The Supreme Court is looking into the Education Ministry circular on School Admissions. According to a writer in the Daily News the court wants to ensure equal treatment for all children. Presently the school admissions are based on several quotas – for children of past students, neighborhood or area based quota, preference for siblings of children already in the school etc.
There is no doubt that the best principle would be to admit on ability. But ability cannot be checked at the primary entrance level since the children are too small.
To my mind the principle of equality of opportunity cannot be ensured in the present scheme of things unless there is fairness in allocating public money, teachers and other resources to the schools. Presently there is no uniform grant per pupil nationally which could be used to base the total grant. Instead we find a system where all the funds are allocated by the Ministry without any rationale. In the process the better and more popular schools get more money, perpetuating the differences between schools. So the first step is to ensure a uniform grant per pupil to be allocated to every school according to the numbers enrolled. This is for Current expenditure. The Capital budget for schools should be allocated to give more funds to the schools without proper facilities like school buildings, playgrounds, latrines, water etc. Next the quotas for teachers for each school must be supplied. Eventually if there is financial delegation the school should be given the power to recruit its own staff subject to proper standards. Unless these requirements are first met there is no meaning in talking of equal opportunities.
So in the present situation the school admissions principles cannot be based only on abstract principles of fairness. Parental involvement is a key characteristic of popular schools. They support the school financially and otherwise through volunteering and fund raising. Middle-class parents are far more likely to be involved in their children’s school and past students more than other parents. So I wonder whether it is advisable to dump them by removing the quota for past pupils children although it is certainly not justifiable on the principle of equal treatment. Why not hand over such schools to the parents and past students to run them under supervision from the government. Then the right to decide on their admissions can be given to these schools with the condition that there will be less public funds or no public funds given.
Fairness in admissions cannot be determined in isolation ignoring fairness in the provision of public funds for the various schools.