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Much homework required

The approach of private schools to nursery admission is the least of the problems affecting school education, writes Nandita Sengupta.

india Updated: Feb 09, 2007 00:41 IST

Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) Chairman Ashok Ganguly, in one of his sound bites and barks on nursery admissions, stated that if a larger number of parents from a “better background” sent their children to government schools, these schools would automatically become ‘better’. Not surprisingly, his sage advice has few takers. The majority of the parents angling for ‘admission’ are ordinary middle-class people who are neither elite nor poor. It is this lot that is being accused of being ‘elitist’. Given that Ganguly feels that parents hanker for schools with high board exam percentages, it is a bit of a puzzle why he promotes government schools on that very premise — marks. Government schools actually ‘do’ better than private schools. Without fail, government school results are better every year than that of their private counterparts. So if parents were really chasing schools for their Board results, wouldn’t they queue up outside government schools?

What Ganguly does not point out is that in the national capital, it is the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) that runs most of the nursery and primary sections of government schools. The Board results we see are of the Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas (PVVs) run by the Delhi government, which, alas, tutor only the ‘cream’ of students from all government schools. Elitism? Not at all. This is promoting excellence. So is he suggesting that the Great Indian Modern Couple, the engine of India’s hurtling jalopy, send its children to the neighbourhood MCD school, and then ensure that the child somehow manages (without tutors and coaching) to be ‘selected’ for higher studies in a PVV? Incidentally, the same forum that filed a public interest litigation to make nursery admissions transparent had filed a PIL against MCD schools, citing the abysmal conditions that the schools had.

So, sadly, much as parents would want to avoid the stress of nursery admissions, they are bound to give the approximately 1,800 primary MCD schools a miss, the high standards of MCD notwithstanding.

That leaves us with private schools. There are about 1,500 recognised private schools that have mushroomed all across Delhi. Which is, in itself, fine. Private enterprise has always filled many of Delhi’s infrastructural gaps to deliver the goods and reap the benefits. Yet, most of Delhi’s middle-class parents want to send their children to a handful of 150-200 schools. The Delhi Public School (DPS) chain, the Springdales schools, the Sanskritis, the Vasant Valleys or Shri Rams are at the top of the list. But there are barely 100 such schools in the city. Further, it is impossible for even the ‘no-hype’ schools — such as the convents and those run by the Salwan Trust, the DAVs, the Ramjas schools and many other equally ‘good’ schools — to cope with the demand. Many of these chains run parallel schools for underprivileged children, and not because the government wants them to do so. This is not to say that poor practices don’t exist here. But if any schools meet Delhi’s primary educational demands, these are the ones.

That still leaves us with about 1,000 recognised private schools that are straightforward money-making teaching shops. Operated out of apartments, garages and DDA flats, these are ‘neighbourhood schools’ that have very little to do with education. Rather charmingly, the only thing that attracts students to such schools is the tag on the school board: “Recognised by Delhi Govt/ CBSE”. Or just ‘Affiliated to CBSE’. And there lies the rub. Ganguly’s CBSE has to be far more critical of the process through which schools are being granted affiliation and recognition. Exams are — and he is right here — not the parameter to grant a person a licence to run a school.

Even the nearly 10,000 unrecognised unauthorised schools operating in the capital manage to ‘do business’. Would a parent send a child to a shop to ‘buy an education pill’ if government schools were a real alternative? Conversely, is admission to government schools easy? Are there no malpractices there?

Undoubtedly, school education has become a racket. If push comes to shove, the bigger schools are likely to bypass nursery admissions altogether and will grant admission at the pre-primary level. They may even hold re-admission tests after primary school — not unlike government schools.

There are rackets that need to be busted. But the nursery admissions racket will remain unresolved until the bigger scams are addressed — first, the recognition granted to dubious schools, and second, the way government schools are run. CBSE standards are easily met, as any school will vouch for. The nursery admissions formula is also easily followed. But it doesn’t solve the problem. Which, of course, is not the CBSE’s duty.

Email Nandita Sengupta: nsengupta@hindustantimes.com