- Increasing enrolments in unaided private schools is established as fact:
By ASER-2014 and U-DISE-2014 survey data. In states like UP and Haryana over 50% of children are enrolled in unaided private schools. Ernst & Young 2012 Report on K-12 education in India estimates that private school enrolments are increasing at a CAGR of 4% per year.
- Of particular policy interest are Budget Private Schools that have emerged:
In all parts of the country over the last few decades. Most of these are unaided private schools, typically catering to low-income neighbourhoods, providing English medium education at fees ranging between Rs. 100-1500 per child per month. Budget Private Schools are criticised on account of their poor infrastructure, use of untrained teachers paid a fraction of public school teacher salaries, poor teaching practices and focus on English education, and a lack of accountability towards the government or parents (such as non-maintenance of financial records). The main criticism levied on these schools is that they operate without proper recognition.
- Currently, the education policy does not sufficiently acknowledge the role and contribution of private schools in universalising elementary education:
And force-fits them into the structure of common schooling through stifling input-centric regulation. The current regulatory approach is unclear in its intention and relies on textbook compliance on inputs. It does a great disservice particularly to economically and socially weaker (ESW) parents who send their wards to these private schools, and who are making a conscious choice of not sending their children to government schools. In the current regulatory environment, it is nearly impossible to meet school recognition norms without political patronage or exceeding the affordability constraints of parents; as an unintended consequence, well-meaning and competent schools are shut out of the market.
- The current regulatory approach relies on instruments such as fee caps, restrictions on medium of instruction, insistence on non-profit structure, and heavy requirements on inputs:
In Rajasthan for example, nearly 26,000 private schools qualify for 25% reservations under the RTE. Out of these, 21,000 schools charge fees lesser than government per child cost of Rs 17,500 per child per year. Yet the state government introduced fees control regulating what the schools can charge their students. In Karnataka, private schools are forced to use Kannada as a medium of instruction although Honourable Supreme Court has instructed state governments to allow parents to choose the medium of instruction for their children. In Punjab 1,196 such schools were closed down in 2013 on account of non-compliance to infrastructure and input norms of RTE, and in Haryana notices were issued to 1,376 schools. All of this creates an environment of regulatory uncertainty and results in local rent seeking, not to mention distress to children and parents alike.
- Poor parents choose these private schools over government schools with an aspiration:
To provide English medium education to their children. Studies conducted by James Tooley in Hyderabad and Punjab report that parents also prefer these schools owing to easier access to school teachers and principals, faster grievance redress, and visibility into children’s academic progress. In a democracy, it is ironic that the voter’s political choice is sovereign, but the education choice of the same voter gets scant respect.