After submitting the nursery admission form in the 15th school this year for her four-year-old son Vivin, Sushila sits agitated in her one-room house that has five occupants, including her two daughters, son and her husband. “This is the second time we are trying to get him admitted to a good school, and we can only hope against hope,” says the 36-year-old, last year’s disappointment writ large over her face. The last fortnight has been hectic for Sushila, who would wake up at 5 am, cook and clean for the family, pack her children to school, and then set off to different schools in the area. The last date for submission of forms was February 5.
Sushila and Latesh, 38, who drives a school van in Shalimar Bagh area of Delhi, belong to the category the government qualifies as economically weaker section (EWS). “My daughters study at a local government school. Since one is in Class VI and the other in Class VIII, I can’t shift them to a private school as they do not have EWS seats for older children. How can we pay such high fees?” she asks. Latesh’s van, an old vehicle, breaks down at least twice every month. “After paying for the repairs, fuel etc, there is little left with us,” says Sushila.
EWS seats are a window of hope for parents who cannot afford educating their wards in private schools. Any person or family earning less than Rs 1 lakh per annum and living in Delhi for three years is eligible.
“When the EWS category for school admissions was announced, we were hopeful since the tuition fees is waived off under this category. But we came face to face with reality last year. It’s only the lucky few who get it,” says Latesh, adding that there are too few seats under this category. Vivin made it to just one school in July last year, but by then he had missed the April session. His parents hope to shift him to a better school this year. Some of the private schools in the area are Modern Public School, Darbari Lal DAV Model School and Jaspal Public School.
The local Aam Aadmi Party office is abuzz with volunteers who have been working with parents from the EWS category, resolving their queries and helping them. To apply in the EWS category, the documents required include income, address and identity proofs.
The helpline number launched by the Directorate of Education for nursery admissions was of little help to Sushila. After the person at the counter of one of the schools refused to give Latesh a form, he had called up the helpline number. “I called on January 22. Though they assured me that they would get back within three working days, I did not hear from them,” he says.
What he got instead was an acknowledgment SMS. A second SMS he received had a mobile number, which turned out to be wrong. A third SMS asked him to check the status of the complaint on the Directorate of Education website. The Sunday Express found the complaint was recorded as resolved. But it wasn’t really of much help to the couple. “We don’t understand English enough to follow an SMS or check on the website. We had been waiting for a phone call. But if we kept waiting for it, the last date for submission of forms would be over,” says Latesh, when asked why he hadn’t followed up on the information sent through SMS.
Latesh and Sushila admit they find the admission process unfriendly. “There is no verification of people posing as poor. I have seen people parking their cars at a distance, and walking up to stand in EWS queues,” claims Latesh. He also questions the weightage given to children living in the neighbourhood. “Schools give preference to EWS candidates who live within 3 km radius; for the general category, the limit is 6 km. Which jhuggi jhopri falls within 3 km of a school?” he asks.
In the same locality, Moni applied this year for the first time, for her three-year-old son Ayushman. Her husband, Arvind Kumar Singh, did electrical engineering from Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, but could never get a well-paying job. He does odd jobs at construction sites.
“My father was a professor in Gaya’s Magadh University and my father-in-law a government officer. It’s just that fate is not on our side,” she says, sitting on a double bed, their only possession besides an old TV and a few bags and shoe boxes. Volunteers from the AAP have been a big support, she says. “Vishal bhaiyya (an AAP volunteer) helped me get documents attested,” Moni says.
For Sushila, getting her certificates attested last year was no mean task. “None of the officers would attest our documents without a bribe or without making us go to them several times,” she says. An acquaintance then led her to a helpful gazetted officer.
It’s a painful wait now, say Sushila and Moni. “We are willing to do the running around. It’s the admission lists that are causing sleepless nights,” says Sushila. The first list for EWS comes out on February 28.
On Friday, the first question to the AAP was related to its “anti-national activities”.