The Draft National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 has proposed 3 years as the minimum age for admission of a child at the entry level of school education besides bringing pre-primary education into the ambit of the formal education system by creating a new category -Foundation Stage. However, compliance of strict minimum age criteria of 3 years by private schools has been a major concern for parents in urban areas of India.
As the quality of education in government schools have become pathetic, securing admission at the nursery standard in a nearby good private school is a dream for parents in metropolitan cities in the country. However, the arbitrary criteria of minimum and maximum age at the entry-level imposed by corporate-style private schools have caused a mess for the parents. According to admission counsellors, the problem of age is generally faced by the kids born in the months of April, May and June.
In India, there are no centralised guidelines for nursery admissions or entry-level admissions in private schools. The National Capital Territory (NCT) Delhi probably has the most systematic, though not necessarily the ideal, guidelines for nursery level admissions in the country. As the parents in Delhi have been unitedly fighting for years against the arbitrary rules of private schools, there have been several guidelines for private schools from Delhi Government and Delhi High Court for fair and transparent admissions. However, the private schools in the satellite cities of Delhi located in the neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are not bound to any such guidelines because these states never bothered to regulate them.
According to a recent circular of Delhi Government issued on February 26, 2018 - 'the application forms of only those children will be considered for admission, who have completed 3 years of age as on 31.03.2018 for Nursery Class". Though the circular is flexible as it provides a discretionary power to the head of the school to grant a relaxation of 30 days in lower and upper age limit, most of the private schools follow the age cut off of March 31 as the last word.
"My daughter's date of birth is April 25. As I approached for her admission in nursery class in an established private school in Sonepat, the school administration refused to grant the admission citing she was under-age by 25 days. The school authorities argued that they don't give relaxation for even a single day and the students born on April 1 were denied admission," said J. P. Singh, Managing Director, VisionRI and Editor-in-Chief of the Devdiscourse. "The admission counsellors in these schools argue that the development of the children is so fast at this age that even a week matters in their academic growth and may create adjustment problems with the peer group. There must be some concrete guidelines on the issue of minimum and maximum age for admission in nursery or equivalent entry-level classes in the schools," he added. After running from pillar to post for a couple of weeks, Singh finally secured admission in a newly opened branch of a good private school.
Though the admission counsellors argue the difference between the learning capacity of children to justify their decisions, there is no credible study to distinguish the difference between the learning capacity of children for such a short period of time.
Delhi Government had issued another circular on November 26, 2018, on the upper age limit of the kids in nursery admission in which children less than 4 years of age were to be considered for admission in nursery standard. Thus the children between 3 to 4 years of age should be considered for admission in the nursery class. In this circular, the upper and lower age limits for admissions KG and Grade 1, have been fixed at 4 to 5 years and 5 to 6 years respectively.
The discretionary power of 30 days relaxation in lower and upper age limit of the child provides a huge scope for donation and capitation fee or even bribe. However, those expanding their business and also the new branches of established school chains are liberal in age criteria but not the established one. The parents suffer these problems but those somehow manage the admission for their child remain tight-lipped for the future of their children.
"This is not a big issue. It's easy to manage a birth certificate of the desired date for your child from the municipality. There are various people around municipalities who will help you to get a birth certificate of the desired date on nominal charges of Rs 500 to Rs 1,000," said an admission counsellor of a big corporate style private school in Gurgaon. Though not a big deal, these 'birth certificates' inculcate the first lesson of forgery – Sab Kuchh Chalta Hai; in the growing brain of the child. This story is not limited to a school but almost all the schools in Delhi and its satellite cities use this route. The parents are aware but have no way out. "In 2017, several big private schools in my locality denied admission to my child as she was two months younger to the required age. In 2018, I again approached some schools but they rejected her for being 'big enough' for admission in the nursery. One day, outside a school, a tout approached me with a promise to manage a birth certificate as per the requirement of the school. I had no other option," said Simran (name changed), an executive in Vasundhara, Ghaziabad. As admission in the desired school is the priority, the parents don't mind a few bucks for a desired birth certificate in Delhi the NCR towns of Noida, Greater Noida, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Sonepat and Faridabad.
"As per rule, the private schools in Delhi can't deny admission to any child on the condition of being over-age. If any such case arises, I shall raise the issue before higher authorities," said Ashok Agarwal, National President, All India Parents Association (AIPA), Delhi. (Devdiscourse is also running a LIVE DISCOURSE on NEP 2019).
Furthermore, some famed private schools in Delhi/NCR have started pre-primary classes and admit students as young as 2 years of age. These schools simply promote the kids from pre-nursery or play school to the nursery classes. However, if suits to their business interests the schools offer admission to 4 years old children in nursery or 5-year-old students are also admitted in UKG. The problem of age in school admissions is not limited to a region or state. In 2015, the Maharashtra Government came with a circular on minimum age criteria for schools in Mumbai. This age criterion also received criticism from parents, academicians and education activists. The age norms were further tweaked in 2017.
As per the Right to Education (RTE) Act, the government has the constitutional liability of providing free education to the children from 6 to 14 years of age. Therefore, the minimum age for admission in Grade 1 of government school is six years. However, there is some relaxation in the minimum age but the education of Grade 1 to 8 is covered under RTE Act. The private schools, however, run pre-primary classes - Nursery, LKG and UKG and admit students at 3 years of age.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2019 has proposed to include the three years of Early Child Care - Nursery, LKG, and UKG, into the formal education system. Therefore, the government schools will now have 'Foundation Stag' comprising Nursery, LKG, UKG, Grade 1 and Grade 2 of the existing primary schools. The clear guidelines on the minimum and maximum age limits for entry-level admissions in schools are need of the hour.