Steep Charges for Uniform, Books, Meals Make ‘Free Education’ For Delhi’s Poor a Farce

Private schools are flouting guidelines and charging students from economically weak families for books, uniforms and mid-day meals.

Parents waiting for admission of their wards at a private school in Dwarka . Credit: Shruti Jain

Parents waiting for admission of their wards at a private school in Dwarka . Credit: Shruti Jain

New Delhi: A March 21 circular by the Delhi Directorate of Education (DelE) strictly instructed private unaided recognised schools in the city to provide free books and uniforms to EWS/DG (economically weaker section/disadvantaged group) category students who were selected through a computerised draw for the session 2017-18. However, certain private schools have violated the key guidelines.

Students seeking admission under the EWS category are being forced to pay for books, uniforms and mid-day meals. The amount varies from school to school, decided autonomously by the individual school heads. Distorting the welfare scheme, private schools are asking the parents of EWS children to pay an annual mid-day meal charge – varying between Rs 12,000 and Rs 15,600 – if they want their children to receive the meal that other general category students have subscribed to.

G.D. Goenka Public School in Dwarka has asked the parents to deposit Rs 12,000 as an annual mid-day meal charge, which is optional for EWS students from nursery to class two. No concession is given to the EWS category students in the mid-day meal charges and the amount is the same as what a general category student pays. Similarly, Queen’s Valley Junior School, Dwarka, has also charged Rs 15,600 for mid-day meals, and a separate compulsory charge for books and uniforms (approximately Rs 5,000) has been demanded from students under the EWS category.

“When we went to the school (G.D. Goenka Public School, Dwarka) for the verification of documents on March 27, they verified our documents and asked us to carry a cheque book in the next meeting for the final admission. They made it clear that only tuition fee will be exempted, all the other charges that a general category student pays in the school will be charged from us too. They also mentioned the charges that will be taken for picnics, skating and other events organised by the school from time to time. We are not capable of handling such expenses so we are reconsidering whether to admit him there or not,” said a parent who came to seek the admission of his son under the EWS category in the school.

Some parents are willing to pay the amount demanded if it ensures equality among the students in the same class. “Our child should receive the same meal as offered to other students in the class. We don’t want our child to feel inferior in front of the general category students in the class. Therefore, we are ready to pay the amount,” said Satish, whose child falls under the EWS category.

However, no receipts are being provided for the mid-day meal charges being paid by EWS parents. “I’ve deposited Rs 15,600 in cash as charge for the annual mid-day meal,” said the parent of a Queen’s Valley Junior School student.

The food menu of the mid-day meals in private schools includes pasta, vegetable noodles, veg manchurian, green salad with tofu, and other dishes that children find appealing. “Our daughter has stopped eating home-cooked food. It gets really difficult to make her eat simple dal and roti which is mostly cooked at home,” said Umed, who got his daughter enrolled in a private school last year.

“It’s a management-run school and all the decisions are taken by the management itself. The principal can’t comment on the issue,” said a Queen’s Valley School staff member. When The Wire contacted both schools for comment, Queen Valley refused to answer questions, while Dilip Jha, administration manager at the Goenka school, said he would respond via email but was yet to do so at the time of publishing.

Rich Harvest Public School in Janakpuri and M.L. Khanna DAV Public School in Dwarka levied Rs 7,500 and Rs 5,880 respectively as books and uniform charges before finalising the admission of the candidates shortlisted in the first list announced by the Delhi government.

“When I saw the name of my daughter in the first list for admission to nursery class under EWS/DG category, I nearly jumped in happiness at my child’s secured future. I thought a free seat meant that we shall not be charged any fee. But the madam in the school asked us to submit the money for uniform and books so that her admission could be confirmed. Free seat is just a term used to fool people,” said Manohar Yadav, a resident of Jhilmil Jhuggi seeking admission under EWS category.

Rich Harvest Public School didn’t allow The Wire to enter the school campus and multiple excuses were made when contacted by phone. An email sent to them went unanswered, while a request for an appointment with the principal wasdenied, with staff claiming, “Only parents are allowed in the campus. We can’t give you an appointment for security reasons.”

 Circular issued by Del E stating EWS admission guidelines. Credit: Shruti Jain

Circular issued by DelE stating EWS admission guidelines. Credit: Shruti Jain

Discriminatory practices against EWS students

As per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the appropriate government and local authorities have a duty to ensure that children belonging to disadvantaged groups are not discriminated against or prevented from pursuing and completing elementary education. However, a parent alleged that discriminatory practices against students from the EWS category exist in M.L. Khanna DAV Public School. The school allegedly holds separate classes for EWS students in the school. “One of the reasons for changing our son’s school is that DAV held separate classes for EWS kids. When we complained to the principal about it, they enrolled four to five general students in a class of 50 EWS students,” a parent said, on the condition of anonymity.

“We are not violating any guideline of the directorate. EWS students are neither charged for uniforms, books nor any separate classes are held here,” said Sarika Pant, co-ordinator at the DAV school.

However, a member of the staff who did not wish to be named said that the EWS students are charged because the school doesn’t receive any grant from the government unlike other private schools.

Dharma, a single mother and also a supporting staff at DAV, has been working in the school for the past 19 years. Her son is admitted in the school under EWS category but she pays for his books, uniform and tuition fee, totalling Rs 10,000 every year. “After paying his fees and rent, I’m left with no money in hand. If the school hasn’t spared me, then how will other EWS parents be kept from paying?” said Dharma.

A senior official at DelE, who refused to be named, told The Wire that the department has received several complaints about schools charging money for books and uniforms but since this issue is in the court, the schools are violating the guidelines freely. The schools have submitted before the court that the amount they spend on the students is higher than what is disbursed to them by the department, which the court has taken note of. The official insisted that discriminating against EWS students by holding separate classes for them was prohibited, but the mid-day meals provided by private schools was a matter that DelE has no authority over.

Long list of complaints

Parents belonging to the EWS category have made several complaints to DelE about the problems they are facing in admissions. The Wire spoke to the aggrieved parents who were denied admission even after their name appeared in the lottery.

Some parents have also raised complaints about their children being given admission in far-off schools. Shiv Charan Negi, a resident of Mandawali, complained that the online Delhi nursery admission form accepted the pin code of his area (110092), however, his locality (Mandawali) didn’t appear in the drop box. He mentioned Madhu Vihar against that category as it was approximately 1 km from his area but the system allotted his daughter to the MDH International School in Dwarka, 40 kms from his home. “There is a problem in the system. The locations are not accurate because of which we have to suffer. The cyber cafes charge us Rs 150 to Rs 300 per form as we neither understand the system nor the circular issued in English,” said Shiv Negi.

Some parents have said they have received calls from schools threatening not to admit their children. “Since March 22, I’m receiving calls from a number, in which a madam intimidates me that my son, Harsh Rathore will not be admitted in school as his age is not as per the guidelines. I don’t understand the reason of these calls as my son is named in the first draw of the lottery,” said Brijendra Singh Rathore, an EWS parent.

Many parents have also complained that admission is being denied even after producing the required documents. “I’ve got the Aadhar card of my daughter made in Uttar Pradesh. The school has asked to get the address changed in the card. I’ve got her Aadhar card updated online but the school is not accepting the online updated copy and denying admission,” said Dharmendra, an EWS parent.

When contacted, Ashima Jain, additional director, DelE refused to make any comments on the matter.

Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist