There are far many more students than there are seats in 'prominent' schools. The cost of education in private schools is soaring, and admissions criteria remain mostly opaque. The Right to Education Act must deliver in this milieu

Bilingual circulars, outdoor picnics and special classes for the economically weaker section students — these are the steps taken by several schools in New Delhi in keeping with the spirit of the Right to Education Act, which came into force on April 1, 2010, to address the issues of dropouts, out-of-school children, educational quality and teacher training.

After the Supreme Court confirmed the constitutional validity of 25 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections some time ago, private unaided schools in the city are legally bound to reserve seats for poor children. However, there is still much to be done for the Right to Education Act to serve its purpose.

“There is always a way to get around this rule. I have seen parents who have luxury cars, admitting their children under this quota,” says Sumit Vohra of admissionsnursery.com.

Sometimes the schools are complicit and sometimes clueless. The costs and the fear of the “brand” going down because of their accessibility to the poor led some schools to project lesser availability and to resort to other clever tricks.

Demand and supply

For a fairly decent school, the seats available are heavily disproportionate to the number of applications received; yet no school is allowed to limit its application forms.

The fee for a student in the general category is almost 50 times more than the government’s payment of Rs. 1,290 for a weaker section student.

Transparency is almost always maintained in big and famous schools as one wrong move could land them in trouble.

“We go the extra length for these students while meeting the basic criteria such as provision of uniforms and meals; we have special parent meetings, make admission information available in both English and Hindi and organise special tuition for those students who cannot cope [with the workload] because of strenuous circumstances at home,” says Abha Sehgal, principal of Sanskrit School.

The Amity School, Saket, has also such special provisions and claims to try hard to help the weaker section kids “fit in” and feel like regular students.

Activists, however, say mid-level and lesser known schools on the periphery of the city are the most likely to escape detection if this provision is not met.

100-point system

This past January, there was an usual rush for nursery admissions with a litany of complaints, but one stood out: the process based on the “100-point system,” where a school could choose its students based on “sibling and alumni…”

The issue awaits a ruling from the Delhi High Court, where the process has been challenged as a violation of the Act.

The guidelines laid down by the Directorate of Education for the point system says: “Schools are free to identify any category based on policy/principles that are fair, just and reasonable within the ambit of the Act.”

It further says: “The categorisation of applicants can include sibling, transfer case, single parent and alumni.”

Allegations are also rife that though the guidelines prevent the screening of a parent’s economic or educational background to stop discrimination, many schools find ingenious methods for extracting such information.

Capital Scene

A survey of five big private schools in Delhi shows that they charge between Rs. 15,000 and Rs. 48,000 per quarter, often including meals and transport with tuition. They also charge a one time admission/registration fee of between Rs. 25,000 and Rs. 50,000. On an average such schools get 4,000 applications for about 100 seats. Government schools in Central Delhi charge about Rs.1,500 a month and the others about Rs.1,290. Government pays private schools for each student under EWS category.