Toddler Centers: Please own this baby!

Despite the hue and cry from parents, the school education department has failed to frame the regulations for the toddler schools and bring them under the ambit of the rules and regulations framed by the department. In fact it is a problem for the toddler schools also as no one takes responsibility for these.

The delay in framing the regulations for these play-way schools leaves owners, as well as parents, in a state of suspension. As a result parents, in many cases, parents feel that the proprietors of these institutions fix the fee structure, donation amount,  and admission fee as per their own will. On the other hand, owner’s cannot defend themselves as their are no rules laid out for them.  The blame game between the owners and the parents thus becomes an unending thing.

With no regulations from the school education department, the establishment of preparatory schools in the Valley is seen as an easy way to make money. Those who establish these schools, on the other hand, believe that they are doing a genuine activity that entails money and expertise. Unfortunately, the government has failed to take cognisance of this matter, and bring these centres under some regulatory mechanism.

Over the years, the overcharging by these pre-schools has gone unnoticed as the parents could not approach any competent authority in the government. Parents often complain that if the child has to be in the centre for some months only, why charge admission fee. But who can take a decision on this if there are no regulations from the education department.  It is for the government, particularly the education department, to listen to the both sides, and fix the fee structures, and also lay down norms for them.

This issue came to fore this season because of the lockdown and the consequent closure of all schools and creches. The admission and the commencement of classes for toddlers started in March this year. But the classes could not continue for more than a week as all the educational institutions were closed by the government a lockdown was imposed by the authorities to contain the spread of the pandemic.

Most of these schools start admissions in March and the toddlers remain enrolled for a few months before being admitted to kindergarten in the regular schools where the admission process starts in September-October. But this year, the educational institutions remained closed from the second week of March due to the ongoing lockdown. The kids hardly attended any classes in these centres. Now the question is should parents pay for all these months or not?  Unlike regular schools there can’t be any online teaching for these toddlers. In fact these centres are day care units where kids are familiarised with some basic things so that they feel comfortable at the time of admission in regular schools.

The owners may have their own defence. They have made investments, and they have regular expense, besides paying the salaries of the staff. It’s only a regulatory agency that could make a genuine intervention and do justice to both parents as well as these toddler centres. The absence of such an agency brings parents and the owners into a sort of confrontation.  What makes it more problematic is that the parents are asked to deposit the admission fee along with the original date of birth certificate of the child. Now when parents need these DoBs for admission in regular schools   as sense of being held to ransom. This could have been avoided had the eduction department owned these schools and regulated them.

In the wake of the closure of educational institutions, the government earlier issued a circular instructed the private schools regarding collection of fee from parents during the lockdown period. But no order or circular was issued for toddler schools which has given them a free hand to fleece the parents.

Amid the tussle, the department has not taken any initiative to resolve the issue and provide relief to the parties.

J&K is the only place which has allowed toddler schools to operate without any guidelines or control from the competent authorities. Outside J&K, the respective governments have set up certain guidelines which need to be implemented to ensure these preparatory schools remain functional.

In other states, the management of preparatory schools is barred to charge the capitation fee and their accounts are annually audited. Contrary to this, here the parents are charged a donation cum admission fee, which in certain cases even goes beyond Rs. 20000, by the preparatory schools. It is followed by charging a monthly tuition fee. The officials in the education department also acknowledge the mushroom growth of the toddler schools but have failed to regulate their functioning.

“We are working on it and guidelines will be framed to regulate the functioning of toddler schools in the Valley. Earlier, the number of toddler schools was less but now it has witnessed a mushrooming growth and need to be regulated,” director school education Kashmir, Muhammad Younis Malik said.