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Jobs shrink, some parents consider moving kids out of private schools

Despite families looking to change their children's schools, they have not yet been able to because 'non-plan admissions' in Delhi government schools have not yet begun.

For Kashmira’s family, educating their daughter Rukhsana in an English-medium private school was an aspiration they had achieved by pulling together their income from scrap collection. But reeling under financial duress, they — like many families across Delhi — are now looking to switch to a government school.

Unable to pay fees for months because of shrinking incomes, lost jobs and reduced work, many working class and lower middle-class families across the city who had enrolled their children in low-cost private schools are discovering that paying for schooling is no longer something they can fit into their diminished household budgets.

Before the lockdown, Kashmira’s husband would earn Rs 7,000-8,000 a month by collecting and selling scrap, and from that they would set aside Rs 2,135 per month to educate 10-year-old Rukhsana in an English-medium private school near their home in Seemapuri.

Since the lockdown, he has not been able to earn more than Rs 2,000 a month — even less than the school fee. Kashmira has visited the government school near her home to enquire about admissions, but was told there are no seats in the English-medium section in class V.

“We really can’t do anything right now. The school has been asking us about fees but we are barely being able to put together meals for the family. I don’t think I have an option other than enrolling my daughter for a Hindi-medium seat, even though she has studied in English medium since nursery. We ourselves never studied and want her to study well and get a good job. Once she’s enrolled, at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing that she can continue studying,” said Kashmira.

In the case of Sarla, who lives in a jhuggi in Sunder Nagri and whose husband works as a TV mechanic, it’s not one but two children who she is looking to transfer.

“Luckily, my middle son is an EWS student in a prominent private school so we don’t have to pay his fees. We have been paying for schooling my two other sons — Rs 500 for one in nursery and Rs 1,600 for another in class VIII — because we didn’t want them to fall behind, but that has become impossible to sustain,” she said.

Despite families looking to change their children’s schools, they have not yet been able to because ‘non-plan admissions’ in Delhi government schools have not yet begun. ‘Plan admissions’ — which is the mass transfer of children from feeder MCD or private schools to partner government schools at entry-level classes — began in June and is close to completion.

However, ‘non-plan admission’ — which is admission of individual schools at different classes — have not yet been notified. This process usually begins in April, which is when the academic session began this year in government schools through remote learning.

In the case of Sumeet Uppal, a single mother who supports her daughter’s education by taking tuition classes, this has meant that her daughter has not been part of any school since March.

“My daughter studied in a private school in Punjabi Bagh till class VIII. I had already planned to shift her to a government school in class IX because it was expensive for me, but the lockdown started in March and the transfer couldn’t be done. When the school began online classes, they asked for fees. I said I can’t pay because none of my tuition classes are happening anymore, and asked for a transfer certificate. Since then, there has been no update about admissions opening in government schools. I went to the nearby one at the beginning of July to enquire, but the head of the school said they haven’t received any directions. So I’ve been teaching her at home,” she said.

This flux in schools also extends to those who have taught at Delhi government schools, like guest teachers who have not been called for duty or paid since May 8.

Sunil Shastri, who taught Sanskrit in a government school in Shastri Nagar, has been unemployed for three months because of this, and is now trying to remove his daughter from a private school in Shastri Nagar and enroll her in a government school in his village in Rajasthan’s Jaipur district, where he has returned for the time being.

“I haven’t been able to pay the fee of Rs 1,950 for months now. It’s even difficult for me to get a school leaving certificate as they’re asking me to clear two months fees before that. I don’t want a year of her education to be ruined because of my employment uncertainty,” said Shastri, who is a single parent.

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