At his tiny first floor residence in Kotturpuram Housing Board Colony, Jaffar, now in Standard I, was watching Chotta Bheem cartoon on TV. After several minutes, he opens up by stating that Siddish Kumar is his best friend at school. Jaffar doesn’t know where Siddish comes from or his background. His mother Mumtaz Begum interjects, “He doesn’t need to. All that matters is the bond of friendship that they share.”

Mumtaz mistakenly refers to RTE as RTO on three different occasions during a nearly half-an-hour conversation. Upon being gently informed that it is RTE and not RTO, she drives home a message. “How does it matter? As far as I am concerned, it is a boon for daily wage earners like me, who wants to provide good quality education to our children.”

The conversation also brought light on her steely will to educate her two children. “I and my husband, a painter, were not fortunate enough to get educated. We don’t want our children to go through what we did,” says Mumtaz. While she had managed to completed her Standard X, her husband M Mustafa had dropped out after Standard V.

Things just clicked for the family when they approached Anna Gem Matriculation Higher Secondary School, located on the Anna University campus. “When we approached them for admitting our younger son Jaffar in LKG, the teachers enlightened us about the RTE. We tried and luck was on our side,” she says.

Jaffar’s elder brother Zakir studies in another private school under non-RTE.

“A lot of poor families are yet to know about the RTE provision. It is the duty of the schools and government authorities to create awareness about the Act,” Mumtaz remarks.