This is the first of a five part series that aims to understand the process of nursery admissions in Delhi and annual struggles associated with it.

The ongoing process of nursery admissions in Delhi has developed a knack for being in news this time of the year. Interestingly enough, the same set of words are used to describe it periodically, and every year new schools of debates are born, adding to the prevailing confusion. With AAP being at the helm of affairs this year, one thing is abundantly clear that various stakeholders; including parents, schools, teachers and most essentially children are under severe distress. Consequently it becomes essential to view these myriad arguments from different perspectives. For it is likely that, the rules and laws may be implemented keeping in mind the interests of all, certain stakeholders may be at a better advantage than others.

To begin with, the entire mechanism is often reported as ambiguous, unclear and tedious. There is inconsistent dissemination of information regarding dates of release and submission of forms, online availability of forms, etc. For most parents, in addition to lack of complete information, the monetary costs involved are also a concern. As elucidated by a newspaper report in 2012, most of the over 3000 schools in Delhi provide their prospectus in the range of Rs. 500 to Rs. 1000. Not wanting to limit their options, parents, on an average are likely to apply to anywhere between 20 to 30 schools, thereby spending nearly Rs. 20,000 on applications alone, a sum that is high enough to be a part of tuition fee at some schools.

In addition to the requirement of financial resources, the process might require parents to physically traverse the length and breadth of the city on any given day repeatedly, making the process cumbersome. Although management of the schools in providing the forms, and ensuring a smooth acceptance process is often criticized, a few also follow a systematic and clear approach, as is evident in the testimonies of several parents on various admission platforms and portals. Most of the times, the biggest and the most fundamental confusion regarding nursery admissions seems to be whether the school has opted for online or physical processes of admission. The former is prone to technical glitches whereas the latter is physically exhausting.

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There have been multiple instances of parents reaching a school to fill the forms, only to be told that the process has been completely digitized. A parent of Gurgaon who went through the process last year, wishing to stay anonymous said, “We applied to several schools, but the oddest process was wherein only the first 500 applications received online would be considered eligible. The school’s website crashed because of the traffic and that led to further anxiety. In contrast, another school required us to collect and submit the form physically.” The issue of arbitrary processes has been under spotlight this year as well, since the nursery admissions under the EWS category have been centralized online, which is marred by flawed mapping of localities and technical glitches. Most of all, the rationale behind such a change is being questioned, since the people who will be applying under the same are likely to not have an internet-enabled computer. As a result, they are spending Rs. 50 to 200 per hour to use the services of cyber cafes, only to be interrupted by incorrect locality, missing schools and technical bottlenecks like mandatory phone numbers, caste certificates issued only by the Delhi government being acceptable etc.

While these technical and logistical problems are only the tip of the iceberg, the much-talked about ‘discriminatory’ admission criteria have been in the limelight for over a decade now. The previous interview-based process was removed in 2007 to give way to the points-based system to remove discrimination and arbitrariness, but has failed to do so.  It would be natural to assume that the over 3000 schools must be enough to cater to all the children in the city, then why do parents feel the need to apply to so many schools? Mrs. Prerna Mehta, a resident of Greater Kailash, who got her daughter admitted last year says “The imbalance between the availability of seats in schools and the enormous population of the city is a possible reason for parents to apply to so many schools. I was very apprehensive about my daughter’s admission and I feared losing out on a chance to get my daughter into a prestigious school which enables a holistic development with a well-qualified faculty, with diverse experience.”

Mrs. Smiti Ramjiyani, coordinator and supervisor for secondary classes at Birla Vidya Niketan confirming the same says, “Bearing in mind the compulsive attempts of every parent to get their ward in a handful of ‘good’ school, it is evident that the schools lack in space as well as financial and human resources. If all those who apply are admitted, we would be doing great injustice to the students. It would not only put pressure on the school’s infrastructure but also imbalance the teacher-student ratio. A skewed teacher-student ratio in turn would mean lack of personal attention to the students who need greater care at such a tender age.” Indeed, the numbers are not very encouraging, as is evident from the statistics listed in the Economic Survey of Delhi 2014-15, carried out by the Delhi Government. Their report clarifies that the number of students enrolled in pre-primary and primary classes are 18.35 lakhs, while the no. of teachers employed therein is 28,166.

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The skewed student-teacher ration in schools can be attributed as one of the core issues in the debate.

The more pertinent question then becomes, what factors make it necessary for schools to formulate nursery admissions criteria? If both the present process and its predecessors are proving to be difficult and thorny, what is the best way forward? Many parents have opposed the points system completely and prefer draw of lots since it is assumed to eliminate all biases. A survey was conducted in 2011, by an independent web-portal, founded by Sumit Vohra, which caters exclusively to grievances of nursery admissions and aims to provide information to parents. The survey which reached out to over 1,000 parents brought to light that 72% voted for the lottery system. Interestingly enough, a survey conducted by the same site in 2010, about 65% parents had preferred the points system. But many parents who got their children in through the points system favoured lottery system in 2011.

However, a few parents and teachers opine that a combination of the points system awarding points only for distance and siblings, along with a brief interaction with parents and draw of lots could be explored as potential criteria to admit students. Mrs. Pragya, a professor from Delhi University says “The distance and sibling criteria are logical to me from both, a parent’s as well as a teacher’s perspective. Travelling long distances can greatly hamper the learning capacity of a child. Further, if parents have to admit one of their wards in one school and the other in a separate school, it becomes very difficult for them to pick their children up from two different schools in different parts of the city, keeping in mind their time constraints and work demands.”

These seemingly complex and unfriendly processes are founded in the legal and political framework, which is often cited as the underlying cause of such chaos. Even though various lawmakers and government bodies have intervened time and again, but only to solve problems on a macro level, problems haven’t ceased to exist, with almost every stakeholder complaining they are getting the sour end of the deal. Perhaps a thorough revision and revamp of the existing framework, which is flexible yet has a system to check and balance any inconsistencies, will put agitated parents and schools at ease.

Education is often talked about in singular terms, and often confused with concerning only the curriculum at primary, secondary or higher secondary level. However, access to quality pre-primary education promotes inclusive education, reduces poor performance at the higher level, prevents early dropout and promotes positive social interactions among children. Improving the process of nursery admissions by solving the numerous problems that have come to light over the years will ensure a fair chance to every parent to admit their child in a school thereby giving wings to that dream of making Delhi a step closer to be an inclusive city. The current process is undoubtedly considered one of the most confusing and inconveniencing, as it fails to promote fairness and inclusiveness, like it was expected to. hence is often subject to critique, media-bashing and endless complaints from parents and schools alike.

Part 2: Of Nursery Admissions: A Flaw in the Law

Posted by Niharika Bhuwania

Student, Movie-lover, bibliophile, musical being.... all rolled into one!