Despite more schools offering admissions under the Right to Education (RTE), the number of seats has dropped by 22% this year. The reason: most schools have chosen Class 1 as their admission entry-point instead of pre-primary. Activists are concerned that this will deprive children from economically and socially weaker sections, who have a 25% quota in seats, of early childhood education.
In the admission process, which began on Thursday, only 7,449 seats in 334 schools are open for free admissions to economically and socially weaker sections this year, significantly less compared to 9,664 seats across 317 schools last year.
Out of the total intake, just 1,884 are pre-primary seats, while the rest are for class 1. Last year, this number was at 3,359 seats.
This is a result of the new admission rules applicable from January that allow schools to choose their own entry-level. Till last year, schools had to begin intake at their actual starting point, which was nursery or junior kindergarten in most cases.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) education officials, who conduct the admission process, said schools prefer Class 1 because the government doesn’t reimburse them for expenses incurred in pre-primary as it is an unregulated sector.
“If given a choice between admitting children in kindergarten or two years later in Class 1, private schools will obviously choose kindergarten,” said a senior official not wanting to be named.
Schools said they incurred heavy losses in the last two years when they were forced to admit RTE students in pre-primary.
“We were under tremendous financial strain because we were giving away 25% of our seats for free,” said Amol Dhamdhere, vice-president of the Indian Education Society, which runs multiple schools in Mumbai.
Activists said the new rules will deprive children from economically weaker of pre-primary education.
“These kids cannot afford pre-schools on their own as they too charge exorbitant fees. And, without early childhood education, their basics will not be strengthened and they are likely to lag in academics when they enrol for Class 1,” said Sudhir Paranjape, activist from NGO Anudanit Shiksha Bachao Samiti.