Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 2nd 2014 Contents A36
March 2, 2014 www.guardian.co.tt Sunday Guardian
Four-year-old Abraham has spent
a year preparing for Delhi s school
admissions process. Every evening,
under the watchful eye of his mother,
he has practised counting and writing,
hoping to impress the gatekeepers of
at least one good private institution.
Each year, up to half a million chil-
dren in India s capital attempt to win
nursery spaces at 1,300 private schools.
The competition is so intense, parents
often begin to worry while their children
are still babes in arms. Many schools
resort to lotteries, which until now have
taken place behind closed doors, pre-
senting opportunities for abuse.
With a population of 16 million,
greater Delhi faces an acute schools
crisis. State-run schools are free. But
they often cram 50 to a class and lack
adequate toilets. And they are only
obliged to take children from age six.
So each year, desperate parents apply
to multiple private schools. In the past,
many bribed their way in. One father
promised his daughter s school principal
free dry cleaning at the family-run
establishment until the child left. Others
have donated school buses.
At playgrounds and in offices across
the capital, parents are busy trading
war stories and comparing notes. School
principals are sought out like living
deities by crowds of anxious parents.
Last year, Shantnu Mehrotra, a busi-
ness analyst, applied to 23 schools for
his daughter, Sunakshi, but failed to
get a single place. This year, he has
applied to 21 schools. Sunakshi has so
far been shortlisted at one. "It s
absolutely killing," he said.
"You feel so unfortunate that you
can t get your little girl into school for
a second year running. It really makes
Mehrotra, like thousands of other
parents, has at least been allowed to
observe admission lotteries for the first
time this year. "We went to three or
four lotteries where they let parents
draw random names out of a box," he
said. "It was pretty transparent, but
you really have to have amazing luck.
There are usually only ten or 15 seats
for a hundred or more applicants."
In past years, parents were grilled
separately about their own achieve-
ments and personal values. But in 2007,
a court-appointed committee set about
trying to simplify the admissions
process. It recommended a points sys-
tem based on a student s proximity to
the school, whether a sibling was
already enrolled and if parents were
Schools were allowed to allocate some
points as well as "management quota"
places at their discretion. A quarter of
all private school places were set aside
for poor and disabled children.
However, legal challenges have shifted
the goalposts every year since, often in
the middle of the admissions process,
sending already tense families into fresh
bouts of anxiety.
The management quota, traditionally
a way in for wealthy or influential par-
ents, was scrapped last year, at least
democratising the misery.
The government argues it has a right
to dictate the admissions criteria of
many private schools because they were
given land at subsidised rates. Principals,
not surprisingly, disagree.
"The government should upgrade
the condition of its own schools, not
shift the burden to private schools,"
said DR Saini, principal of Delhi Public
School RK Puram.
Caught in the middle of this admin-
istrative battle are the preschoolers
whose parents simply want a nice place
for them to play and learn. Four-year-
old Abraham, who spent the last year
learning to write, count and colour
neatly, gave a written and oral test as
part of one school s admission process.
"I did really good," he said, armed with
a cheeky smile. Sadly, the school didn t
think so. Abraham has not been offered
a single nursery place.
And for Sunakshi, the process could
even break up her family.
"Last year, when she didn t get in
anywhere, I had the option of keeping
her at playschool," said Mehrotra. "This
year, I m absolutely doomed. I m think-
ing of sending her with my wife to my
parents place outside Delhi," said
Mehrotra. "I ll have to live here on my
own. That really gives me tears."
Delhi battle for
who is still
waiting for a
place at a Delhi
in two years.
killing. You feel
that you can't
get your little girl
into school for a
running. It really
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