Education News

Delhi: Nursery admissions wars (contd.)

Even after a delhi high court order of February 16 restored the 20 percent management quota of 6,600 composite private unaided schools offering pre-primary education in Delhi, the scramble for nursery admissions into top-ranked composite schools in the national capital is so intense, that complaints are expected to pour in until the admission process draws to a close on March 31.

In a recent populist initiative, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which was elected to power in Delhi last February with an overwhelming (67-3) majority, abolished the 20 percent management quota of composite school promoters under which the latter had the discretion to admit nursery students of their choice.

As a result, apart from 25 percent of available seats to be allocated to children from EWS (economically weaker sections) in their neighbourhoods, as per the directions of the education ministry under s.12 (1) (c) of the Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, 75 percent of all nursery seats would have had to be allocated under the ‘points’ system with weightage given to applicants residing in the neighbourhood, children with siblings already in the preferred school, children of alumni etc. However, the Delhi high court order upholding the school managements/promoters’ right to allocate 20 percent of nursery seats at their discretion is a huge victory for private composite school managements, and a setback for the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP government in Delhi.

Following the high court’s judgement, the AAP government — which by an order dated January 6 had abolished the management quota because of widespread complaints that composite school managements were demanding upfront ‘capitation fees’ for nursery admissions (strictly forbidden by a Supreme Court judgement) — intends to issue showcause notices to many schools against whom complaints of demanding illegal capitation fees have been received by the education directorate of the Delhi state government.

Private composite school managements dismiss these allegations as imaginary and false and say they are concocted by parents who fail to secure admission for their children. “We received 2,080 applications against 80 seats available in the general category. So obviously a large number can’t be admitted. Therefore, aggrieved parents make frivolous complaints,” says Rajesh Hassija, director of Indraprastha Group of Schools in Dwarka, Paschim Vihar and Noida.

Dr. Aanieetaa Vaissnava, founder-trustee and chairperson of Vaataayan Foundation, says strict action must be taken against parents making false complaints. “School managements which have invested heavily in promoting and building private schools need some discretion to admit their own children or of staff. This is tantamount to backdoor nationalisation.”

With the demand for admission into the nurseries of Delhi’s 6,000-plus composite schools far outstripping supply, the national capital has a long and contentious history on this issue. In 2006, following complaints of schools conducting interviews of children and parents prior to demanding capitation fees, a Delhi high court division bench constituted an expert panel headed by then CBSE chairman Ashok Ganguly to evolve a transparent system to govern nursery admissions in composite schools, which ensures smooth passage in school education for the next 12 years (admission of infants into standalone pre-primaries/nurseries is not subject to any government regulation). In 2007, the Ganguly Committee presented an admissions process based on a formula giving graded weightage to neighbourhood, alumni, siblings, single parent, inter-state transfer and reserving a 20 percent management quota. But earlier this year, the pro-middle class AAP government abolished the 20 percent quota with chief minister Arvind Kejriwal describing the management quota as the “biggest scam in education today”.

On February 16, hearing an appeal filed by the Delhi state government against a stay order given by Justice Man Mohan on February 4, the Delhi high court upheld the stay order against abolition of the management quota. The division bench comprising Chief Justice G. Rohini and Justice Jayant Nath dismissed the appeal of the Delhi state government saying: “The appeal is devoid of any merit and the same is accordingly dismissed.”

However, the issue has not been resolved conclusively with the hearing of the substantive writ petition against the January 6 order abolishing the management quota scheduled for April 18.

Meanwhile, instead of harassing private school promoters through imposition of quotas and controls, the AAP government needs to change its mindset and address the supply side by making it easy for private primary-secondary schools to transform into composite institutions by either promoting their own nurseries or absorbing standalone pre-primaries. Because in the unlikely event of the courts upholding the state government’s abolition of the management quota, the annual rush for nursery admissions is certain to become worse rather than better.

Autar Nehru (Delhi)