher classes.20

 Complications with the Online System

Till 2017, the state had an offline procedure, the paper-based process for admission.21 Applicants were to collect forms from help centres in a government school and submit it along with other documents certifying eligibility to officers at these centres. Applicants were informed about the admission decision through SMS or via post. ​This changed after 2017 when Gujarat adopted a new procedure for filing applications on an online portal.22Applicants now have to submit their printed forms along with eligibility documents to a receiving centre. Currently, applicants check the status of their application online, reducing delays in transmission of information and declaration of results. While this was a step that helped increased transparency in the application process, the shift for the beneficiaries came with a lot of challenges. The target population of this policy is by and large, not computer literate.

For a policy directed at the disadvantaged sections, such an online application system only adds additional steps and costs in the process. Internet cafes often overcharge applicants for printouts and access to the internet.23 Most of the receiving centres that were to help digitally illiterate applicants to fill the online applications were reported to be non-functional. ​Furthermore, since the server was ill-equipped to handle heavy traffic, it crashed multiple times during the first week.24 It resulted in increased costs as applicants had to make numerous visits to internet cafes to get their application form filled up. With only allowing online applications to be accepted for consideration of seat allotment, there is a possibility of exclusion of applicants who don’t have the means to apply online.[25]

With the new system, applicants are supposed to enter their postal address, pin code, after which the system automatically drops a location pin on the map. To improve the accuracy of this service, the location pin can only be moved to a maximum of 1 km range from what the GPS picks up. However, given the large ward size, the location pin, even after adjustment, remains far from the address of many applicants. Since schools are allocated based on the distance, incorrect locations lead to allotment of schools that are far away from the applicant’s address. All this resulted in schools allotted being more than 6 km away from the house of many of the allottees26


Section 12(1)(c) of the Right to Education Act is a step in the right direction. However, on the ground, it is fraught with implementation challenges. There is ambiguity surrounding admissions, school choices, and eligibility requirements.27 The State government has done little to make people aware of the legislation beyond issuing the mandatory advertisements a few days before the commencement of the admission cycle. Gujarat has only managed to fill 6.98% of the total reserved seats.28 The need is for the State government to take a more active role in making people aware of this legislation. To reduce exclusions arising out of digital illiteracy, Gujarat should enable an offline application process. In Rajasthan, which currently accepts offline and online applications, an overwhelming majority of applicants choose to apply offline.29 This may also help resolve technical problems emanating from the exclusivity of the online application process like frequent server crashes and reduce application costs for beneficiaries. Finally, establishing a sound grievance redressal system could also ease the process of application.

Poor quality of education early on in life translates into low wages later in life.30 As a result, the second generation may be unable to afford good quality education for their children. By mandating the inclusion of underprivileged children in private unaided schools, this provision of the RTE Act makes schooling in India more integrated and inclusive while improving learning outcomes for children from disadvantaged sections as well.31 ​Through a promise of holistic education at the school level, it provides for a way to uplift the underprivileged sections of society. However, as highlighted above, the policy suffers from several inadequacies in the implementation phase. ​A good education is the cornerstone of any country’s development story. ​Section 12(1)(c), if implemented earnestly, has the potential to transform the lives of millions of children in India.


[1]“Constituent Assembly Debates.” Constitution of India. Accessed March 12, 2020.

[2] Ibid

[3] “Annual Status of Education Report 2013.” Assessment Survey Evaluation Research, (ASER), Centre/Pratham, 2013

[4] Ibid

[5] Private Schools. Central Square Foundation. Accessed March 28, 2020.

[6] “State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (C) 2017 | Centre for Policy Research.” Accessed April 1, 2020.

[7] Ibid

[8] State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (C) 2017. Sarin, Ankur, Ankur Sarin, Ambrish Dongre, and Srikant Wad. “Centre for Policy Research.” | Centre for Policy Research, September 15, 2017.

[9] Ibid

[10] Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education act 2009 § Education Department, Government of Gujarat

[11] State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (C) 2017. Sarin, Ankur, Ankur Sarin, Ambrish Dongre, and Srikant Wad. “Centre for Policy Research.” | Centre for Policy Research, September 15, 2017.

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] India, Ideas For. “Http://” Ideas For India. Accessed March 29, 2020.

[16] Ibid

[17] State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (C) 2017. Sarin, Ankur, Ankur Sarin, Ambrish Dongre, and Srikant Wad. “Centre for Policy Research.” | Centre for Policy Research, September 15, 2017.

[18] “Guj Govt Avoids RTE for Pre-School Kids” Dave, Harita. Ahmedabad Mirror, January 20, 2017.

[19] Ibid

[20] “Annual Status of Education Report 2013.” Assessment Survey Evaluation Research, (ASER), Centre/Pratham, 2013

[21] State of the Nation: RTE Section 12 (1) (C) 2017. Sarin, Ankur, Ankur Sarin, Ambrish Dongre, and Srikant Wad. “Centre for Policy Research.” | Centre for Policy Research, September 15, 2017.

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] “Education Quality & Economic Growth,” Hanushek , Eric A., and Ludger Wößmann. 2007.

[31] “For More Inclusive Private Schools.” Narayanan, ‘Americai’ V., and Kavya Narayanan. The Hindu, June 4, 2019.