Private Schools: Creating Class Within Class

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With the admission season for nursery and pre-nursery classes in Kashmir already flourishing, like the previous years, the school administration; especially the private schools have come out with lucrative advertisements to attract parents towards Valley’s premium schools and educational intuitions.

Interestingly, this time some of the ‘prestigious’ intuitions have issued a unique diktat that parents should also submit their income certificate, besides other valid documents, when they apply for admission of their wards in these schools. Though, every school has a right to seek documents from the parents pertaining to the age of the student and residential proof, however, seeking an income certificate is being seen as an indication for the low income group to keep away from these ‘’reputed’’ institutions. Even during interactive sessions, these schools prefer wards of those parents who are well qualified and have a sound financial background. 

Recently, while issuing a notification, one of the well-known private schools based out of Srinagar asked parents to submit an authentic income certificate before calling them for the interview along with their ward. Though majority of the parents ignored this notification, many others, especially those working in the development sector see this as a way of ‘socially profiling’ the population.

The State’s Education Department, that is run by a businessman turned politician has maintained a complete silence over this issue, though many aggrieved parents who want to get their wards admitted in these schools have urged the government to take note of the problem.“This is an unfortunate act aimed to keep the economically backward section away. It is an indication that for these private schools, money is the only admission criteria. Their (school administration) strategy for social profiling is in no way acceptable.’’ said Bashir Ahmad, who plans to get his daughters admitted for KG classes this year.     

Private schools, especially those who are receiving huge grants from the state and central government have often been accused of extracting money from the gullible parents under different pretexts on various occasions. Though, it is agreeable that these schools provide good education and that the government run schools are no match to the infrastructure that these institutions have developed, however, the management of these schools operate independently, never bothering to consult the government, even on major decisions.

Only on special occasions, the heads of these institutions organize programs, where for their vested interests they invite top politicians from the government. Recently, a reputed school that has a huge turnover got its entire school premises revamped, with spending from the state exchequer. Another private school got a big plot of government land on lease for a meagre amount.  

These top schools also enjoy impunity as the children of top politicians, bureaucrats and even separatist leaders are enrolled in these institutions. Rather than regulating the faulty practices of these institutions, these powerful people are the first ones to make up the queue during the admission period. Holding these institutions accountable therefore becomes a major challenge. “Even if someone tries to question the system, they are silenced by the management through different tactics.’’ shared Mudasir Ahmad, a Social Worker.

Private schools started as an alternate solution to the government schools, where the level of education and the infrastructure were of sub-standard quality. These were meant to remove the divide between the rich and the poor. Sadly, today majority of these schools have turned into money minting machines. Students who fail to pay a hefty sum as their monthly fee on time are shown the door instantly. 

A century back, when the prominent missionary schools came into Valley, they had a defined mission in the education sector, mission to impart knowledge and values to the then generation of people in the Valley. They never differentiated between rich and poor, infact, the poor and under privileged were always given priority.

These missionary schools not only provided empowerment to the people who were living below the poverty line but also gave them a sense of belonging. The government on their part acknowledged their contribution and provided huge chunks of land to these schools on lease at prime locations as a reward. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, not only have these missionary schools forgotten their basic ideology, but have also transitioned to adopting a more business-model like approach.

Many other private schools that have come up in different parts of Kashmir have followed suit and turned into commercial establishments, where the only priority is money. These schools are earning crores of rupees every year while their services are now only available for a particular class who can afford to pay hefty amounts as admission fee. The donation culture is equally thriving in these schools. Some schools demand huge amounts in donations to fit in an extra child coming from a rich or influential family. In contrast, those who cannot afford such an extravagant amounts are asked to seek admission in the government school. 

There have been many occasions when parents have tried to exert pressure on the authorities of these schools, but to no avail. “In some of these schools, parents and guardians are even humiliated by the school officials. If somebody dares to speak against them, their children are made the scapegoat.

In 99 percent cases, the government always favours these schools as these institutions are being run by powerful people who have good connection in the power corridors.’’ shared a parent who was allegedly humiliated by the school when he highlighted some issues pertaining to his children. “It is better to keep silence than raise a voice against these private schools. This is the lesson which I learnt after I complained against these powerful people.’’ he further shared, wishing not to be named.        

After instances of growing public pressure on these schools, the recent one being on the over-burdened schools bags and a campaign that was launched on social media by the parents and members of civil society, the government has now constituted a high level committee and formed an expert committee to suggest possible measures to help reduce the weight of bags of school-going children.

The members of the committee include Prof A G Madhosh, Former Head of the Department, Department of Commerce, University of Kashmir; Prof. (Dr) Nusrat Andrabi, Ex-Principal & Member of Indian Red Cross Society; Prof. Abdul Jabbar (Retd) Ex-Principal Govt. Degree College Bemina and Prof. Veena Pandita, Secretary, J&K State Board of School Education.

As per the government notification serviced by the J&K Board of School Education, the committee has been asked to submit its report to the government within a month.

Directorate of School Education, Kashmir said that the students are being subjected to heavy book load as per prevailing time table fixed by various educational institutions, particularly the private schools.

“This kind of situation can lead to various ailments in children at a young age. This is a matter of serious concern and needs to be addressed immediately.” an official from the education department shared.

 A circular was issued by DESK and accordingly, it called upon all the heads of the institutions particularly the principals of private schools functioning in Srinagar and other parts of Kashmir to ensure that the time table was framed in such a manner where minimum book load was required to be carried by the students. It also advised schools to work out a strategy where the extra books may be retained in the schools and be given to the students as and when required.

In July 2014, a government-appointed panel in Mumbai had revealed that children carry very heavy school bags in comparison to their age and over 58 per cent of students below 10 years are suffering from orthopaedic ailments. The committee had recommended that one book should be used for three months for each subject and the textbook weight can be reduced by using less weight paper and no hardcover.

It had also suggested use of e-classroom, audio-visual technology and other technological means for teaching. There are many other growing issues related to the private schools that the government needs to assess and mitigate, otherwise a small issue in any of these private schools could snowball into a big controversy, which would leave the government wrong footed.

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