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Delhi: Wary reaction

EducationWorld August 13 | Education News EducationWorld

The Delhi state government is set to finalise a historic decision to allow recognised private unaided schools in the national capital to run two shifts. Addressing media personnel on July 5, education minister Prof. Kiran Walia said a government-appointed panel has drawn up rules and regulat-ions for the citys top-ranked private schools to double their admissions, income and installed capacity utilisation.With the national capital attracting continuous migration from around the country, the population of Delhi NCR (national capital region) has grown from 6.22 million in 1981 to 16.75 million currently, resulting in the city and its environs experiencing an acute land shortage. As it is not possible to allow expansion of the majority of existing schools, the only possible solution is to go in for optimum utilisation of existing material resources by allowing them to run schools in the second shift, explained Walia.
According to the Master Plan for Delhi 2021 (MPD-21), the state already hosts 5,034 schools, of whom half (2,377) are private institutions. At the current rate of civic growth, another 550 bricks-n-mortar primary-secondary schools will be required by the end of the 12th Plan (2017) — a near impossibility. Therefore MPD-21 has recommended a second shift in existing schools in view of the problem of land and space. To evaluate the MPD-21 proposal, last December the Delhi government constituted a sub-committee. In March, the sub-committee submitted its report, endor-sing the proposal but advising that the second shift school should be a full-fledged replica of the first shift with new/different students and teachers.
The reaction of Delhis top-ranked private independent (unaided) schools, which are flooded with admission applications and have long waiting lists, has been surprisingly lukewarm. Despite the opportunity to double their revenue and being spared the intense pressure exerted by the national capitals high and mighty for out-of-turn admissions, they are wary about the terms and conditions — the fine print — which may be imposed upon them by the state governments resentful, nit-picking bureaucracy. We have to wait for the rules to be notified. Once that happens we will debate them with school management boards. We dont intend to immediately recommend starting second shifts to our member schools, says L.V. Sehgal, principal of the Bal Bharati School, Rajendra Nagar, and chairman National Progressive School Conference (NPSC) whose 110 members include premier schools such as DPS, R.K. Puram, Modern School, and Springdales, among others.
Knowledgeable, experienced princ-ipals also fear reputational loss and brand dilution because schools will be obliged to double their faculty, a difficult proposition given the acute nationwide shortage of well-qualified and trained teachers. It will be almost impossible to find the type of faculty we have nurtured over the past several decades for a second shift school. While the proposal is evidently in the public interest, we have to thoroughly examine and debate it with all our stakeholders before taking a decision, says Manika Sharma, principal of The Shri Ram School, consistently top-ranked in the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings.
Madhulika Sen, principal of the Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar also identifies teacher shortage as a sticking point. The crunch for teachers is being felt nationally and will be a huge challenge. Moreover, running a second shift will raise security and parent issues. The proposal needs deeper consideration and government must be ready to give leverage to schools, otherwise the second shift could transform into coaching institutes for EWS (economically weaker section) neighbourhood students, says Sen.
Curiously, self-confessed communist, lawyer and president of the All India Parents Association (AIPA), Ashok Agarwal, who would be expected to welcome a larger number of students accessing the countrys private schools, is vehemently opposed to the second shift proposal. In a letter dated Dece-mber 21, 2012 to Delhi state chief minister Sheila Dixit, Agarwal blamed the private schools lobby for the proposal. In the letter, Agarwal says that a 2010 report of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) on the implementation of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, had recommended that all double shift schools would need to be forthwith converted to single shift schools, with the teacher-pupil ratio as specified in the Schedule.
While ex facie the second shift proposal is exciting, it needs careful risk-and-rewards evaluation. The public interest demands that it isnt actioned with the speed with which CCE (conti-nuous and comprehensive evaluation) was implemented in CBSE schools (see Special Report).
Autar Nehru (Delhi)

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