The implementation of the 25% quota for economically weaker sections (EWS) — putting 43,800 ‘poor’ nursery students in Delhi’s 2,957 private schools — is now being monitored by the court. This will absorb 90% of the 50,000-odd students MCD now enrolls in its 956 nursery schools.
Since none of those non-EWS students, denied admission in private schools in the process, will fill the empty MCD classrooms, sarkari primary teachers may finally truly be free to collect property tax as has been proposed by some visionary councillors.
On the surface, putting underprivileged children in private schools is a noble idea, quite like ensuring that ‘poor’ patients are treated for free at private hospitals. But hospital treatment is an emergency service. Its result does not depend on the sympathy (or the lack of it) of fellow patients.
School education, on the other hand, involves much more than classroom lessons. It is about a child’s journey to adulthood — the discovery of one’s identity through friendship and social bonding. Both immediate and long-term impacts of being ridiculed by one’s peers can be severely damaging and irreversible for a child.
When the primary reason for such discrimination is financial — the inability to host a proper birthday party or flaunt branded accessories — the trauma reaches home. In post-liberalisation India, the socio-economic divide between the rich and the poor has widened manifold. The consequence of sending a child to a school where students come from families that earn 10-50 times the EWS limit (R1 lakh per year), can financially ruin, and emotionally shatter, a ‘poor’ household.
If the government must attempt this brand of social integration, it should hold an integrated test for all MCD school students after their 5th level and fill up the designated number of EWS quota seats in secondary or senior secondary private schools with those who top the exam.
Surely, 10-year-olds will be far more aware of their social reality, and stand a better chance to adjust in a hostile atmosphere, than four-year-old nursery students whose understanding of the world is limited to the immediate and the apparent. Also, having earned their seats through an exam (and not a lottery), they will be confident of themselves and may not be easily intimidated.
But for this to happen, the government must look into its own primary education infrastructure. During 2010-11, Pratham set up learning centers for 6,541 MCD school students. Among the students of Class 3 to 5, before the NGO’s intervention, 93% were at an elementary mathematical level while 91% could not read simple English. It will be a cruel joke to subject them to an integrated test or talent hunt.
The bigger joke is that defunct MCD schools, after shifting bulk of their students to private schools under EWS quota, will enroll ‘poor’ children who would have never gone to any school otherwise. The numbers will add up to justify the RTE and surveys will keep revealing the absence of any learning. Is the RTE really about right to education or merely right to enrollment?
The archaic B Ed syllabus is one reason for the pathetic standard of teaching at MCD schools. The classrooms are falling apart. The desks are broken. Books and uniforms are not delivered on time. Millions in Delhi pay education cess and yet MCD schools cannot offer even safe drinking water.
Perhaps, it all makes sense. Perhaps, the government has had enough of its own primary school mess. Otherwise why should it channel all its energy to push poor kids down private schools’ throat, and councillors plan to send MCD teachers to collect tax?