As soon as Anupama Tewari saw her daughter's holiday homework, she took a deep breath and decided to cancel their summer vacation plans.
"She had to make a magazine in Hindi where everything was written down — not printed, a working model based on a scientific principle that could be displayed in class, a project report on the language, demographic character, food and tourist places of Spain. There is no way a class 4 student can do all of this on her own," she said. It was finally a 'homework aunty' who came to her rescue.
"I outsourced the project on Spain and science to a neighbourhood stationary shop. All other work that she could manage, she did on her own with our help," she added.
Thousands of parents each year follow the same routine and hand over their child's projects to a professional.
"School students come to me in droves during the summer vacations. I know what project to suggest for what class now and am well versed with the science syllabus. The revolving solar system, the respiratory system and basic robots are the most popular," said a homework aunty who used to be a science teacher and works from her home in Indirapuram.
A visit to one such store in Janakpuri revealed that the number of such requests goes up to 1,000 during this time.
The store keeps working models ready and if the demand is not specific, they just hand it over.
While I concentrate more on projects for B Tech students, school students also show up during their summer vacations. We prefer the student to sit with us and understand how a project is made but 80% of them don't. The parents usually don't want them to. In such a situation we take an order and make the project," said Manoj Kumar Magoo, who has been making projects for the past 25 years.
As Magoo says this, a parent comes and asks for a science project for a Class 6 student. This a week before the extended summer vacations are about to get over.
"I have no idea what to make. All I know is that I want a project," he says. This is increasingly the kind of parents that turn up, Magoo says.
"It is not just the schools. Even parents have become so competitive these days that they want a large-scale project even of the school has not asked for it," he adds.
There are times when such projects also win competitions, giving the competitors an unfair edge.
"Students have won a number of competitions using my robots," said a stationary shop owner from Malviya Nagar, on condition of anonymity.
But it is not like schools are blind to this reality.
"We have put a lot of thought into the holiday homework and we try to make sure that it is age appropriate. We also believe in giving the student choices so that he/she and the parents can sit together and discuss it's feasibility," said Anuradha Joshi, principal, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya.
Other schools follow a tough policy towards homework which is outsourced by the parents.
"We let students and the parents know that projects made by professionals are not acceptable. During the exhibition, these projects are kept aside and not allowed to enter competition. We don't take any names but the message is put across," said Ameeta Wattal, principal, Springdales School, Pusa Road.There are other newer and smaller schools where age inappropriate projects are still a norm with no checks.