No goofiness, no romance, no making fun! This is a matter of life and death; a matter of our country’s future; a matter of such importance that reams of newsprints have to be coloured with it. And it must be addressed by all, no matter if you have kids, do not have kids, are planning kids, or consider them to be terrorists who destroy peace wherever they go.
Parents and people, hold your breath for entry-level school admissions. But, before we proceed, as is required for all things that concern the human race’s survival, let’s try some perspective.
Scene 1: An AC repairman is seeking admission for his second child under the economically weaker section (EWS) category at a premier school, but faces humiliation. He is told by the headmaster that the school “is as it is doing enough by admitting one child”. He is seen lamenting outside the school, according to a report by HT correspondent Aneesha Bedi.
Scene 2: At another such school, parents who employ such AC repairmen follow last year’s timings for form submission, thus get terribly late for the ritual, and are curtly told off by the principal. The parents call the cops, and the very definition of misbehaviour comes under scrutiny.
Between these two scenarios — one of cruel helplessness and the other displaying a well-informed sense of entitlement — lay the cruel ironies of school admissions in Chandigarh and similar ‘smart’ cities.
In the first case, the headmaster simply lies to the parents that only one child per family is allowed admission under the EWS category. Later, he says admissions are for those residing within three kilometres of the school. The education department, when prompted, says that “a school cannot refuse to accept a form… whether the child gets admission or not is secondary”. The department head even clarifies that there is no rule that allows admission to only one sibling in the poor quota. Say the right thing and remains pious, as they say. Anyway, should this repairman too have called the cops? No, please, he should’ve been grateful for his first child getting the chance to study.
In the second case, the parents should have called the cops, of course! It is, after all, the right of all of the Maha Middle Class to dial 100 if it’s been wronged or feels wronged. (Have you heard of that time when a young man called the cops just because he was denied entry to a school’s legendary annual alumni bash? I believe that’s just a rumour. But, if true, the desperation to get in is understandable.)
Amid this desperation, and beyond the facts of these cases, the real story is playing out elsewhere, in the planned circumvention of the Right to Education (RTE) Act by over a dozen elite schools of the city. These schools have over the past few years woken up to their ‘minority status’, granted to institutions set up for religious minorities’ educational progress. Reason: The RTE’s 25% quota for poor kids does not apply to minority institutions. They claim that no nod is needed for them to discover their religious zeal to be ‘minority’.
The administration has been doing its duty of forming committees and carrying out inspections. But there is no dearth of bogeys on a platter.
On their part, these schools have been complaining of not getting government reimbursement — as is required under the RTE — for money spent on free education of poor kids. Note, however, that many of these schools had, even before the RTE was enacted, committed to a 15% EWS quota at ‘nominal’ fee in lieu of subsidised land, with no provision for reimbursement. But even that’s a bone of contention, as the word ‘nominal’ remains open to interpretation.
With many of these law-loving schools turning ‘minority’, seats for the poor in the UT’s private schools is coming down, from around 1,200 four years ago to 700 and even further down now. In these columns, back in the November of 2013, I had written, “It will get worse, and the poor will then systemically be squeezed out, reduced to the margins.” Sadly but predictably, that’s turning out to be true. A school head had then told me that “with minority status, it’s now up to my will and conscience” whether to admit poor students or not.
He remains right. Embodying the system, he knows that nothing ever happens to him and his ilk. From owning schools to sitting on the board of UT’s corporations to even the seats in the House of the People to advising the administration on policy, they are everywhere. It is silly, then, to expect them to leave room for the poor even in kindergarten. After all, it is a matter of life and death, a matter of the country’s future.
Meanwhile, the repairman can continue to lament, and the cops must diligently probe what constitutes misbehaviour.