Delhi High Court has directed the private unaided schools and government schools to provide enough and efficient gadgets and internet access to students under Economically Weaker Section (EWS) and other Disadvantaged Groups (DG) so that they have an equal opportunity to attend online classes which are being organised by schools due to Covid-19 pandemic
The Division Bench has allowed schools to seek reimbursement for the costs incurred in making such facilities available to the students from the appropriate government u/s 12 of the Right to Education Act with the objective of bridging the digital gap between the privileged and the underprivileged students.
This order came in a plea moved by Justice For All, seeking laptops, internet connection, and other devices for EWS and DG category students, to ensure that these students participate in the virtual classes organised by the schools. Arguments were made with respect to Sec. 12 (2) of the RTE Act which provides for and defines the extent of reimbursement to the private unaided schools as defined u/s 2 (n) (iv0, which are providing free and compulsory education to the students. However, the petitioner also stated that proviso to Sec. 12 (2) stipulates that if schools are prepaid in terms of concessional land or other facilities, then the said schools are not entitled to reimbursements. It was also observed that Sec. 8 (d) of the RTE Act, 2009 casts a duty upon the State to provide all the necessary infrastructure that includes gadgets needed to participate in online classrooms.
The Court after considering all the arguments held that since the private schools are providing online education to all students but the EWS and DG category are unable to afford to their own gadgets. The school in this aspect is putting a financial barrier for these students by not providing them the required important equipment and preventing them from opening the link to online classrooms. This hinders their elementary education and prevents them to be at par with the other students in the same class. “Consequently, to ensure level playing field and to remedy this digital divide or digital gap or ‘digital apartheid’ in addition to segregation, if the private unaided school has to bear any additional cos, it must bear it in the first instance with a right to claim reimbursement from the State”.
The Court has also constituted a committee to make Standard Operating Procedures for identification of standard gadgets as well as manufacturer package so that the students can access online education. This is a very promising step taken in light of the pandemic. This should set a precedent for all other schools and the need for the judiciary to step in should not arise again for other states or schools. The judicial process delays the process of seeking education and impacts the quality of education. Efforts should be made by all schools and governments to reimburse the schools for the students who cannot afford the online means.
-Radhika Goenka (LC Content Writer)
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