Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The dark underbelly of education: nursery admissions in Delhi

My daughter has been a part of a wonderful play school, has been an active participant in all its activities and its time to graduate. Its the time of the year where thousands of parents like me are trying to place our wards into 'proper' schools.

Apparently, for nearly 20,000 nursery seats in Delhi, over 2,00,000 children have applied! There is another stat which says that over 60% parents fill over 10 admission forms. My estimate is that the actual number of children applying might be closer to 30,000. Which still means that over 10,000 children will not make it to any school this year.

Two schools (Mirambika- I really liked the concept, and St. George- was right next to my workplace) that I tried to get a copy of admission form found my daughter over-aged for admissions for now (she missed the mark by ~24 days); so no forms from these two. St. George folks asked me to check back by March-April. Fair enough.

I ended up submitting the admission forms to 4 schools: Apeejay School, Vasant Valley, Ryan International and Bluebells. Vasant Valley's and Bluebells' list could not find a place for my daughter. Fair again. Apeejay is right next to where I stay and I hope it materializes- I should know in a few hours.

But this post is dedicated to Ryan International School, Vasant Kunj.

Last week, I was called to the school for 'document verification'. I went there with the documents required; including a document from the Vicar of the church that we attend, since they also required a 'relevant' proof we belonged to the Christian community

Anyways, there were close to maybe 10 parents who were asked to wait in the reception area. There were a few parents from other countries as well. The receptionist would call the name of the child/ parent who would dutifully walk up. The receptionist would then ask them to deposit their mobile phones (switched off) and bags against which she issued a green token with a number. I thought, wow! here's a school that seems to be meticulous and wants to ensure a smooth process by removing all distractions during the verification process. Naive me!

Moving on with the tale. My turn came after waiting for almost three quarters of an hour. I killed most of the time reading through most of the newspapers kept there, then I looked at the photographs of the Pintos (the esteemed founders) smiling and accepting various awards, standing alongside Benny Hinn...
I too switched off my phone, put in in my laptop bag and deposited it with the receptionist who gave me a round green plastic tag against it. I only had a transparent folder with originals of the documents required for verification with me. I was shown into a room to the receptionist's right. (This looked like some head master/mistress' room, I'm not sure). There were two ladies who looked at my documents- teachers perhaps. "Address proof" - passport - check, "Affidavit for the first daughter" - provided - check. "Birth certificate" - done - check. "Christian proof" - I found out that they were expecting a baptism certificate and that our Reverend Vicar's sign, seal and letterhead were not proof enough. (As if a few words written in a particular format would make someone 'more' Christian. I almost LOL-ed and duh-ed!). I remarked that I could get whatever certificates they needed and apologized for not having provided that in advance. They seemed satisfied and I moved out.

Back at the receptionist's desk, my bag was strangely missing. I was told that my bag could be collected at the exit point and that I had to wait a bit longer to meet the 'officials'. I then had to wait for around 5 minutes on a seat to the left of the receptionist. An usher came and then led me through the entrance right behind the receptionist, then to the right, right again into an office area. I could see bible verses stuck around in the office space (now I know the meaning of the phrase which says that even the Devil can quote the scriptures for his purpose). Then, left into a small cabin where an 'official' was sitting on the other side of a round table. I believe he was significantly bald, had a brown skin, probably in his forties. He had a printout list in front of him with the names of the applicants and he had a pencil with which he had scribbled some stuff against most names.

He then told me that I had to pay Rs. 90,000 in cash, no cheque, no draft, non-refundable.
I asked what the payment was for and he said it was related to 'admission fee'.
I asked if this could be split into installments and if the amount was negotiable; he said 'no'.
I asked if payment meant that my daughter would get the admission and he confirmed.
Still having not realized what exactly this was about, I said I needed time to find if I could arrange that kind of cash and said that I'd get back to him by the 28th of Jan (my savings balance was ridiculously low right then; I was already thinking of plan Bs).

I asked him for his card or phone number so that I could get back to him (stupid me!). He simply said that I couldn't reach him directly and that I should simply call in the school's landline and let them know. I told him that I atleast needed to know his name and he said J*. At the exit gate, I returned the green token to get my bag back. Thats when it really hit me that the reason why they had collected/ confiscated my stuff was the fear of being stinged out!

What education could these jokers possibly give to my child? Lesson 1: Methods of accepting kick-backs? Lesson 2: A sonnet on evading sting-ops? Lesson 3: How to leave no evidence. Lesson 4: Spot the whistle-blower?

Its the hypocrisy that struck me hard when I drove back home after the ordeal. There used to be a time when Christian institutions set a high bar with the standard of education, morals and ethics in this country. My family has been a part of this rich tradition. My parents and grandparents and most of my relatives in Kerala have provided exemplary service as teachers, principals and school administrators. They had imbibed Christian values where education was seen as a mission, even business; but certainly not as a dirty business. Every where they went they were welcomed with respect. I hope and pray from the bottom of my heart that my experience was a mere exception.

We celebrated our Republic Day on 26th January. While the grandeur of the procession played on my TV screen, I was crying at the charade. We seem to derive some morbid satisfaction with this fake facade of 'Incredible India', while deep within the cancerous rot chews on.

Perhaps I am missing something? Putting on an economist's hat- perhaps this is a natural outcome of the demand and supply gap? The limited supply simply gets costly thanks to the great demand? Even 'costly' should have been a fine proposition; if it was legitimate, open and transparent.

All in all, this has the following implications:
a. The planning and strategy folks of this country have messed up (do we even have these departments?)
b. The government and the administration has screwed up by slipping on the same banana peel again, year-after-year. Oops, we have a shortage again.
c. We need to think of innovative disruptions to address the very real need for educating and equipping the next generation. For me the most valuable part of school education is the social interaction bit.
d. My daughter most probably will not get an admission this year in Delhi (there is still a <10% chance that she just might; I'll keep you posted)

A lot of people seem to need a wake up call while a lot of others should be spared sleepless nights.
4 AM and signing off.


Smithan John said...

Very well written!! it just exposes the turn the education "industry" has taken. I dont think this would specifically relate to only Delhi but all major cities.I keep hearing tales from colleagues who have their children admitted to schools in Blore and it seems worse than what you have just narrated. Things get worse after admission where parents are taxed every now and then. Sad but true!!

Anupam said...

I am all for treating education as an industry- even a profit making one.

The problem starts when profit making becomes the sole motto and when illegal means are adopted to get there. That's where it gets dirty and sad.

Rajesh Advani said...

This doesn't come as surprise to me. I was expecting such posts on Internet. Well, Education is new "business", early we accept this fact, it is better for us. Sadly, those people who call themselves teachers and educators and have huge influence on our kids, are big hypocrites. The question is whom do we blame for this? Schools? HRD Ministry? Or ourselves, who have given too much importance to "school-education" and made it sound like "most import thing for kids"? All the best.

Ellen said...

Anupam, this is Ellen and Vinu,
Well written piece - while we really like the emphasis on education in India, the "selling" of it by institutions is unforgivable.

"(As if a few words written in a particular format would make someone 'more' Christian. I almost LOL-ed and duh-ed!).- Well said - if only more of our priests and religious overseer's would understand this - and if only Christians would take it to heart!

Hope to see you in July when we visit Delhi. With love - Ellen, Vinu and Levyn.

Anupam said...

Dear Ellencheck and Vinuchaya,

Thanks for reading through :) At times i wonder if i should have simply stayed silent and given the other side the benefit of doubt. Anyways, i hope it leads to some good.

Absolutely look forward to your visit!