The seemingly endless ordeal of getting a nursery school seat is giving harassed parents in the national capital a ringside view of how private schools have turned into money-spinning machines.
One only needs to mention the words ‘nursery admission’ to a parent, and they open up the floodgates of stories of disappointment and exploitation. Having fallen through a lopsided government-approved points-system, many parents are being forced to opt for management seats that cost Rs 1 lakh and more.
Parents are at their wits' end, having drawn a blank after spending long hours standing in queues of more schools than they can remember, hoping for admission for their three-year-olds.
Hirendra Kumar, an assistant manager at a Gurgoan-based software company, and his wife Tanushri Kaul, a research scientist at the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, have gone through the grind of applying to 20 schools for a seat for their three-and-a-half year old daughter, Ananya, and are still without a seat. Their experience provides a glimpse of how an unjust and exploitative system has parents up against the wall.
“There is only one way to get into a good school now. And that is the 10 percent management quota, which is supposed to be allotted fairly and to deserving candidates. But in reality, it is nothing but a money-making opportunity. I've been told (with reference to a leading private school in New Delhi) that if I give Rs 5 lakh, I can get my child in," says Tanushri.
And paying Rs 5 lakh, says Hirendra, is not an option for them unless they take a loan. "I am trying to get a personal loan and so is my wife. We are already paying for a home loan. For people like us, it is extremely difficult to survive under such circumstances."
"On one hand, we support Anna Hazare," says Tanushri. "On the other hand, we have to give money to get a seat for our child. I am having to go against my own values,” says a distraught Tanushri.
Making another shocking revelation about how some private schools were offering seats, Tanushri says, “Although we come under the general category, there are people who are telling us that they can get seats organised in the EWS (economically weaker section) category. The charge for that: Rs 3 lakh. Even school teachers are aware of this. It is just that such things are not publicly announced because of the fear of sting operations.”
While the Delhi government continues to play the role of a mute spectator, all kinds of illegalities are being committed with impunity by schools. The demand and desperation of parents is such that the schools are making a killing this admission season.
And how. The flouting of directorate of education guidelines begins with the sale of application forms itself, forcing parents to buy the school prospectus when they are allowed to only charge (Rs 25) for application forms. The price of prospectus in some schools is as high as Rs 400.
Tanushri and her husband have already spent Rs 5,000-odd just on the application process so far. And that is just one of many costs. Since admission process started on 2 January, Tanushri has had to take eight days leave from work and Hirendra three. “And what about the emotional stress caused by the uncertainty?” asks Hirendra.
The couple, residents of a South Delhi neighbourhood, began their research on schools almost three months ago. Never in their wildest dreams did they imagine that they would find themselves in the situation they are in today.
They criticised the point-system, which they said, was unfairly loaded in favour of siblings, alumni and transfer cases. “Don’t first-born children have a right to study? And I fail to understand the validity of the ‘alumni’ category." When schools award such high points to transfer cases, where does that leave residents of Delhi. We have lived in Delhi for 35 years. Where are we to go?”
Fed up with the point-system in Delhi, the couple have started exploring options in the NCR (National Capital Region) — Gurgaon and Noida for schools. “I found a school in Gurgaon which was child-friendly. Unlike in Delhi, schools in NCR don’t follow the point-system.”
The distance, however, is an issue. The schools is 13.5 km away. And the fee is not easy on the pocket either. “They are charging an admission fee of Rs 50, 000 and Rs 20,000 every quarter. At least, it is better than paying Rs 5 lakh,” says Hirendra.
The couple are even considering not admitting her in any school and keeping her in the playschool she is currently going to. This means they will have to try their luck next year in KG. The option is not without risks. Higher the class, fewer the seats.
Also are also moving house next year to increase their daughter’s chances of getting a seat. “Next year, I can try for Carmel. I am an alumni there. But I will lose out on the distance criteria. We will have to shift our residence so we are within 5 km of the school.”
And all this to get into pre-school. Getting into the IIMs, say some parents, is easier.
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Sailing in the same boat as Tanushri and Hirendra, are Mathivanan and his wife, who have applied in 20 schools for admission for their three-and-half year old son Tarun Aditya and are still without a seat.
Mathivanan is a senior executive assistant at the Lok Sabha Secretariat and his wife a staff nurse at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). “I am under a lot of pressure now. I’m not confident if my son will make it to the second list. So I am forced to go in for a management seat, which will cost me over a Rs 1 lakh.
“It seems to me that the private schools are not keen on filling up seats under the general quota and want carry them over to the management quota. It has become a market.”
Given the massive demand, even a management seat is not guaranteed. For example, Manish Bhardwaj and his wife Vandana, who’ve applied to 15 schools without luck, are now desperately trying to get a seat under the management quota for their daughter.
Says Manish, “I’ve contacted the principal of school where my first daughter studies and asked him about the management quota. He said I should speak to the management committee members. But I don’t know any of the members personally, how do I approach them? I am ready to the pay the money, but I don’t know who I should pay it to.”
Mathivanan has a suggestion that could save parents from the ad hoc policies of the schools. In the interest of parents, he says, the admission process should be centralised.
“The process should not be left to the schools. In Tamil Nadu, for instance, for professional courses the admission process, for private colleges included, is centralised. Even the management quota is allotted by the government.”
Is the government listening? Probably not.