Nursery Admissions: The Quest for Delhi dwellers – Part 3

5-step admission strategy for schools to increase student enrollment

Image Source: Link here

This is the third part of 5 part series on Delhi Education System and out own personal experience with it in the academic year that started in April 2021.

The first part of the series can be found here. Nursery Admissions: Quest for Delhi Dwellers (Part 1)

The second part of the series can be found here. Nursery Admissions: Quest for Delhi Dwellers (Part 2)

A non-government organization ‘Social Jurist’ took up the cause of nursery admission and education at pre-school level as a subject of discussion and debate. Their primary contention was the lack of proper definition of a nursery or pre-school leading to children even below the age of 4 years making it to class 1st. It needs to be noted here that over the years, the bone of contention has always been the age of entry for Class 1st with the primary concern being that formal education should not start for a child before the age of 5 years.

This led to the landmark decision of the Delhi High Court wherein it constituted the Ganguly committee in 2006. A small group of eminent educationists under the aegis of the then CBSE Chairman Shri Ashok Ganguly, submitted their report to the Delhi High Court as requested by the court.

Multiple landmark recommendations were made in the report. The key and relevant ones have been highlighted below –

  1. Any formal education should be started from the Class 1. There would be a pre-school class. That’s the educationist recommendation. However, in lieu of other societal and parental concerns especially for the ones who are both working parents, two years of pre-school is prescribed. In some cases, recommendations for a creche are also made.
  2. Zoning of the neighborhoods in Delhi so that there is equitable distribution of quality schools.
    1. It was a strong observation of the committee that school’s mushrooming is a big issue. Paraphrasing the words of the committee, it’s easier to setup a school in the vacant land available in South Delhi than to setup a mall.
    1. Consequently, there is a lot of inconsistency in the quality of schools in Delhi.
    1. The committee so recommended providing a neighborhood constraint to the school with the virtue of distance of child’s home from the school. This is commonly known as zoning
    1. The class prior to class 1 was also named as preparatory or pre-primary and the one before it as pre-school.

To make the education more equitable and accessible to all, irrespective of whether the schools are government funded or unaided educational institutes, the Right to Education (RTE) act mandates a quota of 25% seats for Economically Weaker Section (EWS), with the exception of minority institutes that are exempted from RTE. Primarily, the intention was to provide access to unaided private educational institution’s infrastructure along with aid to students from this section of the society as well. The intention is to accelerate the coverage while we come to the point when government and other municipality schools measure up in terms of performance and facilities.

There are strong rumours though that people doing reasonably well in their lives have also devised creative methods to obtain the EWS certificate from competent authority. The Bollywood movie ‘English Medium’ rightly pointed out to this ‘route’ of parents to admit their kids to the top schools in Delhi.

The next major change was brought in 2016. With a new government in National Capital Territory (NCT) of Delhi, the concept of ‘management seats’ which was typically kept as 20% of the overall number of seats became a sticking point. The new Government wanted to abolish the management quota and open the entire 75% seats (remaining 25% reserved for the EWS category) to the general category and so through the points system.

The Deputy Chief Minister in his statement in the court, in context of the zoning of educational institutions, compared the work done by private institutes with the contracting firms doing civil works for the government. In his argument, he emphasized that since these institutes use the land allocated by the government, so they are no better than any contractor who can be asked to leave anytime. Obviously, this naïve comparison didn’t go down well with the private unaided institutions. This was contested heavily in the court and the court decided to maintain the status quo i.e. 20% of seats as management quota for the time being.

Thanks to all the great efforts from various individuals and institutions, the nursery admissions process puts a lot of pressure on the average Joe, who neither has the EWS certificate nor the deep pockets to participate in the auction of the management seats.

Quite obviously, Yuvaan’s parents were also worried about his admissions given the complications of the whole process. Within a couple of kilometers from their current residence, there were a few popular options. This gave them some relief and they assumed that it would be a smooth ride for their son.

The ride was about to begin.

Nursery Admissions: The Quest for Delhi dwellers – Part 2

30 govt schools in Delhi to come under newly formed education board from  2021-22 session | Education News,The Indian Express
Image Source – Link Here

This is the second part of 5 part series on Delhi Education System and out own personal experience with it in the academic year that started in April 2021.

The first part of the series can be found here. Nursery Admissions: Quest for Delhi Dwellers (Part 1)

As the lockdown progressed, it was clear that any kind of education institutions – pre-school or regular – are not going to open anytime soon. A year later, when I am writing this text, it is still not clear. The best guess at the moment is post summer break opening of schools and that too with partial capacity.

Yuvaan continued his learning journey with YouTube kids and ad-hoc interventions from his parents with educational toys, some books etc. I had also started reading him a bedtime story every day before Yuvaan used to go to sleep in night. This continued for few months. Around Diwali, that is the month of November, we also deliberated on engaging a home tuition for him to learn the basics of alphabet and numbers. But given that the pandemic was still widespread, we decided against it.

Yuvaan in the meantime continued watching more advanced videos on YouTube kids. It became an essential companion for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He wouldn’t start his meal till the iPad, that he had taken away from his grandfather, was switched on and placed in front of him. Like a deep researcher going through his notes or an optimist swiping through Tinder app, left or right, Yuvaan would scroll through the video stream. He made friends with ‘Diana and Roma’, joined as a silent companion in ‘Dolly and Friends’, learned poems in Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and many more other languages, and also started getting scared with Halloween based episodes of ‘Aldo’. 

He had his own songs and enjoyed his own little world he stitched around himself. And he continued to provide the love and happiness to his family members and their friends, with his naughtiness and cute demands.

How oblivion was he from the fact that the education and schooling system he is about to enter has been a topic of debate and intense wrangling between school managements, parents and, in the last few years, the elected government in the (semi-) state of Delhi.

Delhi education system was enabled via Delhi School Education Act of 1973. The initial act provided a robust framework covering a host of aspects in the school’s education – infrastructure, pedagogy, pay structure for teachers, management structure, governance from Directorate, student progression, grievance management etc. It provided a bedrock for multiple schools to thrive and provide world class education to the local population. Needless to say, Delhi education system and Delhi schools became one of the most coveted institutes in the country. Students from far and near started aspiring for the right kind of education for their kids and very soon the performance at external examinations conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, popularly known as CBSE, became benchmarks of schools’ reputation.

As the country chugged towards more and more industrialization and building larger manufacturing bases, need for engineering talent increased dramatically. During this, Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) emerged as meccas for engineering and talented students from all over the country started appearing in the Joint Entrance Examination, popularly known as JEE. For a few thousand seats, lakhs of students started appearing in the JEE. So much was the intensity of competition, that some schools shifted the axis of competence and performance from not just board examination results but also from number of students ‘cracking’ the JEE.

A direct correlation between the school and engineering examination performance, which also meant employment options in future, changed the game completely. The best performing schools became preferred schools for parents. Parents started using all their means to enter the school of their choice. The ones who could afford to ‘buy’ a seat via donation or capitation fee, started buying the seats. The ones with political or bureaucratic connections started trying to influence the school management councils with referrals (also known as ‘sifarish’). The average Joe though felt completed left out and settled for whatever he could get in the schools within his reach. Finding nothing else, the average Joe increased their trips to the temples, mosques, churches or other religious places of their faith seeking a miracle. A common phrase one could hear from parents whose kid got through the prestigious schools was ‘Life ban gayee’. A clear demarcation of haves and have nots started emerging in the Delhi education system.

In addition, the Delhi School system deeply embraced the concept of ‘Catch Them Young’. Very soon a lot of pre-schools mushroomed all over the city that boasted of their close tie-ups with the top schools in demand. Parents beelined in front of these pre-schools to seek an early advantage for their ward’s admission to the coveted school of their child. An ever-increasing desire of parents to provide for the best, led to these pre-schools ‘preparing’ kids for nursery school admissions by training them with material from Class 1st onwards.

Imagine, a three-year old child being made to memorize things instead of learning by grasping. Such an attempt permanently changes the child’s cognitive abilities, as their approach to learning is distorted for life.

The whole education system became more and more ‘parent-centric’ or ‘school-centric’ than being child-centric. Parent preferred to have kids in the pre-nursery and then not to worry about the kids till they finally complete their schooling in class 12th. Thus, the same school had kids from the age of 2.5 years to 17 years.

The whole education system has been a subject of intense debate for many years with eminent people. In 1993, the famous cartoonist R K Laxman raised the question of school bag weight and other perils in the then prevailing education system in Rajya Sabha. The Home Minister of the day formed a committee under the chairmanship of Prof. Yashpal to evaluate the system and come back with recommendations. Prof. Yashpal prepared a crisp 30-page report famously known as ‘Learning without burden’. It highlighted various fallacies in the education system that leaned more towards rote and using guides and keys to clear the examination, than actually educating with observation and understanding.

Just as anything that starts to rot, things were about to change for the Delhi Schooling system.

Nursery Admissions: The Quest for Delhi dwellers – Part 1

Delhi schools to reopen from this date for classes 10, 12, physical  attendance optional
Image source: Link here

The idea of this particular blog post started when our son, Yuvaan, was getting ready to enter the Indian education system. More specifically, he was eligible for nursery admission in New Delhi. I had some idea of how this goes as a close friend had gone through the cycle a week year before for his daughter. The purpose of this blog is to give some insight on how the whole process goes. And also, to discuss some of the things that we as parents faced.

It may also help some parents in their quest. The writing is from March 2021 when the admission for our ward started. The admissions for 2021-22 were delayed as Delhi Govt was indecisive on admissions for the academic year, largely due to Covid. The blog was also delayed as all of my family got infected with Covid in early April 2021. Here is the link to my blog on how we dealt with Covid.

As the current system is going to be there for a long time, this blog could be a reference for future admissions as well.

This is a 5-post series. So, please bear with me. I intend to publish all the posts in the next two to three weeks. Thank you.

It was told to us that a new and fair point-based system has been established now to facilitate the nursery admissions of the kids entering the education system.

Relying on this claim, we began the journey of finding the right school for our son Yuvaan.

First a little bit on Yuvaan.

The best words to describe him are that he is the star of our eyes. A very calm and happy kid who showers love to his parents and grandparents all through the day. He enjoys watching YouTube Kids (easily one of the best inventions for kids engagement of the 21st century, after television in the 20th century) and playing with household items more than he enjoys playing with his toys.

With no sibling or pet at home, his company is the four adults that surround him.

Also important is to note that he was born when both his parents were in their mid-thirties. Both are career professionals and committed to the cause of helping in the growth of their respective employing firms.

So Yuvaan spends most of his time with his grandmother, whom he loves very much.

Thanks to the lockdown of 2020 and consequent ‘new normal’ of ‘working from anywhere’, I was able to spend most of my day at my home office that I had recently setup.

In many ways, Yuvaan is a loner. He has learned most of his basic skills required for elementary by watching videos on 2016 model of iPad Pro. Needless to say, his love for iPad has come at a price. The screen is severely damaged and the iPad has had its own fair share of lunch and dinner while Yuvaan was feeding.

Both me and my wife believe that we come with a strong pedigree. We met at Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. It is one of the top institutes for management studies in India and in general the graduates from this institute are expected to do well in their realm of work.

So, when the admissions season kicked off, we both were very confident that our son would be easily picked up by any school. How wrong were we?

Let me also brief a little bit on the neighborhood we live in.

Dwarka is a sub-city in the South western side of New Delhi. At one point it was rated as Asia’s largest sub-city. It remains so even today. Consequently, Dwarka has emerged as a major hub of residential complexes and other dwelling units.

Up until late 90s, it was all barren land with a few patches of local villages catering to some local agricultural needs and dairy production facilities. But when the master plan was approved to allow Dwarka’s growth, the face of this part of earth was permanently altered.

Being a planned sub-city, Dwarka has multiple lush and well-maintained public parks and gardens.

In the earlier days, the link to Dwarka from rest of the city was via Palam village. A railway track split the two areas apart and coming to this side of the town was no less hassle, sometimes with hour long wait for the railway crossing to open. This was till 2005. Things have come a long way since and there are multiple entry points to the sub-city. The railway crossing has been negotiated via a flyover that snakes through most of the meandering streets of the underlying Palam village. It is also notable that Dwarka is the originating station for the busiest, longest and oldest route for Delhi metro. That is the Blue line. Dwarka also is the origin for the world-class and marvelously built Airport Express line in public-private-partnership (PPP) with now defamed and dissolved Anil Ambani Enterprises.

This connectivity and general growth over the last 15-20 years has made Dwarka a bustling neighbourhood. Its location and easy connectivity to rest of the city of Delhi, to the city of Gurugram and also to the North-eastern flank of Haryana.

This growth has attracted numerous education institutions including the National Law University and Guru Gobind Singh University, hospitals such as Venkateshwara, Manipal etc. And recently even some organizations such as PNB, NHAI, IMA etc have moved their corporate headquarters to the region.

Unfortunately, the sub-city has seen a growth of wine and beer shops, higher number of encroachers and a disproportionate number of beggars at the traffic signals.

Ills aside, all the positives have seen a definite boom in the sub-city pushing the property rates by 1000% in the last 15 years.

For Yuvaan and his family, the unwanted side effect has been the intense growth in competition in the region for admission to the best schools. One must be aware that definition of best though varies from parent to parent.

The outbreak of Corona resulted in numerous permanent changes in the world as we see it. Overnight businesses had to embrace the digital transformation journey. Some were successful, some struggled and most are still struggling.

Educational institutes and Government offices were no exception. Generally, seen as laggards in embracing the latest technology, the lockdown and consequent change in delivery methods completely jeopardized the normal functioning of the schools. The lockdown lasted well over 2 full months with sequential unlocking over the course of next 12 months. At the time of writing this article, partial lockdown is still in place in workplaces, schools, restaurants, movie theaters etc. The situation may take another year to be back to normal, if we ever want it to be.

Yuvaan was severely impacted as well by this unplanned change in the world ops. I had temporarily relocated to Chennai in November 2019 for my work commitments. Yuvaan and his mother had visited me in February 2020 to celebrate our seventh marriage anniversary. We had driven to Puducherry to a nice beach resort ‘Le Pondy’ to spend a quiet and peaceful weekend. Yuvaan had a lot of fun in the trip.

During the trip, we had finalized our plans to enroll Yuvaan to pre-school so that he can warm up for his entry to the great education system of India. Its notable that the education system of India is a well-debated one. Just as cricket, budget, economy, and ‘life-coaching’, everyone has an expert opinion on the education system in India. No matter what anyone says, there is a credible evidence to believe that the system works. Look at the global heads of companies like Microsoft, Mastercard and Alphabet (Google group). You would realize the foundation laid in the Indian education system helped them to reach where they are, no matter what anyone argues against it.

The sticky point in our conversation though was the time of enrollment. While both me and my wife were convinced that Yuvaan should begin his journey from April 2020, his grandmother had earlier opined to let him enjoy for few more months and to enroll him in July 2020. Either way, at that point, his next phase of life was at the cusp of initiation.

Lockdown completely ruined our plans though.