What set the nursery admission season this year apart from past years was the unprecedented participation of parents in the litigation process. As the admission season drags on, dissatisfaction over the new guidelines remains. While schools blame the ‘government’s tyrannical approach’ for the confusion, the latter blames ‘vested interests for creating hurdles in the way of implementation of a common, fair policy’. SHIKHA SHARMA & Ujala Chowdhry report
It has been a particularly tumultuous time for parents seeking nursery admission for their children this year. A completely new set of rules — and ensuing litigation on its different aspects, first by schools and then by various sets of parents — meant that the admission process saw more chaos and controversy than ever before. As the admission season drags on, dissatisfaction over the new guidelines remain. While schools blame the “government’s tyrannical approach” for the confusion, the government blames “vested interests for creating hurdles for implementation of a common, fair policy”.
“When fresh nursery guidelines were announced in December 2013, everyone appreciated the new guidelines, except the private schools — which was understandable since the guidelines quashed management quota. But then, different sets of aggrieved parents started going to court. While some had genuine concerns, there were also a lot of vested interests. So, the process, engulfed in litigation, kept delaying itself till we reached where we are now,” Padmini Singla, Director, Directorate of Education, said.
According to Singla, “excessive litigation, so close to dates of admission, coupled with anxious parents looking to get their children ‘admitted in the top 50 schools in the city’ compounded the problem”.
This year, Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung made radical changes to nursery admission guidelines, completely taking away schools’ discretionary powers and setting up a uniform point system — one which gave maximum emphasis to neighbourhood, besides allotting points for sibling, alumni and inter-transfer cases.
“Till last year, every school had its own criteria. This year, we formed a common criteria. It was totally new. Anything new takes time to settle with the public. That time was very less, leading to confusion and chaos amongst parents. That said, the guidelines were made with the right intentions and are an improvement over the arbitrary point system schools were subjecting parents to,” she said.
However, the schools disagree — blaming failure on the part of the government to consult all stakeholders for the chaos instead. “The government cannot take major policy decisions on its own. It should have consulted the advisory board, school bodies and academicians before coming out with a decision. These guidelines are against the principle of autonomy, under which unaided private schools have been given the power by the central government to formulate their own admission criteria for 75 per cent of the seats. The government’s thoughtless decisions have brought us to the position we are standing in,” Ameeta Mulla Wattal, Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road, said.
Absence of a stable government also played a role in bringing out “half-baked guidelines”, says Sumit Vohra, founder, Admissionsnursery.com, a portal representing city parents. “Let us not forget that in the absence of a stable government, the L-G was under pressure to come up with a set of new guidelines… Social Jurist had already made a representation to the L-G to fix admission norms, which was followed by a High Court direction,” he said.
The process for nursery admissions has been embroiled in litigation for the last few years. In 2007 and in 2010, lawyer-activist group Social Jurist had challenged the government’s decision to allow schools to allot points, arguing that inclusion of any category beyond neighbourhood and draw of lots went against the spirit of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
In 2013, the Delhi High Court ruled that the RTE Act was not admissible with respect to nursery admissions beyond the 25 per cent EWS seats. The judgment was challenged and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court. The guidelines by the L-G came to force after Social Jurist made a representation to Jung to come up with a new order.
However, what set this admission season apart from the rest was unprecedented participation of parents in the litigation process. Five sets of parents, who had never been to court, took the legal route. “It has never happened before. But, it’s a good sign. The fact that so many parents can organise themselves, knock the doors of court and demand their rights,” lawyer Khagesh Jha of Social Jurist said.
According to lawyer Ashok Agarwal of Social Jurist, “The very fact that parents are not trying to pay their way for a seat and instead knocking the court’s door is a welcome sign.”
“In totality, there are no dearth of seats in city schools. But when everyone is looking to get their children into the ‘so-called best schools’ in the city, it is then we have a problem. And frankly, the problem will continue till the problem of supply and demand is solved,” D R Saini, Principal, DPS, R K Puram, said.
“The most that can be done is to put caps on alumni, sibling and other criteria. Having categories apart from neighbourhood will always be discriminatory and contested against,” Agarwal said.
Tough battle for parents of kids with special needs
The three-and-half-year-old boy wakes up at 7.30 in the morning, attends a therapy centre near his house, comes back at 12.30 and is again sent to various centres for different kinds of therapies. The boy was born with Down syndrome. His parents are facing a tough battle for his nursery admission in Delhi.
Post December 18, 2013, guidelines passed by Lt-Governor Najeeb Jung for admissions to nursery, the silent minority of parents of Children With Special Needs (CWSN) have been running around the national capital for admissions to a decent school, which has proper infrastructure to take care of mentally challenged children. “In this city of 917 schools, only 43 have some infrastructure to accommodate our kids. Out of which, there are only a couple, which are actually willing to take our kids in, rest are just trying to evade us. It doesn’t take a lot of infrastructure to make special arrangements in schools for our kids,” his mother said.
The High Court on February 26 this year passed an order that private schools should work out a separate 3 per cent quota to accommodate these children.
Before the L-G’s guidelines for nursery admissions, the CWSN group had a separate draw of lots for admissions. But now as per the guidelines, there is a 25 per cent reservation in all schools for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) and Disadvantaged Groups (DG); both these sections are subjected to a common draw of lots. “This has significantly reduced the chances of children with mental and physically disabilities to compete for a spot in good schools,” she said.
Paying Rs 30,000 to Rs 40,000 per month on special care, these parents have their own battles to fight everyday. “There is a 70 per cent chance of recovery for our kids if they mingle with normal kids of their age,” another parent, whose four-year-old son suffers from autism, said.
In Old Delhi, they run out of admission options
He lives in the heart of the city. He has applied to 18 schools in and around his area, but hasn’t been able to secure admission for his four-year-old daughter in even one of them. Nursery admissions are a time of difficulty for city parents — more so, for parents in Old Delhi.
This year, the problem seems to have been compounded on account of where they stay. “There are hardly any good schools in this area. Till last year, a parent could apply to as many schools as possible. But the eight-km distance criteria has meant that this year we have limited options,” Asif Iqbal, who stays near Turkman Gate, said.
According to information provided by the Directorate of Education, there are a total of 28 private schools in Central Delhi and 13 in the New Delhi area. Of these, around 10 are minority institutions, free to devise their own rules.
“Not that we have many options every year but this year, thanks to the neighbourhood criteria, the options are even less,” Muhammad Aslam said.
Aslam is struggling to get his daughter enrolled in a good school. “I have applied in schools in Central Delhi and a few in Noida. But, I am not very keen on sending my four-year-old as far as Noida,” he said.
For some like Furqan Khan, an EWS parent, the odds are stacked even higher. “The rules mean that I have to locate a school for my daughter in Old Delhi only. I have applied to seven-eight schools, but haven’t heard from even one,” he said.
Residents say that “proving one is an EWS parent is an ordeal in itself because of the difficulty in getting residential certificates made”. “Most of us don’t have permanent residential proof. Our houses are registered in the names of our ancestors and setting the paperwork right takes time. Schools don’t have that kind of time,” Imran Khan said.
While some like Furqan Khan are contemplating enrolling their children in playschools, others are thinking of “home-schooling their children”. “What option do we have? We can’t even ask the government to build more schools here because the area is too congested to build a proper school,” Khan said. “Galli mohalle ke school mein hee padhana padega bachhon ko (We’ll have to enroll our children in the street schools,” he said.