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330 unrecognised schools to be closed

Right to Education, School Recognition, Unrecognized Schools

VIJAYWADA: The State Government has prepared ground to shut down 330 unrecognised schools operating in Krishna district. Criminal cases would be booked against the managements, if the unrecognised schools were opened after summer vacation, District Education Officer (DEO) D. Devananda Reddy warned.
The DEO said that in all 220 unrecognised schools were there in Krishna district and 110 schools were running in Vijayawada city. The district administration would close down all the unrecognised schools as per Right to Education Act, he said. Stating that the parents would face trouble, if their children were admitted in unrecognised institutions, Mr. Reddy asked them to admit their wards in recognised schools only.
The list of the unrecognised schools has been displayed in the Deputy Education Officer’s office in the district and a copy of the list was also uploaded on to www.dyeovijayawada.yolasite.com, for giving information to the public.
Besides, the officials would enlighten the people through media and brochures, he said.
Government will not grant any concessions for the students who admit in unrecognised institutions and the students will face problems as the transfer, study and conduct certificates are not valid.
The State Government was providing several facilities including, improving infrastructure in Government schools, qualified teachers, free books and uniform for students, Mid-Day Meals, health check up for students and teaching in English in all Government-run institutions, said the DEO and appealed to the parents to admit their children in Government Schools only.
The DEO along with Deputy Education Officers (Dy.Eos) and Mandal Education Officers took out a rally from Benz Circle to Sub-Collector’s office in the city on Saturday, to enlighten the people on the consequences, if children were admitted in unrecognised schools.
The officials also explained to the public the facilities and benefits of Government schools. Deputy EOs M.V. Krishna Reddy, P. George Raju, C.V.L. Narasimha Rao, K. Durga Prasad and others participated in the rally.

The Hindu, 20 May 2012

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Research Paper

Budget Private Schools, Learning Achievements, Unrecognized Schools

The relative quality and cost-effectiveness of private and public schools for low-income families: a case study in a developing country 2010

James Tooley;Pauline Dixon;Yarim Shamsan;Ian Schagen

The “mushrooming” of private schools for low-income families has been widely noted in the literature; however, very little is known about the quality of these schools. This research explored the relative quality of private unaided (recognised and unrecognised) and government schools in low-income areas of Hyderabad, India. A preliminary census to locate unrecognised private schools – not on official lists – was conducted. Data were collected on achievement and background variables for 3,910 pupils from a stratified random sample of schools. Using multilevel modelling shows that pupils in private unrecognised and recognised schools, when controlled for age, pupil’s IQ, and class average IQ, achieve higher scores in mathematics and English than equivalent pupils in government schools. There is no significant difference between private and government schools in pupil achievement in Urdu. The achievement advantage for private schools did not arise because of greater resources available, at least in terms of per pupil teacher salaries.

For more read here

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Can we afford to shut unrecognised schools?

Unrecognized Schools

The Right to Education Bill, 2009 passed in Parliament in August, 2009 and came into force from April 1, 2010 calls for the closure of all unrecognised schools which fail to meet recognition criteria within the stipulated period of three years from the date of commencement of this Act. The Act has laid down elaborate physical norms and standards for recognition which pertains to number of teachers, provision of toilets, playground, kitchen etc.,minimum number of working days in an academic year, minimum number of working hours per week for the teacher, availability of teaching learning equipment and library. The main thrust of the Act is on ensuring physical infrastructure in schools and not at all on improving learning outcomes, which is the prime concern these days.

Given that the Act stresses only on physical infrastructure for obtaining recognition, once in force it will have implications for states like Punjab where physical infrastructure is already the best and where unrecognised schools have emerged on massive scale due to the failure of the government schools to deliver education of good quality.

Punjab has been quite successful in delivering quantitatively. The National University of Educational Planning and Administration has consistently ranked it among the top three states in the Educational Infrastructure Index. Similarly, the seventh all-India educational survey of NCERT placed the state to top providers of educational infrastructure with 94% of the rural habitations covered by a primary school within a distance of one km, and 91% having upper primary school in the radius of 3 km.

But as far as quality is concerned, situation is deplorable and it marred by poor governance. This poor quality has forced the parents to look for alternatives and generated a market response in the form of proliferation of unrecognised schools. The parents who can afford to pay higher fees move to the unrecognized schools, which are perceived to be the providers of more market-oriented education since they teach in English. It’s mainly the marginalised left in government schools. For example, in Punjab, 55% of the students in government schools are from scheduled castes.

Unrecognised schools are over 85% of the total private schools. The private schools have not emerged in Punjab as much as in other states such as Kearla and account for just 5% of the total elementary schools.

Given the magnitude of unrecognised schools in Punjab both in terms of number of schools and percentage of students, raises an important question i.e. “Can we afford to shut unrecognised schools”? Closing them can really be disastrous given the already poor educational outcomes of the state. The Act says the students of unrecognised schools will be accommodated in government schools, but we cannot put at stake the future of students who shifted to private schools due to poor quality. The government still wants to close down these schools then it should improve the education quality of its own schools first.

The unrecognised schools have no problem in going for the recognition. However, they lack resources to meet the elaborate recognition criteria. But, if the government still wants them to seek recognition then why not the government fund these schools. Just because a child is enrolled in unrecognised school should he/she be treated differently? Are these children not the responsibility of government? Why his/her right to government’s per capita spending is being conditioned to enrolment in recognised school. The ultimate concern of the government should be to ensure that students learn irrespective of from where.

Annu, The Financial Express, 6 April 2010

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Private Schools for the Poor Development, Provision, and Choice in India

Budget Private Schools, School Choice, Unrecognized Schools

Across the world, millions of poor families are sending their children to schools with fees as low as $1/month. In the city of Hyderabad, 73% of families in slum areas send their children to private school. This report examines private enrollment throughout India to explain why private schools for the poor exist and in which cases they are most likely to have the largest effect on enrollment. Covering every state and region of India, the study utilizes a macro-level analysis of various independent factors such as government spending on education, political opinion, economic data, and cultural variables to determine their relationship to private schools in the developing world. In addition, case studies in Hyderabad and Mumbai trace the history of school development.

Key findings include the following:

1. Private schooling in India is demand-driven. Parents choose private education because they believe they provide better education and future opportunities for their children than the government schools. Supply-side factors have little statistical relationship to private schools; private schools exist because parents demand them.

2. There is no statistical relationship between a particular region’s wealth and private enrollment. Private schools in India are as likely to exist in poor areas as rich ones.

3. Political factors play a serious role in private education choice. Government spending on education has an inverse relationship with private enrollment: the more governments spend on education in a given state, the lower private enrollment is. In addition, public opinion of a local government matters—the lower opinion of the government is related to higher private enrollment. Finally, there is a major statistical link between teacher absence in government schools and private enrollment.

4. Certain cultural factors affect private enrollment. Hyderabad illustrates how English language instruction drives private schooling; Mumbai shows how in slum areas, private schools may be the poor’s only choice, and the macro-level analysis shows a strong link between Muslim population and private enrollment.

5. Political and regulatory differences between states affect the size of the private sector. For example, the requirement in Maharastra to be a registered society or trust makes establishing a private school more cumbersome.

6. Suggested related reading is included as part of GMC’s Enterprising Schools project.

The popularity of private schooling as a choice for low-income parents suggests that private education is likely to be prevalent throughout the developing world, not just in India.

However, existing literature and this report do little to explore private school quality—the most pressing future research need is measuring school quality and communicating it to parents. On a larger scale, these findings reinforce the larger notion that market-based approaches which focus on consumer demand should drive development strategies.

Ross Baird, Gray Matters Capital, May 2009

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The Right to Education Act: A critique

Access to education, Autonomy, Budget Private Schools, Edupreneurship, Government run schools, Learning Achievements, Licenses and Regulations, Right to Education, School Fee, School Management Committee, Teacher performance, Teacher salary, Unrecognized Schools

The `Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009′ (RTE Act) came into effect today, with much fanfare and an address by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In understanding the debates about this Act, a little background knowledge is required. Hence, in this self-contained 1500-word blog post, I start with a historical narrative, outline key features of the Act, describe its serious flaws, and suggest ways to address them.

Historical narrative

After independence, Article 45 under the newly framed Constitution stated that the state shall endeavor to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years.

As is evident, even after 60 years, universal elementary education remains a distant dream. Despite high enrolment rates of approximately 95% as per the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER 2009), 52.8% of children studying in 5th grade lack the reading skills expected at 2nd grade. Free and compulsory elementary education was made a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution in December 2002, by the 86th Amendment. In translating this into action, the `Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill’ was drafted in 2005. This was revised and became an Act in August 2009, but was not notified for roughly 7 months.

The reasons for delay in notification can be mostly attributed to unresolved financial negotiations between the National University of Education Planning and Administration, NUEPA, which has been responsible for estimating RTE funds and the Planning Commission and Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD). From an estimate of an additional Rs.3.2 trillion to Rs.4.4 trillion for the implementation of RTE Draft Bill 2005 over 6 years (Central Advisory Board of Education, CABE) the figure finally set by NUEPA now stands at a much reduced Rs.1.7 trillion over the coming 5 years. For a frame of reference, Rs.1 trillion is 1.8% of one year’s GDP.

Most education experts agree that this amount will be insufficient. Since education falls under the concurrent list of the Constitution, financial negotiations were also undertaken between Central and State authorities to agree on sharing of expenses. This has been agreed at 35:65 between States and Centre, though state governments continue to argue that their share should be lower.

Overview of the Act

The RTE Act is a detailed and comprehensive piece of legislation which includes provisions related to schools, teachers, curriculum, evaluation, access and specific division of duties and responsibilities of different stakeholders. Key features of the Act include:

  1. Every child from 6 to 14 years of age has a right to free and compulsory education in a neighborhood school till completion of elementary education.
  2. Private schools must take in a quarter of their class strength from `weaker sections and disadvantaged groups’, sponsored by the government.
  3. All schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 per cent parents and guardians as members.
  4. All schools except government schools are required to be recognized by meeting specified norms and standards within 3 years to avoid closure.

On the basis of this Act, the government has framed subordinate legislation called model rules as guidelines to states for the implementation of the Act.

A critique

The RTE Act has been criticised by a diverse array of voices, including some of the best economists. MHRD was perhaps keen to achieve this legislation in the first 100 days of the second term of the UPA, and chose to ignore many important difficulties of the Act. The most important difficulties are:

Inputs and Outcomes

The Act is excessively input-focused rather than outcomes-oriented. Even though better school facilities, books, uniforms and better qualified teachers are important, their significance in the Act has been overestimated in the light of inefficient, corrupt and unaccountable institutions of education provision.

School Recognition

The Act unfairly penalises private unrecognised schools for their payment of market wages for teachers rather than elevated civil service wages. It also penalises private schools for lacking the infrastructural facilities defined under a Schedule under the Act. These schools, which are extremely cost efficient, operate mostly in rural areas or urban slums, and provide essential educational services to the poor. Independent studies by Geeta Kingdon, James Tooley and ASER 2009 suggest that these schools provide similar if not better teaching services when compared to government schools, while spending a much smaller amount. However, the Act requires government action to shut down these schools over the coming three years. A better alternative would have been to find mechanisms through which public resources could have been infused into these schools. The exemption from these same recognition requirements for government schools is the case of double standards — with the public sector being exempted from the same `requirements’.

School Management Committees (SMCs)

By the Act, SMCs are to comprise of mostly parents, and are to be responsible for planning and managing the operations of government and aided schools. SMCs will help increase the accountability of government schools, but SMCs for government schools need to be given greater powers over evaluation of teacher competencies and students learning assessment. Members of SMCs are required to volunteer their time and effort. This is an onerous burden for hte poor. Payment of some compensation to members of SMCs could help increase the time and focus upon these. Turning to private but `aided’ schools, the new role of SMCs for private `aided’ schools will lead to a breakdown of the existing management structures.

Teachers

Teachers are the cornerstone of good quality education and need to be paid market-driven compensation. But the government has gone too far by requiring high teacher salaries averaging close to Rs.20,000 per month. These wages are clearly out of line, when compared with the market wage of a teacher, for most schools in most locations in the country. A better mechanism would have involved schools being allowed to design their own teacher salary packages and having autonomy to manage teachers. A major problem in India is the lack of incentive faced by teachers either in terms of carrot or stick. In the RTE Act, proper disciplinary channels for teachers have not been defined. Such disciplinary action is a must given that an average of 25 percent teachers are absent from schools at any given point and almost half of those who are present are not engaged in teaching activity. School Management Committees need to be given this power to allow speedy disciplinary action at the local level. Performance based pay scales need to be considered as a way to improve teaching.

25% reservation in private schools

The Act and the Rules require all private schools (whether aided or not) to reserve at least 25% of their seats for economically weaker and socially disadvantaged sections in the entry level class. These students will not pay tuition fees. Private schools will receive reimbursements from the government calculated on the basis of per-child expenditure in government schools. Greater clarity for successful implementation is needed on:

  • How will `weaker and disadvantaged sections’ be defined and verified?
  • How will the government select these students for entry level class?
  • Would the admission lottery be conducted by neighbourhood or by entire village/town/city? How would the supply-demand gaps in each neighbourhood be addressed?
  • What will be the mechanism for reimbursement to private schools?
  • How will the government monitor the whole process? What type of external vigilance/social audit would be allowed/encouraged on the process?
  • What would happen if some of these students need to change school in higher classes?

Moreover, the method for calculation of per-child reimbursement expenditure (which is to exclude capital cost estimates) will yield an inadequate resource flow to private schools. It will be tantamount to a tax on private schools. Private schools will endup charging more to the 75% of students – who are paying tuitions – to make space for the 25% of students they are forced to take. This will drive up tuition fees for private schools (while government schools continue to be taxpayer funded and essentially free).

Reimbursement calculations should include capital as well recurring costs incurred by the government.

By dictating the terms of payment, the government has reserved the right to fix its own price, which makes private unaided schools resent this imposition of a flat price. A graded system for reimbursement would work better, where schools are grouped — based on infrastructure, academic outcomes and other quality indicators — into different categories, which would then determine their reimbursement.

What is to be done?

The RTE Act has been passed; the Model Rules have been released; financial closure appears in hand. Does this mean the policy process is now impervious to change? Even today, much can be achieved through a sustained engagement with this problem.

Drafting of State Rules

Even though state rules are likely to be on the same lines as the model rules, these rules are still to be drafted by state level authorities keeping in mind contextual requirements. Advocacy on the flaws of the Central arrangements, and partnerships with state education departments, could yield improvements in atleast some States. Examples of critical changes which state governments should consider are: giving SMCs greater disciplinary power over teachers and responsibility of students’ learning assessment, greater autonomy for schools to decide teacher salaries and increased clarity in the implementation strategy for 25% reservations. If even a few States are able to break away from the flaws of the Central arrangements, this would yield demonstration effects of the benefits from better policies.

Assisting private unrecognized schools

Since unrecognized schools could face closure in view of prescribed recognition standards within three years, we could find ways to support such schools to improve their facilities by resource support and providing linkages with financial institutions. Moreover, by instituting proper rating mechanisms wherein schools can be rated on the basis of infrastructure, learning achievements and other quality indicators, constructive competition can ensue.

Ensure proper implementation

Despite the flaws in the RTE Act, it is equally important for us to simultaneously ensure its proper implementation. Besides bringing about design changes, we as responsible civil society members need to make the government accountable through social audits, filing right to information applications and demanding our children’s right to quality elementary education. Moreover, it is likely that once the Act is notified, a number of different groups affected by this Act will challenge it in court. It is, therefore, critically important for us to follow such cases and where feasible provide support which addresses their concerns without jeopardizing the implementation of the Act.

Awareness

Most well-meaning legislations fail to make significant changes without proper awareness and grassroot pressure. Schools need to be made aware of provisions of the 25% reservations, the role of SMCs and the requirements under the Schedule. This can be undertaken through mass awareness programs as well as ensuring proper understanding by stakeholders responsible for its implementation.

Ecosystem creation for greater private involvement

Finally, along with ensuring implementation of the RTE Act which stipulates focused reforms in government schools and regulation for private schools, we need to broaden our vision so as to create an ecosystem conducive to spontaneous private involvement. The current licensing and regulatory restrictions in the education sector discourage well-intentioned `edupreneurs’ from opening more schools. Starting a school in Delhi, for instance, is a mind-numbing, expensive and time-consuming task which requires clearances from four different departments totaling more than 30 licenses. The need for deregulation is obvious.

Please support our efforts towards ensuring Right to Education of Choice through some of the activities suggested above. Join our RTE Coalition.

Parth Shah, Ajay Shah’s Blog, 1 April 2010

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Grade budget schools

Budget Private Schools, Licenses and Regulations, Unrecognized Schools

Unrecognised private schools, which cater to the poor in slums and villages of India, have been under threat for a long time. With the passage of the Right to Education Act, the threat is real. The new law specifically calls for these schools to be closed or recognised within three years. In 2008, the Delhi High Court had also wanted to close roughly 10,000 such schools in the national capital. The reason why budget schools do not get recognition is because they do not meet standards. They, for example, do not have a playground of a certain size or they cannot pay the minimum salary for a government school’s teacher, which is over Rs 20,000 a month after the Sixth Pay Commission. To pay such a salary or to have such a playground, they would have to quadruple their fee, and the poor would no longer be able to afford it.

Unrecognised private schools are successful because teachers are accountable to parents who can always move their children to a competing school if they are not satisfied. In a government school, there is little accountability as teachers have permanent jobs with their salaries and promotion unrelated to performance. Hence, one in four government-run primary-school teachers is absent and one in four who is present but is found not to be teaching. This horrendous situation is obvious to the poorest parents.

No one knows how many unrecognised schools exist in India but estimates range in lakhs. The move aimed at closing down institutions that serve communities and meet a gap in the supply of education seems bizarre and even immoral. The government’s answer is that these schools are of poor quality. This means that it thinks that millions of parents who send children to these inferior schools must be stupid. Why would parents spend their hard-earned money when a child could be educated for free and get a free mid-day meal in government schools? The government’s answer is that parents are duped by “unscrupulous elements”. It is the command mindset: “I know what is good for you!” You can fool some people some of the time, they say, but not all the people all the time — lakhs of private schools cannot enrol millions of children for decades unless they meet a genuine need. The irony is that while sending its own children to private schools, the establishment opposes a similar choice for the poor.

Why is it that we do not trust private initiative in education? Even eminent persons like Amartya Sen, who believe in the efficiency of the market, draw a line when it comes to delivering education privately. Our animus against the market may have diminished after liberalisation in 1991 and the fall of communism, but most Indians still suspect capitalism. People increasingly believe that markets deliver prosperity but they do not think that capitalism is moral. Even those who work inside the system feel guilty and do not value what they do.

Greater reflection will show that human self interest goes a long way in ensuring good behaviour in a competitive marketplace. A seller who does not treat his customers with fairness and civility will lose market share. A company that markets a defective product will quickly lose its reputation and its customers. False claims will lower sales. A firm that does not promote the most deserving employees will lose talent to its competitors. A purchase manager who does not buy at the right price will soon make his company uncompetitive and it will not survive. Lying and cheating will ruin a firm’s image, making it untouchable to creditors and suppliers. Hence, the free market does offer powerful incentives for an ethical conduct backed, of course, by state institutions that enforce contracts and punish criminal behaviour.

I used to believe that government schools were the only answer for universal education. Then I read interviews with parents in slums about why they had removed their children from government schools with better facilities. The answer in most cases was that teachers did not show up, and when they did, they were not interested in teaching. Parents felt helpless and could do nothing because teachers only felt responsible to superiors in the state capital. Moreover, parents wanted children to learn English and computers, but teachers were either indifferent or incompetent to meet this demand. Budget private schools may do a bad job when it comes to teaching English, but at least they try. Teachers are more motivated, and there is the ever-present threat of losing the child to a competitive school. Now I understand why more than half the children in India’s cities and a quarter in India’s villages are in private schools.

The government makes it difficult for private schools to function. I was baffled to learn how often inspectors visited unrecognised private schools. It is not because of an unusual dedication to standards but to be “made happy”, as one private school owner put it. Schools have to bribe to keep inspectors from closing them down. Hence, they believe that the Right to Education Act will raise the bribe required to keep inspectors “happy”. This, in turn, will force schools to raise school fees, and the burden will fall on the poor.

The solution is not to close down budget schools but to understand their situation. Since they cater to the poor, there could be a graded system of recognition. If we can have a first and a second class in the train, why not officially designate “first” and “second” categories for schools. Since real estate is expensive, allow budget school to operate with a smaller play area. Don’t insist on government salaries for teachers but give them autonomy to pay what the market allows. Set up rating agencies to assess the quality of both the government and the private schools to help parents to exercise choice. Of course, our first priority must be to reform government schools and once that happens, who will want to send her child to a private school anyway?

Finally, don’t be contemptuous. Don’t refer to them as “mushrooming schools run by unscrupulous elements”. Instead, look at them as a heroic example of people solving their own problems. School entrepreneurs are like micro-finance companies that are trying to compete and “make a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid”. What they need is a safe environment free from rapacious inspectors. They need titles to their property so that they can use it as collateral to raise expansion capital. Like microfinance, which has come of age, budget schools will one day build scale and brand names. They are symbolic of India’s unique economic model — of a nation rising despite the state.

Gurcharan Das, Business Standard, 3 April 2010

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The wrong way to school

Licenses and Regulations, Right to Education, School Management Committee, Teacher performance, Teacher salary, Unrecognized Schools

Heard of model rules? No? When an Act is passed in Parliament, there may still be vague areas that need closer attention. Model rules are written to help implement the Act. But the rules can never be better cooked than the original law was when poured into the parliamentary pressure cooker. No creative legislative masala can help cover up half-baked khana and half-thought laws. So it is with the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, and its model rules. The Act, commonly referred to as the Right to Education (RTE) Act, becomes law on 1 April.

One apparent sign of a half-baked law is the number of lawsuits it generates. Even before the Act has been notified, the cases have started flowing into the Supreme Court—the first challenging the power of the state to force unaided schools to follow a reservation policy. What dish would emerge and, importantly, when, from the Supreme Court grinder is anyone’s guess: In that case, the Act that is addressing one of the most pressing issues confronting the country may not be even on the menu any time soon.

So what’s in the Act and the rules? The hope was that they would at least do no harm to private schools, while helping to improve government schools. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Everyone is tired of hearing about the high rate of teacher absenteeism (25%) in government schools—and the fact that half of the teachers who are physically present are not engaged in teaching activity—except the makers of the Act and the rules. The “input” educationists hold the belief that teachers are absent because they work too hard with little reward in poorly furnished schools, so with a lighter work load, better pay and pucca schools, they will get better results. Get the best ingredients and we will get the best dish—that’s the recipe of the “input” educationists, who believe input equals output, regardless of the process in between. So they don’t ask about the chef.

The truth is the ingredients, even the best ones, don’t jump into the frying pan at the right time and in the right proportion on their own. A chef is needed: She is not just the principal or the administrator with the right skills and adequate powers, but also the larger system and mechanisms of accountability and assessment, as well as the clarity of goals. In all these critical areas, the Act is silent. And the drafters of the model rules have left the details for state education departments.

Consider that the proposed governing body of all schools—except for unaided private schools—is a school management committee that has no teeth to take disciplinary action against teachers or even assess the learning achievements of students. On the contrary, teachers are to be kept on a separate legal track when any action is taken against them. State governments, according to the model rules, must constitute special school tribunals at all levels for the grievance redressal of this persecuted species of public servants. Other sarkari officers have to follow the laws of the land and take the jammed, potholed road to the Supreme Court in case of disputes. Teachers take a short cut, set their own precedents with their own tribunals, as the rules ensure—leaving them entirely unaccountable.

There is neither mention of evaluating teachers’ actual competencies (which doesn’t end at getting a bachelor of education certificate, by the way), nor of students’ learning outcomes. But enrolment and attendance are to be checked. All students must be in the classroom? Yes sir! Teachers? Teaching? Learning? No. No. And hopefully.

As silent as the RTE Act and rules are on real teacher accountability, they are equally adamant on making all non-government schools immediately unrecognized on 1 April. No matter how long a school has existed or who is the proprietor, if it is not a government school, it must register again and meet all government requirements.

But what about government schools themselves? Well, they are already considered recognized, no questions asked. Under this Kafkaesque logic, the municipal school running from a tent for several years in New Delhi is legally superior to the swanky Vasant Valley School.

Still, the sadder part of the RTE Act is the looming closure of tens of thousands of low-cost private schools across India. Most of these schools serving the poor will not be able to meet the requirements of the land plot, building specifications, playground and such in the prescribed three years. When they finally close down in 2013, millions of poor students will be forced to sign up at government schools they had once opted out of. Bribes might keep some of the budget schools going for some time, but with the law stacked against them, anyone hunting for supposed ramshackle fly-by-night “teaching shops”—and there are many (read: leftist NGOs)—can persecute them.

The minimum that citizens should expect from the RTE Act and model rules is the improvement in learning achievements in government-owned and -operated schools. The role of teachers is central to quality education. But teacher accountability is left to teacher unions and school tribunals. After waiting for 60 years in the Indian Republic, citizens are going to be further disappointed—in fact, their pockets would be emptier in paying for this newly christened Right to Education. Or maybe the Act’s name itself ought to be rechristened: It is really the right to employment—for the ones fortunate enough to be hired as government schoolteachers.

Parth J. Shah, The Mint, 31 March 2010

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Opening School Doors to India’s Poor

Budget Private Schools, Right to Education, School Vouchers, Unrecognized Schools

Today India creates the world’s largest school voucher program. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 comes into force, meaning that from the start of the next school year, 25% of all recognized private schools must admit poor and marginalized students between the ages of six and 14—and government will pay for their tuition.

Though not consciously designed as a school voucher program, this is nothing short of a revolution in school choice—and a recognition of reality. India’s parents are already flocking to both registered and unregistered private schools, which provide a far better education than their public-school counterparts. In urban areas, some 50% of all parents opt for the private schools; in rural areas, where schools are scarcer, the numbers are lower, but still significant.

It’s clear why: On average, private schools provide a better education at a lower cost. The 2009 Annual Status of Education Report, conducted by a New Delhi-based nonprofit, shows that more than half of fifth-grade public-school students can’t read at a basic second-grade level. Private-school students have a 41% reading advantage in English over their public-school peers. These differences in learning outcomes are not surprising since 25% of public-school teachers are absent on any given day and half of those present don’t do any teaching.

There will be serious problems with the implementation of the school-voucher program. It mandates that private schools will have to admit 25% of their students from economically poor backgrounds and socially disadvantaged groups, such as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and other groups as determined by state governments. This will put more power in the hands of bureaucrats to determine which students are eligible to attend private schools, should they chose to do so.

The mandate also raises a constitutional issue—can government force private schools to take students chosen by it? How would schools resist further government controls when taxpayers pay for one-fourth of their students? Would this put the whole private-school system under a new inspector raj?

Then there is the question of onerous regulation, a ubiquitous problem in India, which still has a largely statist mindset. According to the new law, all private schools must obtain official government recognition within three years or be closed down. Schools must have a certain size of land plot, playground, library, teacher qualifications and salaries.

Private schools for the rich would have little difficulty in meeting these norms. However budget private schools where the poor go—those that charge a monthly fee of 70-150 rupees ($1.55-$3.33) in rural areas, and up to 350 rupees in metro areas—would find it impossible to meet these criteria. It’s utopian to demand that a slum school be earthquake resistant when all the houses and buildings in the slum can barely stand up to heavy rains and winds.

The salaries of teachers in private unaided schools are four to seven times lower than those of government schools. Requiring these budget schools to pay government-scale salaries would be a death knell. They would have to raise tuition fees substantially or close down; either way, the poor would lose the one option they have to escape failing government schools.

Thus the Act opens the door to private schools for some of the poor but closes the door for the rest of the poor by shutting down budget private schools. It’s hard to pin down just how many of these schools would be affected; estimates range from 300,000 to 700,000. The policy says the poor can attend private schools with state support but not on their own.

There is a way out of this contradiction: a graded recognition system which evaluates and rates schools through independent agencies. Such a rating system could involve various tiers based on facilities, teacher performance and student learning outcomes. Broader standards focused on outcomes as much as on inputs would help keep many efficient budget schools within the net of recognition. It would also enhance competition around quality by incentivizing schools to acquire higher ratings and assist parents in choosing more suitable schools.

The new Act has put India’s school system on a higher trajectory, but the future of millions rests on whether pragmatism prevails in its implementation.

Parth J Shah, The Wall Street Journal, 31 March 2010

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Beware school nationalisation

Licenses and Regulations, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), Right to Education, Unrecognized Schools

Government policy towards school education is schizophrenic. While on the one hand, it is working on rules to set up, to begin with, 2,500 public private partnership schools as a means to see how it can increase private sector involvement in providing education to the underprivileged (economically or socially) in a bigger way; on the other, it is all set to virtually nationalise elementary education in the country through the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. If that sounds like a huge overreaction, read on.

The manner in which the government will nationalise private school education is two-fold. First, all private schools have to reserve a fourth of their seats for “children belonging to weaker sections and disadvantaged groups in the neighbourhood and provide free and compulsory elementary education till its completion”. That is, private schools will now have to deal with SC/ST/OBC/poor and any other reservation the government can think of — and all these criteria can be “specified by the appropriate government, by notification” and changed from time to time. As for the payment for sequestering of a fourth of their capacity, schools will be paid rates thought fit by the government — this could be what the government spends per child in its own schools or some other formula. All those planning to expand their schools, like education provider Educomp and school chains like Delhi Public School, would be well advised to reconsider their plans since the Act will lower earning levels significantly. More important, private schools will now be answerable to various government departments, from the minority affairs ministry to the schedule caste commission and more — apart from, of course, the education bureaucracy which will monitor whether children belonging to “disadvantaged groups” or “weaker sections” are being admitted in adequate numbers.

There are other gems in the Act which make you wonder how schools are to be run — “no child admitted in a school shall be held back in any class or expelled from school till the completion of elementary education”; “medium of instructions shall, as far as practicable, be in the child’s mother tongue” (that’s something both Ashok Chavan and Raj Thackeray should welcome!); “no teacher shall engage himself or herself in private tuition or private teaching activity”, etc.

If this isn’t bad enough, there’s another section which says that in the future, only “recognised” private schools will be allowed to impart education — existing unrecognised schools will have three to five years to get this certificate. To be “recognised”, the school has to meet certain infrastructure norms, it has to have a minimum teacher-to-pupil ratio and its teachers must have certain basic educational qualifications. In principle, this sounds the correct thing to do, but if this results in these schools closing down (or paying hefty bribes to school inspectors to survive), that sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? There are no firm numbers on private schools and estimates vary from 25 per cent in rural areas (according to Pratham’s annual Aser report) to 40-50 per cent in cities like Delhi by others.

The schedule of the Act has some basic norms on the teacher-pupil ratio (two for schools with 60 children, five for 121 to 200 children and so on) and says there should be at least one classroom for every teacher. Each state, however, is free to set its own norms — the Punjab one, for instance, says elementary schools have an area of at least 750 sq metre (1,000 sq metre for matriculation and 1,500 sq metre for senior secondary), each classroom has to be 200 sq feet and should be at least 10 feet wide, the door passage must not be less than 3×6 feet, the laboratory must not be less than 225 sq feet and the library should be 250 sq feet. There can be little doubt bigger classrooms are better, but can the schools afford them? And shouldn’t the focus be on testing for education outcomes than on simply listing physical infrastructure? In any case, since no private school forces parents to enroll their children at gun point, it is obvious they are providing some education that existing government schools aren’t. Education minister Kapil Sibal doesn’t believe unrecognised private schools teach anything, but why doesn’t he get his own testing done on a regular basis or, more important, just focus on improving the government schools? Unrecognised private schools that don’t teach will then die a natural death.

There’s more. It is common knowledge that unrecognised private schools pay a fraction of what the government does to teachers, and they make do with teachers who aren’t as qualified as those in government schools. According to the Act, “the salary and allowances payable to, and the terms and conditions of service of, teachers shall be such as may be prescribed” — the Model Rules issued along with the Act spell this out in greater detail. Not surprising then that when Sibal told a group of educators that there was nothing in the Act which said private schools had to pay government salaries, there was a stunned silence in the room.

Postscript: While Sibal is categorical that foreign/private colleges will not have to reserve seats for SC/ST/OBC since they haven’t been set up with government money, he has little compunction in asking private schools to reserve seats for these groups! Though several private schools are threatening to go to court, I wouldn’t worry too much about this — when telecom firm STel went to court and won its case against the government’s arbitrary allocation of licences to a handful of chosen firms, the government simply asked it to stop operations in the places it had licences. So, the company wrote a note saying it never wanted any more licences anyway and the government used this to try and convince the Supreme Court not to rule on the matter! Basically, no one can take on the government when it resorts to strong-arm tactics.

Sunil Jain, Business Standard, 15 March 2010

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Where private and public co-exist

Access to education, Budget Private Schools, For-profit education, Per Child Funding (PCF), Right to Education, Unrecognized Schools

Over the years, India has aspired to provide education to every child in the age group of 6-14. Sadly, as some recent surveys and data show, there is a huge gap between aspirations and actual achievements. This gap can only be filled by encouraging private involvement over and above reforming government schools.

State of elementary education in India

Universal Elementary Education is constitutionally a fundamental right in India. The Union government passed the Right to Education Act (RTE) last year making this right legally binding. The Act is a great statement of intention but lacks the understanding of Indian realities and the courage to deal with them forthrightly. The fundamental flaw is the focus on inputs—school infrastructure, teacher qualifications and training, teaching aids—and none at all on the outcomes. Despite the consensus that the biggest challenge for all government schemes is the accountability for the outcomes, the Act simply ignores the issue of learning achievements of students. It guarantees schooling but not education.

As is well documented, the state of government schools in India is abysmal. It is true that the enrolment rate of close to 95 percent but it is also true that 34 percent of these children do not reach grade 5 and of those that do, 52 percent can’t read to the level of grade 2. Since a majority of children in India study in government schools improving them immediately is an imperative. Concerted efforts are necessary to improve the quality of education not only through greater transparency and accountability in schools but also through performance-based incentives and grants. The policy focus must shift from increasing inputs to improving outcomes. Parents must be empowered and given more voice in the system. School Management Committees need to be provided with greater pedagogical and operational autonomy. Given that an average of 25 percent of teachers are absent from the school at any given point and almost half of those who are present are not engaged in teaching activity, it is necessary to reform the teacher accountability and incentive structures. Instead of hiring teachers at the state level, let them be hired by local governments and schools directly, and teachers made answerable to School Management Committees.

Unfortunately many intellectuals, educationists and policy-makers believe that expanding the government system in itself, with some tinkering, is the necessary and sufficient condition for achieving universal quality education. They believe that since the government is responsible for education, schools have to be built, owned and operated by the government. They do not realise that it does not matter to parents and children where they get quality education from, as long as they do.

The rapid expansion of private schools

Tired of teacher absenteeism and lack of accountability in government schools, both the rich and the poor are increasingly rejecting free government schools and choosing to pay for education in fee-charging private schools. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2009 shows that close to 22 percent of children in rural India attend private schools. This number is much higher in urban areas. In the metros, at least half of the children are in private schools and in states like Punjab and Haryana, 70 percent are in non-state schools. More than a third of India’s children, a conservative estimate, now study in private schools and that the number is rising by the day.

So how is it that the poor can afford these private schools? Most of these children study, not in elite schools, but in budget private schools in poor neighbourhoods. These schools, some recognised and some not, charge an average monthly fee of Rs 70-150 in rural areas, and up to Rs 350 even in highly expensive metros. Budget private schools are the fastest growing segment in India’s education eco-system.

The government must recognise this silent revolution and support the choices of the poor even if that means supporting private schools. Private schools not only provide better education but they also do it in a more cost-effective manner than government schools. Also, private schools are accountable and responsive to parents: for example, they offer English-medium schooling that parents prefer.

Studies by Geeta Kingdon, James Tooley and ASER 2009 all suggest that private schools indeed provide better education. Though there is a variance in quality, it has been proven time and again that private schools provide better language and numeric skills even when adjusted for socio-economic and educational backgrounds of students and parents. In fact, according to ASER 2009 private school students have a 41 percent advantage in English than government school students.

As for the cost-effectiveness, there is hardly any debate. It has been widely established by researchers from across India—such as S M Kansal for Delhi, S C Jain for Gujarat, R Govinda and N V Varghese for Madhya Pradesh and Geeta Kingdon for Uttar Pradesh—that per-pupil expenditure in budget private schools is vastly below that of state schools specially in light of the difference in the salary of teachers. Research suggests that salaries of teachers in private unaided schools are four to seven times lower than that of government schools. Private schools provide relatively better quality education at a much cheaper cost. How should government respond to this reality?

Encouraging edupreneurs: liberalisation, decentralisation and vouchers

Recognising the potential of the private sector, the government has started making efforts to shift education discourse in favour of private involvement. The government has announced creation of 6000 model schools of which 2500 are to be built under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.

Even though PPPs in building, managing and running schools are important, it is equally, if not more important, to create an eco-system conducive to spontaneous private involvement. The current licensing and regulatory restrictions in the education sector discourage well-intentioned ‘edupreneurs’ from opening more schools. Starting a school in Delhi, for instance, is a mind-numbing, expensive and time-consuming task which requires clearances from four different departments totalling more than 30 licenses. The need for deregulation is obvious.

The legal requirement that all schools should be non-profit is anachronistic. The experience of other countries suggests that even when for-profit schools are legal, most do run on a non-profit basis. Addressing a challenge of a scale, importance and immediacy as education, India needs to attract as much capital and as many entrepreneurs as possible.

A simple change in the current system of education financing would increase accountability: Fund students, not schools. This means that the school that the parents and students choose gets the funding, whether private or government. The government fixes an amount per student that it wants to spend and transfer funds to schools in relation to the number of students enrolled in the school. Instead of current lump-sum funding, the state schools would receive their grant depending on the number of students they attract and retain.

Under this ‘Student First’ system of financing, all schools will compete for all children, rich and poor, and all schools will be accountable to all parents, rich and poor. This would enhance parental choice which would further healthy competition between schools and improve their quality.

School vouchers are a method of introducing per student system of education funding. Vouchers have been implemented in a variety of countries like Sweden, Chile, Columbia, Bangladesh, the United States and United Kingdom with varying levels of success. Like any good policy idea, it is imperative to test it by first conducting pilot projects. To test the applicability of vouchers in the context of India’s educational infrastructure, poverty, corruption and bureaucracy, voucher pilots have been conducted in Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh by government and independent organisations. Preliminary findings indicate that vouchers are in fact a viable option for financing education delivery. (Full disclosure: The Centre for Civil Society conducts two voucher pilots in Delhi.)

With the RTE Act, the government has unwittingly announced the world’s largest voucher programme. The RTE Act reserves 25 percent of the seats in all private schools for government-sponsored students from economically and socially disadvantaged families. The government will reimburse these private schools to the extent of per-child expenditure incurred by the state, or the actual school fees, whichever is lower. This provision can enable close to 2 million poor students to access better quality private schools. The conditions for success are: a proper implementation system that allows a fair selection process, a transparent and leak-proof payment mechanism, proper monitoring and evaluation, and the smooth social integration of these students.

On the one hand, the RTE Act supports private education but on the other, it restricts it by demanding closure of private ‘unrecognised’ schools that do not adhere to regulatory norms within three years. Budget private schools for the poor cannot pay teachers at the government salary scale and those in slum areas cannot have large playgrounds and libraries. Instead of closing unrecognised schools down it will be better to adopt a ‘graded recognition system’. This will involve accrediting and recognising schools through a credible affiliation board, conducting independent performance assessments and assisting them by linking them to formal financing institutions. A new rating system could adopt three levels to assess the facilities and performance of a school. These standards can help improve quality by incentivising schools to acquire higher standards and also educate parents on the level and performance of each school.

It is beyond doubt that private involvement is essential for the achievement of quality universal elementary education in India. The time has come to embrace the possibility of a world where government and private schools co-exist, complement each other, as well as compete to attract and retain all children under an equitable and transparent regulatory system.

Parth J Shah, Pragati , March 2010

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