Delhi nursery admissions meets the RTE
Hartosh Singh Bal has a new article up on the Global New York Times site titled “Classes Warfare“. In that he narrates a personal account of his inability to wrangle a nursery seat for his three year old son.
New Delhi’s top private nursery schools are perhaps as competitive as an Ivy League college, but that’s not saying much about the means required to get in. I should know: I spent the last month filling in application forms to 10 private schools for my three-year-old son, and he wasn’t admitted to any.
Source : NYT Global Site
I dont want to make light of a serious situation. I dont know of a single family for which this would not be a nightmare scenario. But Mr Bal misses the point entirely about why the situation is so. He says that the RTE Judgment in the Delhi High Court failed to provide “some remedy” to the throngs of parents. If only the petitioners had been successful in court. In this post, I argue that is not the case. If people really want a remedy they must call out the RTE Act itself for the damage it is about to wreck and hopefully make the next year better.
Recap of RTE situation in Delhi
The RTE judgment in the Delhi HC has not been reported on very well in the press. The RTE Act is known for the 25% quota but there is another clause in there. Sec 13(1) which bars schools from screening any parent or student. From what I understand, RTE “Enabled” Private Schools in Delhi were following this formula give or take : 25% RTE Quota + 20% Management Quota + 55% Lottery with weights. The weights had to do with assignment of points for siblings, alumni, location etc. All of which seem reasonable to me. The matter in front of the court was the 75% quota as it applied to nursery ( < 1st std) admissions. The petitioners would not give any discretion to the school managements for the 75% and would only accept a lottery. The Court denied their position, but nudged the HRD Ministry to amend the law itself. The case is also going up the Supreme Court.
As it turned out, Mr Hartosh Bal ended with a less than 1:10 odds of landing a seat. If the court had sided with the petitioners all 75% would be thrown open to lottery. In that scenario, the new odds according to his own statistics are 1:30 (1500 seats and 50000) applicants. An even lesser chance. Folks are unwilling to confront the most obvious question.
Why arent new schools opening up to pick up this wild demand ?
It is fashionable to slam school managements as the evil who actively look for ways to discriminate. The media is hammering into us that it isnt capacity mismatch that left us out rather active bias on basis of power, economic status, and whatnot. Being able to select students for admission is a vital facet of the right to run an educational institution and indeed a great incentive for starting one. After all, if the private schools had lesser applicants than the number of seats there would be zero screening. They screen because of the demand and they screen based on what their conception of an ideal private unaided school is. If they want a power politician school, they’ll pick neta kids, some pick army men, some purely pick moneybags – perhaps to fund the new block, some pick English speakers. Remember the demand is not just for seats, but for seats with certain other group characteristics.
Without autonomy in admissions, and that includes screening, the entire range of incentives to start schools vanish suddenly. To that add an amorphous and discriminatory RTE act any adventure into starting a school is foolish. There is very little due process protection against any NGO armed with a Xerox copy of the RTE act. The fundamental anti-trespass nature of private property goes for a toss. The RTE Act’s biggest fallout is going to be evaporation of capacity. No one will come forward to establish a school unless protections such as those for religious minorities are offered (which deserves 10 posts in itself). As some great man said “You will never sow if you arent sure you will be allowed to reap“.
Despite my strident opposition to the RTE, I am not an extremist. Screening is evil if schools work themselves into a monopoly situation by virtue of having been there first. The main reason for monopolies to arise is this. The impossibility of any newcomer to fulfil regulatory requirements the incumbents are exempted from. In such cases, the well recognized legal doctrine of ‘reasonable non discriminatory conditions’ can be enforced like it is for telecom and electric providers. But that doesn’t have to be the case here where there is no resource crunch. Clear rules, lets start with repeal of RTE, will encourage new players to enter. I can already see people drooling over the 50,000 kids of middle class parents, some of whom are ready to pay $10,000 for a seat. It may be unpalatable for socialists that new schools will cater to rich, but think harder. It will improve the odds from 1,500/50,000 to 1,500/20,000 because the other 30,000 are knocked off due to their willingness to pay. There are no losers in this scenario.
What can a common man do. For starters, educate yourself about what laws like RTE entail. It is hard because the media does not carry substantial analysis of any statute rather focusing on consequences. Once the facts are out there you will recognize. Laws like RTE will shrink capacity, undermine property rights, equal protection, and freedom of occupation.
It doesn’t matter if we lose in a lottery or in a beauty pageant. We still have to break the news to our kids. The beauty pageant will increase total capacity and the lottery will shrink it.