In a probable indicator of the financial distress faced by parents who have school-going children, the number of admissions in municipal schools has increased in the Covid-19 hotspots of Ahmedabad and Surat. The number of parents who shifted their wards to municipal schools is especially high in the diamond hub of Surat and the walled city area of Ahmedabad.
Nilesh Panseriya, 40, a diam-ond artisan who lives in Mota Varachha, used to earn upto Rs 25,000 a month, before the lockdown imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. His wife who embellishes sarees with sequins wo-uld earn between Rs 5,000-6,000 a month. Now both have no work. The diamond unit where Panseriya worked has not reopened.
Unable to pay the school fees, he shifted his two daughters studying in Gujarati medium from Gajera Vidya Bhavan near their home to school No. 344 run by the Surat Municipal Corpora-tion (SMC) in Class 6 and 7.
“Last year, I paid yearly fees of Rs 45,000 for my both daughters, but we cannot afford it this year,” says Panseriya who sees no possibility of him getting back to work soon with strict Covid-19 guidelines in diamond factories, which have been asked to scale down their workforce and stagger workers.
A commerce graduate, Panseriya says, “We will watch the progress of our children and decide whether to continue them in the municipal school or transfer them back to a private school when the situation turns normal.”
The admission numbers of the Surat Municipal Education Board (SMEB) say that there are many like Panseriya. As many as 12,300 new admissions were recroded with the SMEB, of which 4,300 were of students who were going to private schools till last year. The maximum number is in the diamond hub of Varachha zone at 1,416, SMEB sources said.
Hitesh Patel, another diamond polisher who has been working in Varachha for 15 years, saw his monthly salary go down from Rs 25,000 to Rs 12,000 when the factory reopened. Unable to afford private school education for his two children, he shifted them to a municipal school this year.
Similar trend was seen in Ahmedabad where 387 municipal schools recorded an enrolment of over 17,262 students, as on July 24, while last year it was 16,818 when the admissions close on August 31. This year, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) school board did not conduct any annual enrolment drive.
Surat’s Katargam zone, another diamond hub, saw 969 new admissions, while in Limbayat it was 836, Udhna 439, Rander Zone 316, Central zone 190 and Athwa Zone 132 admissions. SMEB has 320 schools imparting education to 1.63 lakh students in seven mediums — English, Gujarati, Hindi, Urdu, Odiya, Marathi and Telugu.
Surat Municipal Education board chairman Hasmukh Patel said, “In comparison to last year, there is a rise in new admissions this year. The admission process is still on and the last date is July 31. The figure may go up further. People are facing financial crises and hence they prefer municipal schools where education is free of cost… School uniform, shoes and books are also distributed by SMEB. The average expense of Rs 20,000 for a student is borne by the state government and the municipal corporation. Every year we open two to three new schools, so we can manage the high numbers.”
Of the 329 municipal schools, 202 schools are of Gujarati medium with 92,569 students. Marathi medium has 55 schools with 28,143 students, Hindi medium 25 schools with 16,140 students, Urdu medium 28 schools with 16,748 students, Odiya medium 7 schools with 3,343 students, Telugu medium 3 schools with 173 students, and English medium 9 schools with 3,414 students.
In Ahmedabad’s Central zone that covers the walled city area — one of the worst and first areas to be infected by the coronavirus that had the least enrolment of students in 2019, has the highest enrolment in its AMC-run English medium schools, this year. Out of 2,676 students enrolled in its 33 English medium schools, 611 (nearly 22 per cent) are from the central zone in kindergarten classes. The central zone has already crossed 101 per cent enrolment till June 30, barely two weeks into commencement of admissions. Against 1,697 admissions in 2019, as many as 1,735 students have enrolled from the Central zone in Class I, till date.
South zone, another worst affected zones with wards like Behrampura and Danilimda has the highest enrolment of 3,268, this year. Many municipal schools have already achieved more than 100 per cent admissions when compared to the total admission of the year 2019. This when most of the migrant families are yet to return to Ahmedabad.
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