Destiny decided at Age 5?
Nursery admissions are in the news once again. This time due to the unearthing of a large racket related to the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota admissions. Last week the police arrested 4 people as a result of 300 fake admissions being brought to light in high-end private schools across Delhi. The racket had a rather clinical modus operandi: agents managed admissions in high-end schools in the 25% seats reserved for students from the EWS. They would then sell these seats for anywhere between Rs.3-10 lakhs. Once the seat was sold, the name under which the admission had been done would be changed, with the help of the school administration. There is substantial outrage that seats meant for the poor are being illegally taken over by those who live in posh colonies and drive SUVs.
This is not the first time that Nursery admissions have made headlines in Delhi. Every year from January onwards, news about nursery admissions makes a regular appearance in newspapers covering the capital. The headlines show remarkable consistency year after year: “Lieutenant Governor issues guidelines”, “The Court stays these said guidelines”, “Parents Challenge Admissions”, “Coaching classes for parents lining up all night to buy forms and prospectus’ from schools”. Human interest stories are then done on how mothers are learning English before they go for ‘informal interactions’ in prospective schools or how working parents take long breaks from high-paying jobs to apply for nursery admissions for their children.
While the outrage regarding the sheer depravity of rich families trying to usurp seats meant for poor children is likely to die down soon, we need to keep alive the questions that these periodic episodes raise. Why this clamour for admission in the 50-odd well known private schools in Delhi? Why are parents willing to bend over backwards (and break the law) to get their child admitted in these few schools?
The answer lies in the how our society understands the purpose of education. Is education meant to make you a better human being? Is education meant to give you the ability to think critically and question conventionally accepted norms? No, ‘Education is meant to provide you a job’. Education is regarded as the gateway to social mobility. It is supposed to be the means which <g data-gr-id="71">enables</g> upward social movement. While free thinkers and educationists might be appalled at this limited understanding of the purpose of education, this is the stark reality of the society we live in.
This is the reason why such a premium is placed on education. So the pertinent question then becomes – are we able to provide education that give all our students the opportunity of inter-generational mobility?
What we find is that the opportunity of economic success and social mobility is limited by the kind of education that a child gets. Only if education is acquired in a certain kind of (elite)institution, does this opportunity exist, since the disparity in the quality of education available is enormous. The reality is that while we may be increasing enrolment in the government school system, the quality of education available is abysmal. The reality of government school education in India is one where there is a shortage of rooms and teachers; where one teacher is often teaching 80-100 students; teacher absenteeism is high and there are often no clean toilets or drinking water. In the absence of basic infrastructure and facilities, can one even begin to discuss the issues of quality education? Today students in government schools are often not able to read, write and do basic arithmetic. Only one out of every six students who get admission in the primary school completes education till Class 12. The lower quality of education available in government schools means that those studying here get access to lower social status, <g data-gr-id="85">and as a result</g> lower paying jobs.
Another significant factor in determining social mobility is language. Access to middle and high-rung jobs is only available to those who possess fluency in both written and spoken English. This is another reason where the government school system has been unable to meet the changing requirement of the times. The reason many parents from the lower strata are sending their children to the fast mushrooming low-cost private schools is because they are ‘English Medium’ schools.
And it is in these factors that we find the larger reasons behind the insanity of nursery admissions. It is the paucity of schools that ensure access to social mobility and future economic affluence - by providing high-quality English language education- which creates conditions for the continued crisis around nursery admissions. The future educational and professional status of children is determined by the school in which they get their education, and this is the reason why parents are willing to use any means possible to guarantee a better future for their children.
Therefore, the crisis of nursery admissions cannot be resolved merely by better guidelines and their strict enforcement. The roots of the crisis lie in the inadequacy of our education system. Till governments are able to provide high-quality education in the public school system and ensure high standards in the rapidly growing low-cost, private school segment; this insanity shall continue. Given the marked heterogeneity and imbalance in standards of education available, parents know that the ‘destiny’ of their children will be shaped by where they get their nursery admission. Till this disparity exists, parents will continue to use any means possible to ensure that their children get access to the education that is going to give them an advantage in an increasingly competitive world. Be it challenging school admissions’ procedures in court, camping all night outside schools, going to coaching classes or even illegally admitting their children on fake EWS certificates. Feigned outrage is not enough; a transformation of our education system is what is required.
(Atishi Marlena is a social activist and policy researcher, who is a member of the Aam Aadmi Party. Views expressed are personal.)