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Don’t belittle the role of private schools

Nursery admissions

Meeta Sengupta

Senior Adviser, Centre for Civil Society

Hindustan Times

05-02-2014

At about this time every year, parents of children who are about to enter the school system in Delhi have sleepless nights. This year too the situation will not be different because the Supreme Court on February 1 refused to stay the new criteria for nursery admissions ordered by Delhi lieutenant governor Najeeb Jung. In December, reviewing an earlier order regarding nursery admission in private unaided recognised schools in Delhi, Jung had relaxed the distance criteria for students from six kilometres to eight kilometres but did not review the management quota which was abolished by him in his December 18 guidelines.

The order took away the last vestiges of autonomy of schools regarding admissions. In a system with enough good schools, parents should be thinking more about their child’s first steps in education rather than panic about whether their child would actually get there or not. A point-based lottery might not be a bad idea in a shortage but this exercise tests the limits of the twin principles of admissions: equity and suitability.

In India, regulators treat private schools as supplemental to the main system of government schools even if they perform better or are more in demand. The Right to Education law says that 25% of private sector seats should be kept aside for children coming from the economically weaker sections to allow them the privileges of a superior education. This in itself is an acknowledgement of private schools’ contribution to education.

The positive contribution of these schools is not recognised by taking away their right to choose students. Such a system is even disrespectful of the rights of parents to choose a school for their child because it ends up creating a system that restricts their ability to apply to all schools.

The law restricts the catchment area of schools to eight kilometres. This does not work in a city that has excellent schools concentrated in a small area and a population spread over a very wide sprawl. If a parent wants to send her child to a school far away which offers the kind of education that suits them, why should they not be free to exercise that option? Why should a child be forced to attend a school that has a strong art faculty when her interest and talent is in sports just because it happens to be local?

In a system with a fair distribution of schools, or no buses, the distance criteria might make sense. Delhi has a fantastic network of school buses and that could enable children access the education of choice. Let parents decide whether the commute is too much when choosing schools. We don’t need the government to set these rules for us. Such divide could also increase realty prices near good school clusters.

As long as there is a scarcity of good-quality schooling, these formulae are merely an exercise in shuffling the deck-chairs. One replaces one set of children with another: the number of children left out remains the same.

In the interests of equity, it does not matter whether these children are rich or poor – denying a child good education will harm her anyway. The schools already had a set of guidelines on fair admissions that they were administering. If there was a problem with the implementation then those instances should have been called to account. The removal of autonomy seems hardly fair. Nor is it conducive to a constructive working relationship with the schools that nurture the next generation.

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SC refuses to stay order on Delhi nursery admissions

Nursery admissions

The Hindu

31-01-2014

The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the interim order on nursery admission process in the national capital but asked the Delhi High Court to expeditiously hear the pleas against the guidelines by advancing the scheduled hearing.

A bench headed by Justice H.L. Dattu said since the order of the high court was in the nature of an interim order, it was not interfering with it and asked the high court to hear the issues raised as expeditiously as possible in the interest of the schools and welfare of the children.

The apex court gave liberty to the petitioners, Action Committee of Unaided Recognised Private Schools, Forum for Promotion of Quality Education for All and some parents to make an application before the single judge of the high court for advancing the March 11 hearing.

“Since the interim order is in the nature of refusal to grant interim relief, we also do not intend to interfere with that order. Therefore, we reject the Special Leave Petition.

“We request the single judge of the high court to consider and make all endeavour as expeditiously as possible the hear the petitions in the interest of the schools and welfare of the children,” the bench also comprising S.A. Bobde said.

While giving liberty to the aggrieved parties to make an application before the single judge for advancement of March 11 hearing, the bench said “If such application is made, the single judge is requested to consider the plea and expedite the hearing.”

Disposing the appeals against the high court’s order, the bench made it clear that it is not expressing any opinion on the merits of the matter.

The apex court agreed with the pleas of Action Committee of Unaided Recognised Private Schools and Forum for Promotion of Quality Education for All, raising objections to a paragraph in the division bench’s verdict and expunged those lines from the judgement.

The division bench of the high court has confirmed the order passed by the single judge which had refused to stay the December 18, 2013 guidelines of the Lieutenant Governor (LG).

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Delhi: HC rejects plea of schools on nursery admission guidelines

Nursery admissions

Hindustan Times

20-01-2014

In a setback to unaided private schools, the Delhi high court today dismissed their plea seeking a stay on city government’s nursery admission guidelines that included scrapping of 20 per cent management quota.

“We feel that the appellants (Action Committee Unaided Recognised Private Schools and Forum for promotion of quality education for all) have not shown any immediate injury due to the guidelines,” a bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw said.

While paving the way for resumption of admission process in nursery classes as per the Directorate of Education (DoE) guidelines, the bench cautioned the media against running unverified reports pertaining to its judgement on the issue.

“There was no delay in passing of the judgement,” the bench remarked.

The court also made it clear that its observations have no bearing on the final outcome of the petition pending before a single judge bench.

“So far as the larger issue of autonomy and the applicability of the government’s guidelines on the unaided private schools are concerned, they will be decided by the single judge bench without being influenced by our observations in this judgement,” it said.

The private school bodies had moved the larger bench of the HC against the order of its single judge who had refused to grant them interim relief or stay the notification.

The plea was filed challenging the nursery admission guidelines issued by the Lieutenant Governor (LG) by which various steps including weightage to neighbourhood kids and abolition of 20% management quota were taken.

It had sought setting aside of the 2014-15 guidelines on the ground that the LG office lacked the power to frame them.

It had claimed the guidelines were against the principle of autonomy and the recognised unaided private schools were given the power by the Central government to formulate their own admission criteria for 75% seats.

Central government, the Directorate of Education (DoE) and the office of LG were made party in the plea.

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Delhi nursery admissions: New rules leave private schools fuming

Nursery admissions

First Post

23-12-2013

New Delhi: It’s admission season for Delhi’s nursery schools and the new guidelines by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi Najeeb Jung have left the private schools fuming. Under the new guidelines, the 20 percent management quota has been scrapped and the admission criteria has been made uniform across all schools.

One of the key points that the private schools are upset about is the 70 percent weightage that will be given to the neighbourhood factor while selecting students. Neighbourhood has been defined as areas within a 6 kilometre radius of a school.  The 6-km radius issue has raised concerns given that not all parts of Delhi have good schools spread across. Areas such as Chhattarpur, Sarita Vihar, Okhla, Sainik Farms, West Delhi, Model Town, etc have limited schools.

Representational image. Agencies.

Representational image. Agencies.

While schools are up in arms against the guidelines, not everyone feels that it is a bad deal for the parents. With the management quota gone and an emphasis on neighbourhood principle, many feel that this is a step in the right direction.

Kusum Sachdeva, mother of  a three-year-old boy who is applying for admissions this year is happy with the guidelines. She says, “I am quite happy with this six-kilometre radius rule. I have a number of schools to choose from in West Delhi. I will apply in around 12 to 14 schools and even in some schools beyond 6 the kilometre radius, although the chances out there are less.”

She also happy that the management quota is gone. “Schools are upset because it has been removed, but for us this means 15 percent more seats. I am hopeful of getting my son admitted into a school of my choice thanks to the guidelines,” she says.

According to Sumit Vohra, who runs the portal admissionnursery.com, parents are pleased with the overall guidelines. He tells us, “According to the earlier guidelines, schools would have random point systems, some would give marks based on whether you drank alcohol, ate non-vegetarian food or not. Now with this system no school can set up random rules for admission. Also with the removal of the management quota, there will be 20 percent more seats available for general students. Schools can’t just demand donations anymore now.”

But he too concedes that the six-kilometre rule is likely to leave many unhappy and says, “Sure the system could have been better. Parents in far-flung areas are definitely not happy with this six-km rule. Perhaps a 10-km rule would have been better but even then problems would have existed.”

Vohra feels that guidelines also uphold the spirit of the RTE act and says,  “They are at par with RTE. Before this the schools were discriminating against parents, students. Now with a uniform system they can’t do the same.”

Ambrish Rai, who is the convenor for the RTE forum, says the decision to get rid of the management quota is an excellent one. He points out, “We have been demanding it for some time and it’s good that the government has removed it. We had seen that in nursery admissions, there were a lot of malpractices when it came to the management quota. The schools would fix their own people in the process.”

Rai also approves of the neighbourhood principle saying that, “This is a good rule. Earlier parents who were living close by would be denied admission rights due to management quota, donation system, etc. Now the schools can’t do the same. Schools are given cheaper land, etc. At least people in the neighbourhood should get access to them.”

Ashok Agarwal, lawyer and RTE activist, too points out that the management quota was nothing but a tool ready to be misused by the schools. He says, “Management quota was giving total discretion to schools and their governing bodies. It was depriving children of a much-needed seat. All these seats were sold out.”

As far as the guidelines of the six km radius are concerned, he says it needs to be viewed from the perspective of children as well and not just parents or schools. He says,  “All across the world, neighbourhood is the universal criteria for sending children to school. Under RTE, the guidelines says that primary school has to be within one kilometre radius, and in fact here in the Delhi government has extended it to six kilometre. The guidelines are based according to needs of the children and not parents or schools. At times parents may want to send their child to a school 50 km away, but that’s not fair to the child.”

 

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Spare yourself the nightmare

Access to education, Nursery admissions

A trend of the times is the enormous confidence that families have in the educational system. The tragedy is that the confidence is frequently misplaced. The apparent success of a few in landing lucrative posts in IT, engineering or management seems to have triggered a veritable tsunami to the portals of privately-run English medium schools. This is a country-wide phenomenon.

Just a few minutes ago, there was a high-pitched discussion on an English news channel of Indian sailors being kidnapped by Somali pirates. The wife of one of the Indian captives, a school teacher, broke down, saying that she badly needed Rs. one lakh for her only son to attend an English-medium school. That was the main reason her husband had become a sailor. She kept shouting “English medium school” through sobs and tears. This made her personal situation all the more tragic.

Every reputed school in every city or metropolis is automatically an SEZ (Special Educational Zone)! One needs a visa to get in, but there is no information on what constitutes a visa or where it might be available. People who have spent their lazy summers on Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie may be able to use their inferential skills to figure it out. Alas, the clues are few and far between. Some parents assume that a substantial bank balance will tilt the decision in their favour, but it is like playing poker. All the players hold their cards close to the chest, until it becomes necessary for the deal to close. In a split second, it is done! The parents go back to organise a correspondence course in the area of management (of school admissions) and the child gets a smart new uniform and a backpack full of books. That is the happy ending for a minority of parents. The rest keep battling away, going down their list of schools in the city, while alternating between hope and hopelessness.

Typical example

This is only one example and not to be over-generalised. There are other criteria, of course, for admission, like having parents or siblings as former students, being children of a teacher in the school, or having a recommendation from a Board member. While a few schools are quite transparent in their admission criteria, others prefer obfuscation or pretended ignorance. Power comes from the withholding of information, as we all know.

Then, there are the high tension admission tests. A survey found that these can start for children as young as two! The toddler is coached in the names of colours, shapes, numbers and rhymes until the whole family breathes in nursery rhymes, cracking their breakfast eggs with Humpty Dumpty and eating their lunch-time yoghurt with little Miss Muffet! The momentum builds up as the D-day nears and, if the child does not get admitted, he is scolded for being so stupid as to be rejected! The family goes into mourning. Selection, whatever the criterion, is not the opposite of rejection. But try explaining that bit of logic to the parents. Our research also shows that there are coaching classes for admission to the Pre-Nursery Section. The upper age limit is 27 months. Interested parties may ring up 0 999 999 999 for further details.

It is because of the trauma for the child in these school admission tests that the Right to Education (RTE) comes down so heavily on them, especially for the mandatory 25 per cent of children from the neighbourhood poor to be admitted into the first class in the private school. Test taking, like other skills, improves with practice. One could come upon a four-year-old veteran explaining how she prepares for the entrance tests! For children from deprived families, the unfamiliarity with the procedure and the lack of clarity in the instructions will be barriers to entry. Reputed schools are coping with the mandatory requirement, while worrying about loss of revenue on the one hand and the effective classroom management of different levels of school readiness, on the other.

Working alternatives

The educated classes seem largely unaware that the Municipal and Government schools in the State of Tamil Nadu have made a paradigm shift in their pedagogy, with Activity Based Learning (ABL) at the Primary level and Active Learning Methodology (ALM) at the Middle School level. In India, the ABL methods were first used by David Horsburgh at Neel Bagh and further developed by the renowned Rishi Valley School. The ALM was the product of the initiative of The School (KFI) in Chennai, combined with the energy of the enthusiastic teachers and Block Resource Trainers under the aegis of the SSA. The reason for introducing this theme here is to suggest to the private schools coping with diversity of abilities and interests in school entrants, that there is an ongoing working model for them to emulate. Recent evaluations of the performance of children in the Tamil Nadu Schools, by the Planning Commission and the NCERT have been very positive and have reinforced the initiatives. Some features of the new system include the introduction of dozens of picture books and story books, accessible to all children in their own classrooms, a TV screen, DVDs on Spoken English and a bilingual dictionary in every school, as well as a Mobile Science Lab going to the schools by turn. The obvious success and enjoyment of children in these schools is bound to cause a reverse migration from the small profit making schools, in the next decade.

Schools take years to build a reputation and the clamour for admission to them is evidence of the aspiration of the many to crack the code and enter their gates. The parental dream is largely for the future prosperity of their offspring, with a wish that the process would be less of a nightmare.

Siddharta says, in Herman Hesse’s classic, that learning how to wait helps the most. I end on this philosophic note.

The writer is a consultant in child development based in Chennai.

The Hindu, March 13, 2011

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Out before they are in

Access to education, Nursery admissions

On your marks, get set…” Even before the academic race begins, many Indian children are on the back foot. From jostling for entry into ‘premium’ playschools to coaching classes for toddler interviews to finding the right ‘contacts’, parents run from pillar to post to admit their child into a ‘ good’ school. Following a High Court directive in 2007, schools in Delhi have done away with gruelling admission interviews and instead rely on a points system based on residential proximity, siblings in school, parent’s alumni status, education and achievement, with leeway for schools to include their own criteria. Even though Delhi has banned unnerving interviews, the admissions process is still harrowing because the root causes of this skewed demand and supply have not been tackled. The dearth of high quality schools continues to confront the capital with parents queuing up in the wee hours to get admission forms from dozens of schools. Demand for the best schools continues to skyrocket; applications received by these institutions are around 10 times the number of available seats. In contrast, a few of the lesser known ones do not even fill their seats.

The fact that our country sports gross inequalities is all too evident in the domain of education. Ironically, education, which is one of the best equalisers, serves to perpetuate stark socioeconomic differences that plague our nation. Even before a child can compete, she is left behind by a system that favours the privileged few who can make it to the better schools. The consequences of receiving substandard education in the primary classes are indeed damaging and long-lasting as a weak academic foundation leads to a downward spiral. A study in the U.S. examined outcomes on two average eight-year-olds who were given teachers who differ greatly in quality. The child with an excellent teacher is almost 50 percentile points ahead of the child with the poor teacher after three years.

The Delhi example highlights the fact that there are no quick fixes to tackle this educational conundrum. As Sunil Khilnani says, nothing short of an “educational revolution: revolutionary in methods, scope, speed- above all, in will” will suffice. Only by increasing the number of primary schools, attracting a talented workforce, providing excellent teacher training, improving the infrastructure of existing institutions and upgrading our curricula to meet 21 {+s} {+t} century requirements, can we avoid a farcical school admissions process. According to Tony Wagner, “Teaching all students to think and to be curious is much more than a technical problem for which educators, alone, are accountable.” Thus, the government and civic society must work collaboratively to set up sterling schools. Further, existing schools, both government and private, need qualified, competent and sensitive teachers who are able to engage, extend and empathise with students.

Neglecting the foundation

Recently, the Union Minister of Human Resources announced that India should have Navratna universities on par with the Ivy Leagues. While this may be a laudable aim, we cannot neglect the foundational stones on which these halls of learning must rest. Producing a few students who are internationally competitive does not make our educational system world-class. As Krishna Kumar, the former Director of NCERT, writes, “No country can hope to build an industrial human resource by merely harnessing the cutting edge. It is the excellence of the average person that gives an industrial economy its edge.” Thus, unless and until we provide creative and considerate education for all our children, India will not be able to harness its demographic dividend.

The author is Director, PRAYATNA E-mail: arunasankara@gmail.com

The Hindu, March 13, 2011

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State seeks to regulate pre-primary education

Nursery admissions

If all goes according to plan, the state government will soon be able to put an end to the “unaccountable practices” of school managements for  admission to pre-primary classes. This means that there will be checks on collection of capitation fee, which is described as voluntary donations by parents, and screening of children.

And this will be possible because of the Right To Education Act (RTE), which was launched on April 1, 2010.

The Act has mentioned banning capitation fees and also advised the state government to regulate the fees for pre-primary class by 2013. The RTE Act makes it mandatory for state governments to make changes in their systems and implement the rules within three years.

Currently, the state school education department does not have a say over the pre-primary school activities.

“Considering all these issues, and also that pre-primary class does not fall within our jurisdiction, we have decided to look into how we can bring it under the school education department,” said state school education minister Rajendra Darda. “Right now, it comes under the Human Resources ministry, which is not there at state-levels. So, there is no accountability as such.”

This is not the first time that the state government is trying to bring in pre-primary schools under its jurisdiction.

The state government, in 1996, had formulated the Maharashtra Pre-School Centres (Regulation of Admission) Act, 1996, which included all the issues, but it was scrapped before being implemented due to pressure from politicians.

Darda’s predecessor Balasaheb Thorat had initiated the process and sought the legal department’s opinion on the issue.
Thorat had also asked the Maharashtra State Council of Education, Research and Training to initiate discussions with stakeholders and formulate guidelines for pre-primary schools’ inclusion.

Hindustan Times, February 27, 2011

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Parents left in the lurch

Nursery admissions

Rahul Kapoor, a chartered accountant by profession, had applied to 11 schools for his son’s nursery admission but could not make it to even one school. The reason being all too familiar: “We missed out on the alumni and sibling points,” he said. Kapoor is one of the many parents in the city whose child could not secure a nursery admission in any of the rather too many schools they had applied to. And most of these parents have little or no hope from the second list. “There is no point in waiting for the second list as even the waiting list has candidates with alumni and sibling points,” Kapoor said.

This year, admission guidelines issued by the Directorate of Education were framed under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, which made it mandatory for schools to reserve 25% of seats for children from economically weaker sections. This has resulted in a sharp drop in the number of general seats. The schools this time have followed the 100-point system and allocated points under categories like neighbourhood, alumni and siblings etc.

Though previous years have seen withdrawals by several candidates in the first list, chances of it recurring this year seem low. “With professional qualification being scrapped as a criteria, there are no variables in points this year. And why will those who have made it to schools through sibling and alumni category withdraw?” asked Rajan Arora, founder of schooladmissions.in, a nursery admission-related website. Professional qualification of parents, a category till the last year, was scrapped under the RTE Act as it was deemed discriminatory.

Faced with such a situation, some parents are now planning to let their child continue in play schools while others are even contemplating relocating to a different city. “Since I am from Daryaganj, I had applied to even some not so well-known schools, thinking I will make it through the neighbourhood criteria, but I was wrong,” said Ravi Jain, who had applied to 17 schools for his son. “Now I have no choice but to let my child continue in the play school and try for admission again next year,” he added.

But Soma Mitra, whose daughter too did not make it to any of the schools, is worried about waiting till the next year. Her daughter had made it to the first list of two schools but lost out in the lottery as she was tied at the same points with other candidates. “Next year, she will be 4+ and most schools here give preference to children who have attained three years. So along with all these criteria, even age can be an issue. I am not sure about KG admissions either since there are very few vacancies,” said the worried mother.

And Kapoor, like many others, is now contemplating leaving the city altogether. “What is the point of doing well professionally if my son cannot make it to any school here? We are considering relocating to another city,” he says.

Hindustan Times, February 7, 2011

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Officials delay nursery admissions info, fined

Nursery admissions

The Central Information Commission (CIC) recently fined two PIOs of the Directorate of Education (DoE) for delay in providing information under Right to Education Act 2005 about nursery admission. Not only that, the CIC also said that the education minister’s assurances about monitoring the same and punishing violators have not fructified.

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Nursery admissions

This is the season of angst in Delhi for parents who begin the arduous process of applying for primary school admissions this month. The competition for the miniscule number of seats is so stiff, and for parents the anxiety so overwhelming, that I’m surprised a TV network hasn’t come up with a reality show on it yet. It’s bound to generate fantastic TRPs considering the ready audience of frustrated parents. Simply, the slots available at nursery level have not kept pace with our numbers, giving schools across India too much power. The Delhi government may prohibit profiling of children on the basis of their parents professions and education, but schools pretty much choose who they please. Have you ever heard of a politician or a senior bureaucrat’s kid not making it to the right school?

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