Twelve-year-old Zaid Mansuri has stopped going to Vishwa Bharti Bal Vidyalaya, a private school near his house. The Class VI student now goes to the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation-run Shahpur Gujarati School number 11.
When his grades showed no improvement after five years in the private school, his father Hasanbhai decided to transfer him to the municipal school in which he had studied almost five decades ago.
“Zaid’s results were poor in Class V, that too in Gujarati medium. The principal told me they had done their best. What is the point in paying Rs 590 a month plus Rs 700 in two instalments every six months?” said Hasanbhai, 60, who runs a small grocery shop in Mirzapur.
Hasanbhai’s sister also got her son shifted from a private school to this municipal school in Class VII.
Contending that municipal schools were better than private ones, Hasanbhai said, “Till Class VII, I was in a municipal school and I never failed. Then I switched to a private school as the municipal school was only till Class VII, and I failed.” He had failed to clear a subject twice in Class XII.
Hasanbhai said that others too had shifted their wards from Class III of Vishwa Bharti Bal Vidyalaya because they could not afford the fees. “Municipal schools are better now. There were no computers and internet then,” he added.
More than 21,000 students have in fact shifted from private schools to the AMC School Board-run municipal schools in the last five years, many because they could not afford the fees or for falling education standards. This shift, board authorities claimed, had picked up after it opened English-medium schools. However, overall enrollment in municipal schools shows a continuous drop in the same period.
AMC School Board Administrative Officer L D Desai attributed the shift — witnessed across schools, zones and gender — to multi-pronged efforts to improve the quality of education at municipal schools and its image among parents. “We have improved school infrastructure from constructing new buildings, renovating old ones, installing computers and smart learning projects. Innumerable meetings were held with parents so that they start believing in our schools again,” said Desai.
Imran Khalifa, another alumnus of a municipal school and a barber shop worker, has shifted his seven-year-old daughter to Danilimda English Municipal School in Class II, which opened in 2014.
“When I was studying in the same municipal school, there was no English medium. But my daughter now studies in English medium. These schools are better now,” said Khalifa, a Class VII dropout.
Others have also cited cases where private schools make it compulsory for children to take tuitions after school hours and go on trips they cannot afford.
“In addition to a monthly fee of Rs 300 for one child, the school forced my ward to take tuition for Rs 200. We took the tuition but it failed to improve results,” said Dilshad Ansari, mother of three who runs a small kitchen in her house in Vatva area. She withdrew two of her children, Saniabano and Mohammad, both in Class VII, from Nandish Primary School, a private school nearby, after six years.
Principal of Nandish Primary School Smitaben Shah refuted the allegations. “I do not know who and how many have left my school based on these complaints,” she said.
Sharing the figures of children who had migrated from private schools to Isanpur Municipal School, its principal Veerabhai Patelia said this trend became more evident since 2014-15. “This year, nearly 50 such students got admission from Class II to VIII, 25 each in our two schools running in morning and afternoon shifts. In the last two years, nearly 40 students each year registered similar admissions,” said Patelia. The school offers only Gujarati medium in both shifts.
Asked if the Gujarat Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act 2017 had helped boost this shift, Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama said, “It is not fee regulation but better infrastructure and quality of education at our municipal schools. The results of an effort in the social sector like education are not instantly evident, but takes years. So our continuous efforts of all these years have started showing positive results.”
AMC-run English-medium schools offering nursery and KG were started in 2013, with the first school coming up in Shahpur. The numbers rose to 4, 5 and 8 in 2016, 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Seven-year-old Nirav Bharwad shifted from Balkrishna Vidyalaya to Saraspur Municipal School number 26 in Class II. Four other children were also transferred from this school to the same municipal school.
“He hardly learned anything in the private school despite the fees of Rs 300-350 a month. We know education at municipal schools is good since my other two sons have completed Class V and VIII from the same municipal school,” said Nirav’s mother Saritaben Bharwad, whose husband works at a printing press.
Anant Upadhyay, spokesperson and a senior teacher at Balkrishna Vidyalaya, a higher secondary grant-in-aid school, said, “We do not have vacancies across classes. I do not know any student from our school who has shifted to municipal schools.”
However, replying to more questions, he cited income of parents as a reason. “Since people with low income live here, at times they fail to afford the fee. This is the only reason they leave,” he said.