Getting a nursery seat is a herculean task in Delhi. It is time that the government overhauled the system and ensured schools do not take parents for a ride.
On Christmas eve, I met a close friend at a party.
As we greeted each other, her face looked grim. I could not figure out the reason for the unusual tension on her face. When I asked, she said she was worried about her daughter.
Her only daughter, who is turning 3 in March next year, is all set to face the biggest test of her life. She would soon be competing with around 2 lakh children to grab an entry level seat in a school in the national capital.
My friend lives in west Delhi’s Kirti Nagar, which does not have many schools. And those which are close to her home give a lot of weightage to siblings and children of alumni, she says.
Nursery admission blues continues to haunt thousands of parents like her in the city.
As we usher in the new year, it marks the beginning of the nightmare for parents seeking admission for their children.
Nursery admissions will begin from January 2, 2017, in around 1,400 private unaided recognised schools for the next academic session.
These schools are free to decide the criteria for admission. There will be a separate schedule and guidelines for 285 schools, which are built on DDA land, which are yet to be announced. These schools have been asked to follow only the distance criterion by the government.
Sumit Vohra, the founder of admissionsnursery.com who has been following the process for the last decade, says for the first time there will be two parallel processes for general category. “There is no clarity so far on guidelines schools will follow.” He fears schools might go for litigation and the admission process will be delayed.
“The list of schools, which are built on DDA land, include some of the most sought after. The dates of admission process is also not same for all the schools. And because there will be no refund after one month, some parents will lose money.”
This has become an annual problem because the high court has given the autonomy to schools. It becomes really challenging for parents to score a seat for their child, he adds.
In Gurgaon and Noida, schools themselves decide on the parameters on which they conduct the admission process. Some schools also screen parents and conduct interviews with children as there is no check. At least in Delhi, the government is active enough not to let schools follow their own system, Vohra says.
But why do parents face the problem every year. He explains, “Some areas like Vasant Kunj, Saket, Rohini, Pitampura, Dwarka have dense population of schools. Whereas in areas like Chhatarpur, Okhla, Dabri Mor, there are not enough schools. Schools are not equally distributed in the city. So it becomes difficult to implement the policy of 1 km in such areas.”
Rising fee add to the woes
In August 2011 a study by Associated Chamber of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) showed that the rise in private school fees was nearly 200 percent in the last five years. It added that on an average, majority of parents spend Rs 20–25 lakh for raising a child by the time the teenager passes out of the high school. And parents invest an average 60 percent of their income in their children's education.
Vohra says 50 percent of the fee of most private schools is unjustified and goes into profiteering. Schools are already charging high fee and are annually increasing it. They charge under various heads like development fee, activity fee, annual fee.
Unaided private schools hike fees exorbitantly every year. Unaccounted donations ranging between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 15 lakh is taken. This is the ordeal parents face every year.
“There are play schools which charge around Rs 10,000 a month and big schools are charging around Rs 20,000 per month. Schools hike fee every year in the name of development. If they have actually done any development, they can charge a nominal fee. But without any work, they arbitrarily increase the fee every year. Sometimes between 5 to 30 percent. Delhi government has done good work by controlling it and even asked many schools to reverse it as well.”
Vohra explains, “Some schools charge really high fee because of the premium tag attached to them. Parents are ready to pay not only the exorbitantly high fee, but also donation to get admission in such schools.”
Parents are forced to give, says my friend. “Do we have an option?” she asks. “Less seats and more children competing for it. If I am assured of a seat by giving some money, why would I leave the opportunity?” This year, around 2 lakh applications are expected for around 1.25 lakh seats at entry-level.
Reforming education system
The problem is that education, which is supposed to be a not-for-profit activity, has emerged as one of the best business opportunities. There is a need to focus on the quality of school education, which must be at least made affordable, if not free. And for that the government must develop a strong alternative to private schools.
The government-run schools in Delhi are in bad shape. Shortage of classrooms, insufficient teachers and low learning levels are some of the problems they have faced over the years. They have been left to decay for a long time. It is because of the poor standards of such schools that parents have shifted to private schools.
Vohra says improving this system is a complex issue, but the work has already been started. He adds the efforts by the education department of Delhi government is commendable.
“New rooms are being constructed, teachers are being hired and strict monitoring is taking place. A lot of stress is also being given on improving the learning outcomes. There is not enough land available to open new schools by the government. At best the government can improve the quality of existing schools.”
He says the stigma attached to the government school will take time to go. “Till the time the quality of government-run schools is raised to the level of Kendriya Vidyalayas, it will be difficult to bring people back to this system.”
I want to believe in the idea of improving the standard of government-run schools in the long run. But until that is achieved, few things that the government must take up immediately include the education bill on doing away with the management quota in nursery admissions and preventing private schools from arbitrarily increasing fees. Else I will also be among parents fighting to grab a seat for my daughter, two years down the line.