Nursery admissions: AAP’s first big test on education reform
by Pallavi Polanki Jan 15, 2014
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New Delhi: The radical shift in nursery admission guidelines announced by Lieutenant Governor (LG) Najeeb Jung last month is the second time the government has taken on the powerful and influential lobby of private schools. The first time they did this was when they announced a 25 percent reservation at entry level for students from economically weaker sections (EWS) in private schools under the Right to Education Act.
By scrapping the controversial management quotas in private schools and giving maximum weightage to the neighbourhood criterion in the admission process, the new nursery guidelines essentially strip private schools of their discretionary powers on matters of admission to a minimum.
Delhi Education Minister Manish Sisodia has described the guidelines as progressive and welcomed last week’s High Court order denying interim relief to unaided private schools that have challenged the guidelines. (The schools, however, moved a fresh petition on Monday in the High Court against the denial of interim relief. The case will be heard on 16 January, which is also when the admission process will begin).
Reuters Keen to make an impact with its stand on education, an issue that has been high on the Aam Admi Party (AAP) agenda, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal himself launched the nursery admission helpline for parents, on Monday. Speaking to reporters after, Kejriwal said, “Schools are charitable societies and their motive should not be to earn profit. Why are Delhi schools resistant to being transparent? They should not have approached the High court.” The message to private schools is loud and clear. With the end of management quotas and AAP’s strong stand on the issue, made clear from Kejriwal’s statement and the party’s manifesto that promises control against ‘profiteering’ by private schools and ‘regulation of fees and clamp down on donations by private education institutions, power equations between the Delhi government and private schools have dramatically changed. This is a a reversal of fortunes for private schools that had the government on their side in last big legal battle on nursery admissions that ended with the court ruling in their favour last year. Because in the latest legal battle the government has switched sides.
Child rights lawyer Ashok Agarwal, who led the legal battle in the High Court against private schools and the government on the applicability of the Right to Education Act last year said, “Earlier the governments were anti-child and siding with the private schools. For the first time we have got a government that is openly defending parents and children against these khaas people.” Agarwal has since joined AAP and is a national executive member of the party.
“The government has every right to interfere when schools resort to commercialisation. The Supreme Court in a number of judgments has said that not only does the government have the power but it is also its duty to interfere and regulate the schools,” says Agarwal.
Activists in the education sector see the new guidelines as an indication of things to come and are hopeful that there will be a complete overhaul of the government school system. “The scenario is changing. There is a growing realisation and demand for equitable education…My hope from the AAP government is that this inequality between government schools and private schools is narrowed down. AAP promised that they would implement RTE on a war footing. While we welcome their move to open more schools, they should first improve existing schools,” says Ambrish Rai, national convenor, RTE forum, a network of NGOs.
While grass-root activists agree that there is a perceptible shift in how the new government is dealing with nursery admissions, they say it will be the implementation of the guidelines that will ultimately matter.
Thomas Anthony, member of Joint Action for Social Help (JOSH), a voluntary group that runs an RTE project in resettlement colonies and slum clusters in East Delhi said, “I do feel that the new government has been more proactive this time about disseminating information of nursery admissions. It is definitely a welcome change. Parents are hoping that it won’t be business as usual this year. People’s confidence has definitely increased because of these pro-people initiatives such as starting helplines by the government.” Thomas, who has been assisting parents in applying for admissions for their children under the EWS category in East Delhi’s private schools and is all too familiar with ground realities, remains sceptical as to how far the government’s good intentions will translate to real action. “Only after the admission process begins will we know how well admission guidelines will be implemented and how fast and responsive the helpline will be.”
The lack of transparency in the admission process, he says, is the biggest cause of grievance for parents and is an issue the government must address. “The government through its redressal mechanism must ensure that parents applying for admission in the EWS category are given better access to the private schools. Secondly, there should be system of transparency and schools should declare the number of seats they have and applications they receive. And thirdly, redressal should be time bound. If Action Taken Reports arrive a year later, as we experienced with the previous government, it will be pointless.”
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