Kochi: The slowing of West Asian economies is now impacting lives of children of migrants from Kerala, who are struggling to secure admission for their wards in India as they mull returning home or sending families back.
A.S. Pillai, a civil engineer in Dubai for around eight years, is planning to send his family back later in March. But he is running from pillar to post to get his two children—in classes III and VIII now—into a school near Kochi.
“It is economically sound for me to stay back in Dubai and send my children to a school in Kerala though getting an admission is very difficult now,” he said.
Pillai is not alone in his search to find a good school. As the global slowdown hits the United Arab Emirates, particularly Dubai, where a significant number of migrants are from Kerala, these non-resident Indians (NRIs) are looking to either return or at least send their families back.
According to Ibrahim Kutty T.P.M., president of the Kerala CBSE School Managements Association, information from various schools points to 40,000-50,000 students coming back to Kerala in the coming academic year.
CBSE is short for Central Board of Secondary Education.
Increasingly, however, parents of such children are discovering that finding or getting into a school of their choice is not so easy.
P.V. Mathew, a retired government official who lives in Koothatukulam in Ernakulam district, said a cousin who has been working in Qatar as a mechanic for the past eight years has asked him to arrange admissions for his children to classes V and VIII, respectively, because he is sending his family back.
School administrators, however, are unsure of how to deal with the inflow. “It’s a mad rush for school admissions and schools have no quota for NRIs and admissions are for different classes, making things all the more difficult,” said Kutty.
There are about 1,000 schools in the state that are affiliated with the CBSE board, with an average student roll of 800-1,000. Even a 20% jump in demand for admissions for wards of those in West Asian countries will put schools in a spot, Kutty said. “It will mean having more classrooms, more teachers, all of which may not be possible immediately.”
E. Ramankutty, director of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which runs seven schools in Kochi and has trusts across the state, said enquiries for admissions have started pouring in but that it is impossible to hike intake since schools need to take permission from the CBSE board before increasing class strength.
Additionally, about 300 petitions are pending before the Kerala high court over the last year-and-a-half for no-objection certificates, which are mandatory for schools seeking CBSE affiliation, Kutty said.
C.S. Johny, principal of St Peter’s Senior Secondary School, on the outskirts of Kochi, said he has already received 30 applications for admissions to various classes.
“Around 100 parents have called from Dubai over the last few days. But since we are already full, it is not possible to admit any new student. Any new admission is on the condition of a vacancy,” Johny said.
Chacko T. Varghese, general secretary of the Kerala Manpower Exporters Association, said 200,000-300,000 Keralites in West Asia, especially in Dubai, are expected to return in the next few months.
However, demographers say fears of mass reverse migration are exaggerated.
S. Irudayarajan, head of research on international migration at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, along with colleague K.C. Zachariah, last month wrote in an interim report that there is no indication of any significant slowdown of emigration from the state nor any large-scale increase in return migration.
“Migration begets return migration. But what is significant is that there is no reason for panic since the return migration during 2008 was 11 lakh, up from nearly nine lakh in 2003 and 7.4 lakh in 1988. It is a moderate flow, taking into consideration the rise in migration,” said Irudayarajan.
Emigration from the state during calendar 2008 was 2.16 million against 1.84 million in 2003.
The interim report was based on quick estimates from data using a sample of 15,000 households across 63 taluks (sub-districts) up to December.