Luck By Chance

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Feb 9 2009, 04:56am hrs
The economics of getting your child admitted to a school has, for an Indian parent, increasingly become one of the formidable challenges in thier lives. Its planned for years ahead, and extremes range from relocating to localities with higher points to hesitancy in having a child! And Delhi woke up to a shocker earlier this week when headlines screamed that 1.75 lakh students in the city being left out of 1,900+ schools.

Admissions to the desired schools had become one of the most corrupt practices in the non-government sector, and different states have enacted rules off late to make the systems more transparent and less taxing, mentally and financially. But perhaps nowhere has the struggle been as fierce and confusion ridden as in Delhi, where schools have been juggling with various formulae. Beginning with a 100-point system based on specific parameters to whether to interview or interact or stick to influence, building (donation) fund, it has been a journey without a destination.

Number game

While seeking admission to one of the 1,900 schools in Delhi, an average middle class parent spends on an average Rs 5,000 for a single child just to buy the prospectus of these schools. Households pay for more than one-quarter, 28%, of the costs to send their children to primary and secondary school as compared to assuming just 14% of the costs for university education, cited a UNESCO report in 2007. A minimum of 300% rise is being noticed in prospectus sold by various public schools for giving admissions in nursery and kindergarten between 2000 to 2008, according to the ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation.

It elaborates that at the beginning of the millennium, leading public schools in Delhi would usually sell the prospectus, containing details about admission processes in their respective schools, for a sum of Rs 300. In 2008, one prospectus costs roughly Rs 1,000. And this is just for the pre-primary level, which is proving to be more expensive than the prospectus sold off by reputed management, engineering and chartered accountant institutions.

And thats just the tip of the iceberg. With the changing socio-economic dynamics of the Indian society, the concept of pre-school system is fast catching up in India. Statistically speaking, the complete pre-school segment in India is currently valued at Rs 4,004 crores and is expected to cross Rs 13,800 crores by the 2012, according to estimates from brokerage firm CLSA Asia-Pacific markets, Katherine Rustomji, CEO, Kara Learning, points out. Again, the unorganised tutoring section for pre-school itself amounts to $1 billion, which roughly amounts to one-fifth of the entire unorganised tutoring pie in India. Organised pre-school sector in India is valued to be at Rs 700 crores and the unorganised sector is pegged to be Rs 3,500 crores approximately.

Toddler tales

An estimated 30 million children are now educated in private schools, with fees usually rising well above inflation. It is a chaos out there, says Rajan Arora, co-founder of www.nurseryadmissions.com, a website and a forum that came up to help the hassled parents. There is no transparency in the entire admission process. Parents dont even get to know what is the break-up of their points as not all schools display it on their website, says Arora. But does the figure of 1.75 lakh students being left out of the rat race convince him as a parent Arora believes its a pre-mature calculation as the second and the third admission list of schools is yet to come out and parents will withdraw from the 15-20 schools from where they have applied and more children will get a chance, he adds. But sceptics still argue that not many can still make it If the number is so huge, it must have been a similar case the previous year too as the city has been grappling with this issue for a few years now. So we have to believe that more than 3.5 lakh kids in the city are out of school and the government is sleeping over it says Arora. SK Bhattacharya, President, School Action Committee, believes that this figure is just an approximation. It could be a rough estimate. These children who have presumably been left out, probably get access to some kind of school education. It cannot be that they are sitting at home, says Bhattacharya.

But is the city so short of schools that children have nowhere to go Ameeta Wattal, Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, Delhi feels that every parent wants their child to get admission to one of the 10 or 15 good schools in any city. There is no dearth of schools in the city. But if parents want their child to go to one of these reputed schools, then they will surely feel left out. Many schools are still open to admission across the city. These select few schools cant cater to the entire population, adds Wattal. For the 77 general category seats, of the two branches of her school, Wattal had received over 6,000 applications. She blames this mindset of parents to the culture that has become brand oriented. We are not a brand but an educational institution. I would hate if my school is called a brand, she adds. This is the legacy handed down to us by the Ganguly Commission. I am not saying this is the best system. There is no fool-proof system, but a numerical system is transparent, Wattal said.

Too many guidelines

32-year-old Parul Rishi is happy that she moved to Mumbai three years ago. It would have been a nightmare get my daughter admitted into one of the good schools there, she says. Did she have a bitter experience too My daughter was underage then... but the newspaper headlines during the admission season were enough for me to realise that the scenario was pretty bleak in Delhi, says the mother of six-year-old Avantika. Mumbai was a cake walk for the mother-daughter duo. And the future looks easy too, believes Rishi, given that the school, Kangaroo Kids, has provision to absorb their kids at the next level as well. The Rs 4,500 that she has to pay each month is hardly a matter of much concern.

A Delhi High Court order in 2007 not only banned interviews or interactions with the children but also asked the schools to refrain from observing children in any formal or informal setting. But schools were permitted to hold informal interactions with parents to assess the childs background. While there will be points awarded for neighbourhood, parents education and a sibling alumni, the deciding factor would be the interaction with parents. A Delhi government list of guidelines for pre-primary admissions mandates that recognised schools use a standardised registration form and include parameters like preference to neighbourhood children, siblings of alumni and the socially and economically backward classes.

Despite all these efforts parents still believe that the entire nursery admission process is a nightmare. And with each school setting its different set of parameters across cities, the first step in the world of formal education definitely remains an uphill task across the country.

With inputs by Kiran Yadav

Different Cities, Similar Story Bangalore

Children in Bangalore are not able to get quality education feel parents, owing to the vast reservation schemes in the state. Children of central and state government employees have a majority of seats reserved for them, making it tough for others to get in. Efforts have been made to make the admission process uniform. The state education department states that nursery admissions are to be held only in April. But many schools flout these rules and issue admission forms in November or December. The law prohibits parents and children from being interviewed, hence there is considerable ambiguity on how schools decide on candidates. Like Delhi, here too demand outstrips the supply.

Chennai

It is a familiar tale down south too. Parents end up applying in the reputed, good schools, that are far less in number than the demand. Parents are ready to go to any extent to get their child admitted in one of the elite schools. Consequently, a handful of schools struggle with several hundreds of applications more than their classrooms can hold. Donation in the name of building funds is the guiding force behind getting a seat in a good school, something that the schools deny vehemently. For the oft traumatised child, the coaching for admissions begins right after their kid celebrates their first birthday. Constant learning of shapes, sizes and nursery rhymes are the order of the day. Though state officials are trying to increase the number of nursery schools in the city, till the time that happens, it is going to be a traumatising experience for both parents and their children.

Kolkata

Several reputed schools of the city have abolished tests and interviews for nursery and kindergarten admissions, but getting your child into one probably wouldnt be any easier. Although children no longer need to take a test or face an interview panel, what their parents say in the pre-admission questionnaire, where they stay and which community they are from could determine who gets in and who doesnt. Some schools also prefer taking in students on a first-come-first-serve basis. The rest have come up with different methods of screening without putting the candidates through a test. A few of them have also decided not to take in too many students from one locality or community. Delhi High Courts ban on rigorous admission procedures at the nursery level and protests by parents led schools in the city to do away with the system of testing a childs aptitude. The state government doesnt have a policy on nursery or kindergarten admissions.

Mumbai

In Mumbai, private schools follow the state governments rules on education, which bans interaction with parents or children. School authorities ask the parents to fill out a form and the selections are done. Institution heads are unanimous in their opinion that an interaction with both parents and children is a must to gauge if the child is ready to go to school and whether parents are aware of the policies of the school. Despite attempts to curb the practice, many schools continue to interview parents and children, and hefty donations and recommendations are still the order of the day.

Admission flip flop

December 2004 High Court (HC) begins an inquiry into bringing transparency in the nursery admissions in private schools.

September 2006 HC forms five-member panel led by Central Board of Secondary Education Chairperson Ashok Ganguly to review the nursery admission process

July 2007 Ganguly panel files report, recommending ban on pre-admission interviews of children and parents. A 100-point formula is drafted as admission criteria

September 2007 Schools protest, Ganguly panel files revised set of recommendations

November 2007 High Court fixes minimum age for pre-primary education, now limited to a period of one year, at four, the age of admission to Class I at five

November 2007 HC gives autonomy to schools to select their own admission criteria, but subject to the final nod of the Directorate of Education (DoE). Schools told to file admission criteria before the DoE before December 15

December 2007 Supreme Court allows schools to have an informal interaction with parents and also frame their own admission schedules

Points to ponder

After an interim order by the Supreme Court, schools now have the autonomy to frame their own admissions guidelines. And this is what they have to offer:

A school in Delhi is giving five extra points each to parents who are non-smokers or non-drinkers or vegetarian to promote a healthy way of life

A school asks parents with more than two children to not apply saying it was supporting the government's two-child policy

No points on neighbourhood in some schools they say their own transport system will take care of the distance factor.

This year, some schools were seen giving points for safe transport making parents wonder if moving closer to a school of their choice was worth the effort