New Delhi: Anger is simmering among residents of a slum in East Delhi over how private schools are running roughshod over parents seeking admissions for their children under the 25 percent reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS), as laid down by the Right to Education Act.
Many parents from EWS are agitated by the government’s hands-off approach in reining in private schools that are openly flouting norms, and at having to suffer insults and taunts by staff of some private schools.
The Delhi High Court’s ruling last week (31 January) applying the neighbourhood criteria to students from EWS seems to have added to their feeling of helplessness.
Coming ten days after the last date for submission of applications, the Delhi HC order ruled that admission criteria for EWS students (like for general category) will be on the basis of distance — seats will be first offered to eligible students residing within 1 km of the specific school.
Given that private schools tend to be concentrated in urban spaces that are less likely to fall within 1 km radius of poorer neighbourhoods, many parents from EWS are finding out that private schools closest to them are more than a kilometre away and that the effort and money spent in applying to those schools might now come to naught.
For example, families at East Delhi’s Kalyanpuri slum, which is at 2-3 km distance from most of the private schools in the neighbourhood, are faced with a situation where only one school is within the one kilometre distance. And the odds don’t look good. The school has 37 seats for EWS and is estimated to have received 2000-odd applications.
“Schools are now saying that only children who live within 1 km radius will get admission. Why didn’t they tell us this when forms where being distributed or when we submitted the forms? Why did we run pillar and post trying to get all documents ready. Are our children too condemned to live the life we are living?” said Suneeta, who lives in the Kalyanpuri slum. She has applied to schools for nursery admission of her daughter Urmila.
Suneeta’s two sons go to a government school. “They have been studying there for two years. And even now they can barely read their own writing.”
Babli, mother of a four-year-old Uma, also a resident of the slum is waiting to hear from the only school on whose list her daughter’s name has figured.
The school, one of the leading private schools in East Delhi, has now put a notice communicating the High Court order. Babli is no longer sure if her daughter’s name is on the list or has been struck off. “Our hopes have been dashed,” says Babli. (After the list of eligible candidates is put up, a lucky draw is conducted to select the 25 percent students from EWS.)
Disappointed and indignant, parents are blaming the government for the unexpected situation they find themselves in.
“Are we to go on hunger strike to get our rights?” asked one of the mothers.
For many, the experience of dealing with some private schools has been humiliating. “Whenever I go for my grandchild’s admission, I am turned away. Some of the schools throw the form in my face, others don’t even let me inside their gates. The school madams refuse to talk to us even,” said an anguished Kamlesh, resident of neighbourhood called Trilokpuri in East Delhi. “They tell us to get out. Is this the way to talk?”
With the government choosing to look other way, there seems to be no respite for parents from the high-handedness of some private schools who remain defiant even in the face of the law.
Balram, a field worker with Joint Operation for Self-Help (JOSH) - an NGO that is assisting parents from EWS with the admission process in East Delhi, says the experience of parents dealing with government officials has been no better than it has been with private school managements.
“The Directorate of Education had passed an order that parents whose forms had been refused by private schools could deposit them at their district deputy director’s office. But parents felt even more harassed there with officials coming up with all kinds of excuses for not accepting the forms. At the DD’s office a new condition was introduced that only two application forms per child will be accepted. Parents were left with no choice but to lose out on applying to more schools,” said Balram.
It is an anxious and uncertain time for parents as they wait for schools to finalise their lists. February 29 has been set by the DoE as the last date for a second list (if any) to be announced and 31 March for closure of admission process.