It's that time of the year again, when parents lose sleep over where their child would study, and philistines wonder why such fuss about nursery admissions. For those of you from the innocent times when doting parents often forgot which class their kids were in, seeing the queues of modern-day, 'involved' parents getting longer, their sad chins touching the ground if the child is not picked, is a lesson in dedication. It's a dedication to the private education sector that thrives on our fear of exclusion.
There's no uniformity in the admission policy, not even clarity about the basic process. So, until you have a backdoor entry pass, confusion remains over how your kid would get in. Yet, dying to place their kids into these regimental networking clubs that we call schools, there's no dearth of parents- especially in a hierarchy-conscious city like Chandigarh - who line up and even scuffle outside school gates this time of the year.
These are the same people who do not mind the opaque quota system of private schools for alumni's kids and management's favourites, even as they scoff at the Right to Education Act's 25% reservation for poor children. (Sorry, let's not call them poor, the politically correct term is Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). Or, simply put, those unwashed, unmannered kids imposed onto the class of your fair and lovely children.)
In spite of all their noises about merit and competition being the only criteria, elite private schools have traditionally had quotas for alumni's families, siblings of existing students, and various other discretionary sets of seats, most of which are decided by your social status or influence. Such is the quantum of these 'in-house' seats that sometimes barely 30% seats are actually up for grabs by the general people while the 'elite ghetto' retains its culture. The parents do not complain because, ironically, this ghettoisation is the very charm of these schools. No wonder, then, that to maintain exclusivity even while being shamelessly exclusionary, many of these schools circumvent norms, ignore social responsibilities and challenge the law.
A popular argument is to blame the government. But remember, private schools also get land and other facilities on fat discounts to provide a 'noble' service. Indeed, the drastic skewedness in our schooling system is a failure of the government in developing schools that would at least provide education, not reduce students to mere mid-day meal beneficiaries. In Chandigarh, there are not more than three government-run schools where the readers of this newspaper - presumed to be forward-looking, upwardly mobile people - would want their kids to study. And until this imbalance is negated or at least reduced, starting from something as basic as marking out more money in the budget for education, the moneyed elite will set the standards, and the 'EWS types' would be patronised at best, never included as such.
No one is absolving the government. The judiciary, too, has been appreciably steadfast against private schools that circumvent or break the law. In fact, at the risk of sounding like one of those unfashionable socialists who studied social studies in Hindi medium, I believe there is a need to regulate fee structures and strike down all quotas other than those mandated by law to ensure social balance. A draw of lots would be the most transparent system for nursery admissions, particularly if carried out under the watch of an independent committee.
But if all this is to be mandated and enforced by the government, aren't we making our chosen leaders the carriers of our social compass too? Isn't that idea scary, or is it way easier to outsource moral values to our malleable politicians?
Let's ignore social imbalance and bash the government for imposing this wretched EWS quota on schools. Let us, sometimes, also discuss in our drawing rooms how education is becoming a profit-minded business. Let us, at the same time, remain happy to send our kids to these yuppie-producing factories of elitism that teach everything from table manners to rocket science but forget to set examples of equality in conduct. If we actually demand equality, our child may be left out. No?