“The key to building an egalitarian society is through an education system where children from all socioeconomic backgrounds have equal access to valuable education.” says Samina Bano, an IIM Bangalore alumni.
Samina Bano was born in a conservative family, and her parents didn’t have plans of schooling her. She fought with them to be able to go to school. When she was young, she met with an accident which paralysed 55% of her left leg. It demoralised her for a while, but her hopes didn’t wane. This incident reinforced her belief that education was her only way of creating a fulfilling life for herself. Though she could have secured admission under the disability quota, she wanted only to get her admission based on merit. Her faith in education led her to be the first person in her family to graduate from college. After completing her MBA from IIM Bangalore, she felt the need to work for underprivileged kids. She did not want them to face the same obstacles she encountered in her childhood. She started the Bharat Abhyudaya Foundation (BAF) in Lucknow on a quest to remove disparities in the society.
Her startup, BAF is a non-profit education initiative which has helped 20,000 poor students get admissions across 3,000 private schools in 50 districts of Uttar Pradesh under Right to Education (RTE) Act.
While speaking with The Logical Indian, Samina said, “Section 12(1)(c) of the RTE Act mandates 25% reservation for children from Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) in every private school. I saw a lot of loopholes in the policy, and it made me do a lot of research in this field. I observed that only 108 admissions were made across UP where six lakh seats are available annually. I realised that government is reluctant to push this bill. And private schools are hesitant to admit these children. With persistent effort by our team, the number of admissions increased to a historical 4,400 in 2015 and 15,646 in the year 2016,”.
Initially, Samina had to get involved in court fights in High court and Supreme court against private school authorities. After a fierce battle, The Supreme Court in a landmark judgement ordered the private schools to admit 13 children from underprivileged backgrounds under the RTE Act on September 28, 2015.
According to Samina, the problem lies in India’s schooling system. The private schools perform better than government schools. Therefore, their role in providing education cannot be ruled out. The State-Run school classrooms are diverse by nature as they are mandated to admit any child that comes to them irrespective of their age and aptitude. To build a proper system, Samina started working on a project in Uttar Pradesh, a state where education is deteriorating by the day. She brought together children from low-income government and elite private schools. The private schools denied admissions to low-income group children in spite of the RTE Act (2009). These schools did not want to hamper the quality of education by admitting kids from poor backgrounds. Samina took action and started approaching media houses with the stories of the children not given admission. She also highlighted the dismal state of the public schools in the area.
After a lot of effort, the Supreme Court passed the judgement ordering private schools to admit the children. The fight was still not over. Samina turned her attention to parents and students. It was not difficult to convince the parents to send their children to private schools. With the help of high school student volunteers, local business owners, shopkeepers, she was able to help children fill up applications for admissions. They trained the parents on the admission process, and a 24-hour helpline was launched by the volunteers to help parents. She reached out to all the reputed schools in the state to ensure that they admit these kids.
Samina is now building a movement of students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and government officials to ensure that every child receives his/her right to education.
RTE or The Right to Education or The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education is an Act of the Parliament of India, enacted on 4 August 2009. It describes the modalities of the importance of the free and compulsory education for children aged between 6 and 14 years in India under Article 21A of the Indian Constitution.