new bizz on the block

5000 crores! A mind boggling figure! I do not even know how many zeroes it has and yet this is what private schools in India make by simply selling nursery school admission forms and this is no loose statistic but the result of a survey made by the ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation (ASDF).

It is again that time of the year when public and upmarket schools open their hallowed doors to new entrants: the little nursery babies. For the past year or more I have watched with growing horror the plight of parents and their tiny wards as they set off to fulfill all the modalities required to get admission in a good school. The drama seems to be endless and with its share of unexpected twists and turns. Just as you feel that things may just have fallen in place, a new bombshell hits you. After innumerable court orders, commission decisions and more of the same, the (ill)famed point system seemed to have been the chosen mode, but as some autonomy was left to each school, we were lights years away from the promised fair, transparent, etc process.

The shocker was indeed the recent survey and the mind boggling revelation: in Delhi alone good public schools are likely to earn revenues by selling prospectus to an extent of Rs.5,000 crore. Some school charge 1000 rs for their prospectus and the average a parent spends on buying prospectuses is 5000 rs. There is no guaranteed admission and one has not even begun talking about the fees, admission charges and donations asked.

Education is the new lucrative business on the block.

Yesterday a metro channel aired a call in programme on nursery admissions. Two guests were invited: one a upmarket school principal and the other an ASSOCHAM rep. Many harrowed parents called in, each asking candid questions or sharing some of their angst. The guests did not quite answer the proffered queries but debated their own viewpoints. While one defended the case of the public schools the other pleaded for some regulatory system. Needless to say the debate was heated and got nowhere.

All this is terribly troubling particularly in a scenario where humbler parents are wanting a better education for their children and where state run schools seem to be growing from bad to worse by the day. I cannot forget the plight of little Kiran's admission.

It is a strange situation. The children of India have acquired their supposed right to education after almost half of century of independence, and yet the bill is still on its slow way to implementation. The feeble voices raised in favour of a quality neighbourhood common school are loudly being shut down by interested lobbies: those of the public schools as yo will all agree it is all about money, honey!

In the midst of all this, little children are being forgotten. It almost seems like everyone is conspiring to keep the majority of children away from the so called good schools. And that is another matter of debate: who decides which school is good?

One had no choice but to agree that in spite of recession and tumbling markets children still need to be educated and hence education becomes a lucrative option. Every business house seems to have its own school and new public schools are being opened everywhere. On the other hand government schools which have prime locations and ample land seem to be deteriorating by the day making us believe that the lobbies are working well. Education is truly the new business on the block.

Who will bell the cat? No one I guess and yet the idea of a good common school has to be mooted and accepted. Perhaps not for the ones who can afford the mind boggling costs but for the many who feel they have acquired the right to give their children a better education. Getting your child into a good school should be easy and affordable, not the mortifying experience it seems to have become.

A good common school where teachers are selected through and IAS like competition and given sterling work conditions, children who can walk to a school that does not look like a 7* extravaganza, but an even playing ground that reflects the unity in diversity that India is. An impossible dream? Maybe, but dreams do come true sometimes.