Current School Admission Process in India

There are only a few things in this world that could measure up to the importance and value of education. It is a never-ending process. There is no age or time limit to educate oneself about anything. We have always been told that education is the gift that keeps on giving and it could not be more true. It not only boosts self-development but the development and betterment of a community and the nation.

Hence the Right to Education Act was passed in 2009 making education a fundamental right of all children in the country. It was a long process for the act to come into action, from the 86th amendment providing RTE as a fundamental right in the constitution of India in 2002, to it coming into effect from April 2010.

Following the recognition of its value since early on in the 21st century, we saw the growth of the education sector. Some of the focus points of this act were targeted towards elementary education (from age 6), the starting point of a child’s educational journey. One very prominent/discussed point made in this act was the compulsion on all the private schools to reserve 25% of its seats for the children from the weaker sections of the society. It stressed on the provision of free and compulsory elementary education to all children regardless of their socio-economic background.

Commercialization of Education

Having said all that, the last decade has seen the ascend of business-oriented approach within the education sector. Within recent years we saw a number of private school openings by millionaires within the business precinct. So now with the incoming of elite private schools, the conversation has shifted completely from the quality of education. Even just looking at the promotion of new schools, one could easily and justifiably be confused for it being an ad for a multi-star resort or a hotel. It is quite baffling to see that the first thing you are told about a “school”, a place to gain knowledge, is now how many acres of land it is built on.

The sheer lack of focus on the curriculum in comparison to the vast display of facilities for every sport imaginable shows the shift in priority. Not to say that all these perks are not helpful for a child as they do get to experience a range of extra-curricular activities, but the truth remains that if the quality of educators within the school is good, one less playground, a few less computers or the lack of a swimming pool doesn't hurt much.

New Education Policy

Introduced by the central government, NEP was approved by the union cabinet in 2020 and has now come into effect from this academic year (2023-2024). While this policy introduced quite a few heavily debated points, we will be focusing on its take towards the admission system in the country.

For starters, taking a step further from the RTE act that focused on the starting age of elementary education from age 6, the NEP called for the admission of a child in elementary school from the age of 3. This change has reconfigured the education system in the country from a ‘10+2’ structure to ‘5+3+3+4’. The initial 5 years said to be the foundational stage, includes 3 years of pre-school education and the 2 years of primary school (class 1 and 2). It is followed by 3 years of preparatory stage, 3 years in middle stage and then finally 4 years in secondary stage.

Elementary school admission

The ever-increasing competition in college admissions and securing a job is more often than not a general topic of conversation but the immense struggle of getting your kids admitted to pre-school remains within the niche of new parents or those with young children. There is a huge pressure on parents to get their child admitted to the right school, at the right time and at the right age since this is what sets the base, a foundation for their career. The stakes are too high and there is always a risk of making a small mistake that could end up costing the child a whole year. Since the implementation of NEP from this academic year, the govt had called on all the State and Union Territories earlier this year to make sure that the children given admissions for class 1 must be of age 6 or above.

This notice by the government came after there were many disparities within different States and UTs. However, in April of this year, Haryana govt relaxed the minimum age criteria by 6 months for admissions in 1 after a lot of parents aired concerns that if the new age criteria were to be followed their child might have to repeat a whole year in preschool. The statement about the age relaxation by the education minister read, “the education minister is of the opinion that right to education is a fundamental right and that if any technicalities pertaining to admission meddles with that right then it is unfair to the students and parents”.

Even if parents somehow manage to check all the boxes, being right in all of those aspects costs an absurd amount of money. It is exasperating how expensive education has become from the initial level itself and it only increases as you go from small towns to metro cities. According to research conducted by ET online in 2022, the admission or the enrollment fees in Tier-1 cities that comprises 8 metropolitical cities, goes anywhere between 25,000 INR and 75,000 INR. It doesn't even include term fees or transportation fees or the endless other expenses.

This huge one-time payment is just to secure a seat for their child. Regarding the pre-school tuition fees in Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities, the ET online reports that it ranges between 60,000 INR and 1.5 Lakh INR, every year. As for the collective cost of a child’s education in a private school from the age of 3 to 17, it costs about 30 lakhs. These parents have to pay through the nose just to make sure that their child is not left behind. This should not be the case. This should have never been the case for something that is a fundamental right. In no scenario is it acceptable for a fundamental right to be made so expensive that a staggering amount of the population has no chance to exercise that right.

High School Admission

Changes made in the final 4 years of a student’s school life are very risky. Any change from class 9 onwards creates a domino effect of confusion and uproar within the guardians of up to those applying for colleges. One such example would be when Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) was introduced by the RTE Act (implemented from 2010). For the batch taking board exams in 2011, it was nothing but chaos and confusion until the last minute. The prominent concern was whether the new evaluation would apply to the students appearing for the 2011 board exam. In case of any new curriculum, it takes time for everyone to get an understanding of it and adjust the whole academic year around it. But since CCE was a very new addition, no one had any knowledge on how to go about it. The primary and middle school classes could take the year trying to understand it while it's implemented but the class 10 and above students had much at stake. This risk factor only further sent their parents into jitters.

When the bewildered parents approached the school to get some clarity, the school administration was found in an equally baffled state. Now more than a decade later, with the implementation of NEP from this academic year, every concerned entity is in a similarly puzzled situation. To lessen the pressure of board exams on, the new policy proposes modular examinations instead of single year-end tests. Board exams for classes 10 and 12 will now be held twice a year instead of the one at the end of the academic year. Aside from that it also calls for the demarcation between the science, commerce, and arts stream. In this new multi-disciplinary approach, students can now take up subjects from any of the streams. Final result of the board will be a cumulative of each of the disciplines from both the exams conducted.

Now here’s the main issue that haunts the parents -

1. Will this new semester-based board exam be implemented on students who have entered class 10 and 12 this year.

2. How will it affect the college admission process for students in class 12?

In Maharashtra, noticing the confusion within students, parents and many teaching staff, the chairperson of Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education gave out a notice explaining, “there have been concerns about whether board exams, especially class 10, will be held next year. The 2023-24 batch of class 10 & 12 students will take their board exams. The state is in the process of adopting the NEP but it will not be applicable in the academic year of 2023-24.”

In a statement to TOI, president of Progressive Private Schools Association (Haryana) says, “if a child enters class 1 at the age of 6, the student will pass class 12 at 18. Now these students have limited attempts left for exams such as NDA which has the maximum age limit of 19. So, the government should first change the eligibility criteria for all such exams and then implement this rule in schools.” Many such doubts from parents in almost every state are so genuine that it's crucial to look at them before students lose a precious year of learning to the fog of uncertainty. Regardless of how valid or imperfect a new policy is, the initial year of its implementation only serves as a nightmare for parents and the educational institutions.

Impact of Pandemic on Educational Sector

This pandemic has completely altered every single of our lives. It is not an understatement to say that the world may never go back to the way it was before. There will forever be a fence between our lives before and after the pandemic.

There is absolutely no question that it has been the biggest tragedy that humankind has had to suffer in decades. Invaluable lives lost, families torn apart, millions left stranded away from home, every other grief greater than the last but the biggest loss of all would be the fall of humanity. The anxiety and havoc among the public was used to market basic necessities at an extremely overpriced rate When in dire times like these, making money supersedes the value of life, you know that our species is doomed for failure. Holed up in our homes, we all witnessed most of the industry fall to its knees. Healthcare took one of the biggest hits and was under immense pressure than any other sector. It was also however the most exposed to corruption and mismanagement. All the medical staff did their best and beyond with the limited resources that they were provided with but sadly in such a giant industry a lot of agents are involved other than the medical professionals.

The colossal failure of humankind aside, another very important sector that crashed because of this catastrophic event was education. It completely shattered the entire concept of school. An immeasurable loss for children, that they are still trying to overcome 2 years after the schools have physically reopened. A lot was laid bare during the lockdown about the shortcomings in the educational institutions. As mentioned in the earlier section, the infiltration of the commercial mindset into education is not a good direction for our country to be heading into but we only get to truly see the ramifications of it during the inevitable shutdown. The gradual involvement of external agents within the education sector over the decade has been so subtle for the general public that they failed to notice the ever-increasing digital divide shaping up in the country. Few months after all the schools were shut down, the majority of institutions shifted to online classrooms. Left behind were a huge population of children who didn’t have the privilege of laptops, smartphones or even internet for that matter. The living conditions of countless families were so gruesome that even having a home was a privilege.

We have been so desensitized to the struggles of others that it has become very easy to forget that all the access and options we have is a luxury. In the UDISE+ 2020-21 report, it is noted that about 75% of schools in India did not have internet facilities and 59% were without computer facilities that year. There are numerous low-income households where the parents work hard to be able to send their child to a private school. With the global shut-down of every work office, factories, a lot of employees were let go, especially those with low salaries. Every small business employee was also out of jobs. With no or very low incoming money, these families could no longer afford to keep their children in private schools. They were only left with two options- either to remove their child from school completely or shift to a government school.

According to the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) 2020-21 report released by the Ministry of Education, about 4 Million students shifted from private schools to government-run schools. However, the overall enrollment of students from pre-primary till high school dropped from 264.5 Million (2019-20) to 264 Million (2020-21). This data was collected from about 1.5 Million schools (both private & government) across the country.

No doubt that the pandemic took a lot from us and gave us an irreplaceable trauma to bear but if we were to look for one silver lining, it exposed every single fault in our educational institutions for us to look over and build the base once again. After what we as a society went through and witnessed, it would be extremely immoral of us to turn a blind eye towards those whose losses were far greater than ours. Education is not a luxury for only a select few to enjoy. It should be as accessible as possible and not an exclusive journey to experience.