Do schools have the right to choose the talent that they wish to nurture? Can a certain notion of talent or parental education be valid grounds for determining admission at the kindergarten level?
Such questions have come into prominence with the Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry recently issuing a set of guidelines for admission to schools, under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.
The guidelines have asked schools to prohibit screening of children or interviewing their parents and adopt a random selection process.
The admission process for the coming academic year has started in a few CBSE schools in the city and long queues of parents waiting to get an application form have become a common sight. Will the process be “non-discriminatory, rational and transparent”, as the HRD guidelines stipulate?
Stanley Ignatius, Principal of Don Bosco, Egmore, said that the government can only exhort or request, but cannot mandate procedures. “Schools, especially minority institutions, require independence to function. The government cannot interfere in the admission process.”
He added that provisions in the Act, such as the establishment of a School Management Committee and the requirement of a common minimum syllabus, could become a hindrance. “Schools must be left to frame their own rules and regulations. Only schools which fail to fulfil their obligations must be pulled up.”
S. Bhavani Shankar, Senior Principal of Omega International School in Pallavaram, said that the screening process was essential as it helps to determine if a child would require any special help.
“Admitting children with learning disabilities in a regular school which is not equipped to handle their needs would be damaging. If schools can't screen, let a certified agency do some kind of pre-admission screening,” he added.
Some schools in the city such as P.S. Senior and Sivaswami Kalalaya already employ a randomised admission mechanism. “It has been working reasonably well,” said G. Neelakantan, Principal, Sir Sivaswami Kalalaya Senior Secondary School. “In any screening process, an enormous amount of subjectivity is involved. It gives schools a false sense of one-upmanship. They want to see parents fight for a seat,” he added.
Anita Rampal, Head and Dean, Faculty of Education, Delhi University, who was also a member of the committee that evolved the National Curriculum Framework, said, “Schools in our educational system think they have a right to select. But, selecting children at such a young age is detrimental. It is only social advantage that gets selected.”
According to her, education must become an equitable system and stop reproducing societal inequalities. “The right to education must be a ‘fair' right. A mixed-ability, multi-cultural classroom also adds value to the process of learning. Countries such as Finland, Canada and Japan have overhauled their education system in the last decade to allow such diversity and students in such classrooms have been empirically shown to perform much better,” she added.