Oct 27: Liberalisation of private schools is necessary for all Indian children to be educated – https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/liberalisation-of-private-schools/
- GS-II: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Education, Human Resources.
Liberalisation of Private Schools
Context: India’s development trajectory is critically linked to the investments in social infrastructure, thus, liberalisation of private education will allow higher investments in human capital and inclusive growth.
- Nearly 12 crore of the 25 crore Indian children study in private schools. Of these 12 crore children, 70 percent of the students study in private schools that charge less than INR 1,000 per month.
- Yet, the narrative on India’s private schools is centered around a few elite schools instead of the low budget schools where most private school students actually study.
- For all Indian children to be well educated in a way that they are prepared for 21st century jobs and challenges, not only do children need to have great foundational learning but they also need to learn skills that will help them succeed. However, learning outcomes in budget private schools are only slightly better than those in government schools.
- The National Education Policy 2020
- Doesn’t address the weak state capacity to deliver quality education in public schools, and it doesn’t liberate private schools from the philanthropic mandate.
- The policy recognises the “severe learning crisis” in public schools but fails to address the accountability issue that’s at the centre of the severe learning crisis in public and budget private schools.
- For private schools, the policy does recommend that the norms to regulate private schools should change from input-based ones to outcome-based ones. However, the policy fails to recognise that this alone will not be enough to allow low-cost schools to deliver high-quality 21st-century education to 8.4 cr children.
However, irrespective of where these students study, learning outcomes that were poor to begin with, have fallen rapidly due to the pandemic. Also, there is very little evidence that either public schools or lowbudget private schools, under the current regulatory setup, have the capability to deliver high-quality education at the scale that India needs.
The Case being – The ideological imperative that being a noble cause, education must remain not-for-profit is especially bewildering when compared to the evergreen coaching industry and the more recent EdTech sector. The huge influx of capital and people that’s seen in these two sectors is a clear indication of the huge latent demand for quality education in schools as well.
Liberalisation of India’s private schools
It has to include both a rationalisation of the regulations as well as the removal of the philanthropic mandate.
- The plethora of regulations currently imposed by state and the centre need to be rationalised into a regulatory framework that focuses mainly on learning outcomes and essential safety norms rather than inputs such as infrastructure requirements, teacher qualifications, and fee caps.
- Additionally, schools can be required to publish information regarding other important matters including admission process, fees structure, teacher quality without being required to meet norms which impose prohibitory costs on school owners.
- To ensure that parents are well aware of a school’s performance, standardised census assessments of learning outcomes should be published for all schools, both private and public.
- As the NEP proposes, an independent regulator separate from state bodies that manage public schools should be set up at each state level to ensure compliance to the limited regulation to act as an ombudsman.
- Removing the philanthropic mandate means allowing schools to operate for profit with autonomy on all matters. Currently state and central boards of education require schools to be non-profit entities such as a Trust, Society, or Section 25 Company to affiliate with them. This requirement should be removed, allowing schools to make a choice.
- Schools run by philanthropic organisations can continue to operate with their current legal status. However, schools wanting to move to a profit status may do so by declaring their intent.
- One major objection against this will be that this will allow schools to raise their fees indiscriminately. While in the long run, competition is the only force that can keep prices genuinely low while keeping the quality high, in the short term, schools may not charge more than say 10-12 percent increment—which most fee regulation acts anyway allow for—to any existing parent. Schools can, however, charge any fees to new parents by declaring the fees for as long as the student can be in school (for the next 12-15 years).
- India already spends an average of INR 30,000 per annum per student in public schools where accountability is poor in general. If this sum, or a significant part of it, were to be made available to parents directly through education vouchers or direct benefit transfers, it would spur a huge supplyside response by spurring huge investment into schools of all kinds.
- The 21st century requires not just literacy but much higher-quality education and higher-order skills than being able to read, write, or add alone.
- India can’t afford to make incremental safe changes and expect radically different outcomes. Radical changes are necessary.
- The only realistic way that all Indian students can get education that actually prepares them for the 21st century is to liberalise India’s private schools and fund students directly.