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Private Schools for the Poor – Educating Millions in the Developing World

Budget Private Schools

Authors: James Tulloch, Aline Kramer, and Lisa Overbey

Endeva Working Paper 03

April 2014

Abstract: Low-cost private schools can help the poor bridge the basic education gap.  Indeed, they already play a significant role in educating the children of millions of poor families throughout the developing world – charging the equivalent of just a few dollars a month in tuition fees.  The bottom-up, demand-driven nature of low-cost private schools allows them to meet the specific needs of poor parents, many of whom choose to send their children to fee-paying private schools rather than have them attend free public schools.  Low-cost private schools succeed where poor parents believe public schools frequently fail – meeting their demands for Affordable and Accessible education for their children, provided by teachers and administrators who are held Accountable for the quality of instruction and educational outcomes.  This “Triple-A rating” that families are giving low-cost private schools suggests that they are an educational choice for low income parents that is here to stay.

However, there is plenty of room for improvement…

The complete working paper can be accessed here.

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Education for the poor: innovations of private schools

Budget Private Schools

Arvind Ilamaran

“The common are intrigued by the uncommon while the wise are intrigued by the commonplace” – Confucian proverb

If the above adage be held true, James Tooley would be wiser than most on education in the Third world.  His discovery of budget private schools (BPS) in the slums of Hyderabad and in other developing and under-developed countries like China, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Kenya in the early 2000s brought to light a new stratum in the education ecosystem previously unknown. This work led to his book ‘The Beautiful Tree’ in 2009. On 13 March, Prof. Tooley visited us here at Centre for Civil Society where we learned how the tree has flourished globally since the publication of his award-winning book.

Prof. Tooley describes the moment of discovery of the BPS in Hyderabad as one of epiphany and life-changing. Ever since, he has been committed to the cause of identifying these BPS, bringing them to limelight and advocate their importance to poorest of the poor.  He addressed the plight of the Indian BPS, highlighting how BPS closure for not satisfying the infrastructure norms in Right to Education Act, end up harming the very poor the Act seeks to serve.

There are many criticisms against BPS. One major criticism is that they do not offer quality education, where quality is characterized by input norms. Another concern is that private enterprises will not find the poorest quartile a viable market and hence public education system has to address the gap. Prof. Tooley’s work in Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and South Sudan tends to counter both these myths and offers insight into how education sector operates there.

Since 2000, Prof. Tooley has worked to establish two types of institutions. The first, chain of BPS in Ghana and Liberia. In Ghana, the Omega schools which he co-established with  Ken and Lisa Donkoh has grown from two schools in 2009 to forty schools in 2013 with 20,000 students through a Pay-to-Learn model that charges the student daily. The second is coalitions of these BPS to enable knowledge sharing and strength to advocate their case in the face of mounting government regulations that force these schools to operate at a higher cost or close down, hence affecting the poor children they educate. Some of these alliances are Association of Formidable Educational Development (AFED) in Nigeria (2006), South Sudan Association of Private Schools of Private Schools in South Sudan (2013), Liberia Private School Association in Liberia and Independent Private Schools Association in Sierra Leone. He also inspired the establishment of National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) through Centre for Civil Society. AFED, Nigeria has grown to the point where the government has amended policies to recognize new members of AFED as certified schools by default, trusting the internal assessment standards of the Association.

Prof. Tooley’s work has shown that private schools serve the poorest of the poor. Such schools serve local requirements and they often deliver better education than the public system. Countering the opposition to profit-motive, his research in seven slums of Liberia showed that there were 2 government schools and 400 private schools serving the population and of those 400, nearly 60% operated as for-profit entities. Many people found the for-profit model more favorable because the focus of a non-profit school is diverted away from children due to the need to look outside for funding whereas in for-profit schools, the focus is completely on children as the money has to come from satisfied parents. The BPS which was on the dark side of policy discourse in the developing world is increasingly becoming an effective and efficient tool in educating the poorest sections of societies.

On the topic of the business model of his BPS chain, especially the Omega Schools in Ghana, Prof. Tooley had significant lessons to offer. For example, anticipating the days when the household may not have money to pay for the school, the school provides coupons worth 15 days of fees as a starter pack during admission. In addition they offer a grace period and scholarships to students in difficulty. In fact, the daily fee is modeled as a voucher which agents buy at 2% commission and then sell in different localities. In Sierra Leone, Airtel offers a mobile service facility to enable this payment at 1% commission. These are just some of the many innovative solutions that the schools and communities have devised to address various challenges in providing inexpensive and quality education to poor neighborhoods.

The greatest concern raised against these schools was their incentive to improve and ensure quality, especially for the school leadership. Prof. Tooley’s response was that in a competitive environment, a schools’ greatest concern is to offer quality that appeals to parents and hence this is mostly a self-regulating mechanism. However, in addition, schools need to have proximate and meaningful assessment of child’s learning for the parents to be able to gauge the child’s development and hence the school’s quality. These are some of the many solutions one can devise taking into consideration the local requirements.

Prof. Tooley concluded his talk congratulating NISA and its work in consolidating the BPS in India and the efforts of Ms. Ekta Sodha in trying to start a pay-by-day school in Sika, Jamnagar, Gujarat that offers all educational requirements except lunch to the children at Rs. 20 per day. He envisions a global coalition of BPS and greater synergy between them to provide the best education to all deserving children. We hope that his dream comes true and that we can contribute in any small measure in realising it.


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Private Schools for Poor Pressured by Right to Education Act

Budget Private Schools, Implementation, Right to Education

Neha Thirani Bagri

Researcher/Reporter, New York Times

MUMBAI — In Dharavi, a Mumbai slum, a  ramshackle building houses the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh school, where 1,000 students from poor families take their classes in English, a language increasingly perceived as the key to a white-collar job.

Tuition at the school is 400 rupees, or $6, a month, which represents about three days’ pay for the students’ parents, but they’d rather send their children here rather than to the free local public school because the quality of education is better. “We want our children to fare well, but we don’t have the capacity to put them in schools with very high fees,” said P. Ganesan, who stitches clothes at a garment factory nearby.

However, this school is in danger of being shut down because of the Right to Education Act, introduced by the Indian government in 2009. The landmark legislation, which mandated free and compulsory education for all children from the ages of 6 and 14, ordered all schools to have infrastructure like a playground and separate toilets for boys, among other requirements, by March 31.

The two-floor structure that houses the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School is topped by a corrugated iron roof and lacks a playground, sports equipment and a ramp for disabled children, which are all required under the law. While the school has a library, the teachers complained that it is understocked. Of the seven computers in the school’s computer room, only one is in working condition

Many education experts argue that the Right to Education Act, while lofty in its goals, does not pay attention to the ground realities of low-budget private schools. In a study of 15 budget private schools in New Delhi by the Center for Civil Society, it was found that to comply with the infrastructure requirements in the Right to Education Act, the schools would have to have an approximately four-fold increase in their fees, making them unaffordable for the section of society they currently serve.

The Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School is undergoing some renovations, putting up concrete walls between classrooms and adding a second floor, but it doesn’t have the funds to make all the changes required by the Right to Education Act.

“The R.T.E. regulations are good for students, but it is difficult to collect funds for the renovation because the fees are so low,” said Devraj Natarajan, treasurer of the board of trustees at Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School, referring to the legislation.

If these schools are closed because of the government’s regulations, many poor children may never find another place to learn, said Mari Arunachalam, the school’s principal. “Many parents who are not educated will let the children drop out of school and send them to work instead,” she said. “The children’s future will be spoiled — that should not happen.”

Schools that fail to comply with infrastructure regulations, which are enforced by the state governments, risk being either shut down or being forced to pay a hefty fine. “There are nearly 300,000 budget private schools across the country with an estimated 15 million students, almost all of which will not be able to fulfill these norms,” said Shantanu Gupta, senior coordinator for advocacy at the Center for Civil Society. 

Though public schools generally have better infrastructure than the low-cost private schools, they have a higher level of teacher absenteeism than their private counterparts, and English is not usually the medium of instruction. A survey of rural schools across India by the nonprofit ASER Center, published in 2012, showed that basic skills like reading and math were better among children attending private schools compared to those at public schools.

“In some places, parents are choosing to put their children in private schools because they feel that their children are not learning in public schools,” said Madhav Chavan, co-founder of Pratham, a nonprofit that works with primary school children. “The number of children attending these schools is growing each year.”

Experts in the field of education say that the emphasis on a school’s infrastructure does not take into account the learning outcomes of that school. “Infrastructure is really nice to have, and every child deserves to have access to good facilities, but it isn’t critical to actually getting an excellent education,” said Shaheen Mistri, the chief executive at Teach for India. “Measuring outcomes is significantly smarter than measuring inputs.”

She added that one solution might be to move toward making it necessary for children to have access to resources like a playground, rather than insist that each school builds one.

The critics of the Right to Education Act’s infrastructure requirements are not advocating that children take classes in unsafe conditions, but they say it is unfair to expect the schools to comply with the law in such a short period of time. Also, they point out, public schools that lack infrastructure will be subsidized by the government to make the necessary changes, while private schools will have to come up with the money on their own.

“The norms set down by the government are good, and in the long term it might push school authorities to provide better infrastructure,” said Ms. Arunachalam. “In the meantime, shutting down schools providing education to children who have less means is not the answer – they should give us time and help us.”

As schools across the country start to be inspected by their state education departments, education authorities are worried that this will make schools more vulnerable to bribery attempts by government officials.

“The inspection officers are not interested in helping the school fulfill the norms; they are looking for ways to find mistakes,” said Kishan Gangaram Vasala, president of the board of trustees for the Geeta Vikas Mandal, a budget private school in Govandi, a neighborhood in Mumbai. “They often threaten to shut down schools for not fulfilling the R.T.E. norms unless they are given bribes.”

Neha Thirani Bagri

The Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School in Dharavi in Mumbai, Maharashtra. The second story of the school is presently under construction.

The Mumbai city government has asked the state government to relax some of these requirements, said Manoj Kotak, chairman of the education committee of the municipal corporation that runs Mumbai. “There is a difference between implementing the Right to Education Act in other parts of the country and in a thickly populated city like Mumbai,” he said. “The scarcity of space and infrastructure makes it nearly impossible for schools that have been running for many years to fulfill these criteria.”

The western state of Gujarat has taken a flexible approach in enforcing the Right to Education Act, offering a possible alternative for other states to adopt. As per the Gujarat state government’s rules, the efficacy of a school is measured as the weighted average of four parameters: 70 percent is given to absolute and relative levels of student learning outcomes, 15 percent is given to nonacademic outcomes like sports and 15 percent is given to school factors like facilities and teacher qualifications.

While it remains unclear whether budget private schools that are not able to fulfill the infrastructure requirements will be allowed to remain open, the future of their students is uncertain.

“A nice classroom and facilities are important, but here in Dharavi there is less space so we make the most of what there is,” said Faiyaz Ahmed, 14, a student at the Bombay South Indian Adi-Dravida Sangh School whose family moved to Dharavi from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

He dreams of some day owning his own software company, like his idol, Narayana Murthy, the founder of the outsourcing giant Infosys. Faiyaz’s father is a mechanic and would like his son to take his studies further than he was able to.

“The teachers in a school are important,” said Faiyaz. “The building doesn’t matter.”

This blog was originally published in the New York Times Blog, India Ink and reprinted here with permission from the author. You can find the original article here.

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Budget Private Schools (BPS) and the need today

Budget Private Schools

Mehek Rastogi

Campaign Associate, NISA 

In his recent paper, Prof Karthik Muralidharan compared private and public schools to clearly showcase the impact of school choice on learning outcomes. The research evaluated budget private schools (BPS) and public schools in Andhra Pradesh using the voucher model to assess the impact for school choice. Results showed that between BPS and public schools there was no significant difference in learning outcomes. Yet, the paper also shows that the budget private schools achieve the same learning outcome as the public schools, at nearly one-third the cost. The crucial finding – that there is a marginal difference in learning outcomes between public and private schools – becomes important in the context of the larger debate of public versus private schooling. While BPS can be lauded for being cost-effective, there is a dire need for commitment from these schools to raise the average learning outcome and this endeavour would need support from every sector including many of the NGOs and foundations working in education.

Budget private schools are schools which are not aided by the government, are owned by a private entity and charge fees lower than the government per-child expenditure in public schools (Rs 100-Rs 1000 per month). BPS in India have mushroomed all over the country, as a response to the market demand for education. Here are few points that I have observed in my experience with BPS, working with National Independent Schools Alliance-

  1. Infrastructure: Many BPS are on the verge of closing down as they are unable to comply with the infrastructural norms as prescribed by the section 18 and 19 of the RTE act. These schools work on very thin margins due to which they are unable to invest on infrastructure.
  2. Quality education: The quality of education in India is currently extremely poor – both in public, as well as in private schools. The 2012 ASER report indicates that nationally, 53.2% of all children in Std. V could not read a Std. II level text. One of the reasons could be lack of trained teachers.
  3. Eagerness to improve: As per my observations, low-fee schools tend to have very little understanding on what ‘quality’ is. They are all committed to improving their schools and eager for interventions to tell them what better schooling is and how to improve quality.

What makes BPS sector different from the rest of the private schools is the challenge to keep the fees low.  These schools will need to increase their fees by a significant amount in order to comply with the above stipulations. These schools must take a two-fold approach in order to remain open – they must simultaneously advocate with the government for revision of norms that are restrictive to their functioning and have no clear impact on learning outcomes; while also demonstrating their commitment to quality improvement by taking steps in this direction.

There are a large number of organisations such as STIR, CSF, CCS, ARK and NISA that have recognised the role of BPS in the education landscape today. More organisations need to take the initiative to work with these schools so that we can be one step closer to achieving the goal of quality education for all.


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The case for robust low-cost Education Systems in India

Budget Private Schools, Finances & Budgets

Subhalakshmi Duraiswamy

Associate Director

Livelihoods & Skills

The numbers are everywhere – journal articles on education, seminar presentations on livelihoods, books on economic development and commentaries on social development. They all talk about the 400 million children in India who will be ready to enter school or college in the next decade, the million Indians who are expected to enter the workforce every month, the huge success in enrolling them and the frustrating failures in educating them and lost cause of making them employable.

They also talk about the booming demand for education services and quality in education; the Indian Human Development Survey (2005) reported that about 50% of urban and 20% of rural children were enrolled in private unaided schools; India Ratings expects the education sector in India to grow to USD 110 billion by 2015 and estimated that we grew by 16% last year – that’s more than twice the GDP growth rate and almost as good or better than the rate at which the Retail, Auto, IT and Telecom sectors grew.

What hasn’t been addressed well and fast enough is the need for leveraging the best strategies, technologies, processes and systems that the corporate world has used, to deliver impact in the education sector which has goals that are far steeper than most corporates have faced – especially in the low cost private school sector which is the most in need of a cost-effective scalable model.

An estimated 25 million students are currently enrolled in low cost private schools which employ over 1 million teachers and charge anything from Rs. 250 to 1500 per month.

There is a small breed of social entrepreneurs who have entered the affordable / budget private schools sector  – by setting up branded-school-chains which try and leverage economies of scale and benefits of centralisation (like the Ravindra Bharati School chain which operates close to a 100 schools in Andhra Pradesh), offer school rating systems (Gray Matters Capital), school management systems on the lines of ERP (Digital Campus) and school improvement programs in general.

There are fewer still who have ventured into the low cost and ultra-low-fee school sector.  This includes MA Ideal Schools in Andhra Pradesh (10 schools with 1880 students) and GyanShalain Gujarat (1200 schools with 28000 students) who are among the more established organisations in this sector.

GyanShala has developed a model which relies on para-skilling the teacher’s role (divide it into 3 parts – 1 teacher who interacts with the child on a day-to-day basis, 1 senior teacher who works with a child once per week in more complex processes of problem solving and comprehension and 1 designer who develops the curriculum), investment in teacher training (@ 25% of their salary cost), site selection by identifying spots where children are naturally congregating, review and renewal of the curriculum annually and maximizing time usage to allow for children with chores at home to be able to attend to those without dropping out.

Newer entrants like SEED (Standard of Excellence in Education and Development) Education Corporation (setup in June 2013 and currently operating 2 schools with 1500 students) aim to providean integrated offering of curriculum and technology support, building large neighborhood schools and reducing dependency on teachers overall.

Looking at international examples, Omega Schools in Ghana (38 schools and 20000 students) which use a pay-as-you-learn model where students pay on a daily basis using vouchers which are available in the market and the Bridge International Academies (100 schools and 30000 students) in Kenya using a vertically-integrated academy-in-a-Box model which has re-engineered the lifecycle of education leveraging data, technology and scale, are examples for Indian edupreneurs to draw from.

In summary, there is a lot to be done in the Indian Education sector in general and the Low Cost Private schooling space in particular; the task is as challenging as any other on offer currently – and the potential to contribute to India’s economic and social development in a meaningful way, is bigger than most other options. What remains to be seen is the nature of responses that rise and the scale of impact that they are successful in delivering.

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No sir, Santa Claus is not real!!- A critique to Anurag Behar’ article ‘Education in India: There’s still hope’

Budget Private Schools, Government run schools

Arvind Ilamaran

Associate, Research

School Choice Campaign

There is one thing I must credit Anurag Behar of Azim Premji Foundation for, it is for his ability to construct lofty narratives from selective facts and biased perspective. His regular Mint column seems to be a crusade against private education instead of presenting neutral perspective based on actual facts. To be fair to him, it is his column. It’s up to him to express what he wants. But what I am writing here is a warning to all the readers who would take the credibility of his position as the CEO of Azim Premji Foundation as a reason to take his views as authentic.

Mr. Behar’s conclusion is that schools driven by profit don’t bother much about education, or about their children. But there is a ray of hope. His ray of hope is that there are few schools among the 10,78,407 (DISE 2011-2012) public schools that have good principals, and that such school leadership would become the norm rather than the exception in the future. Ironically, he draws the stark opposite conclusion for low-cost private schools based on few schools, in his words, “The first anecdote is constructed from experiences in a few schools, and is not about a specific school”.

A ray of hope is an expression used for those who perform well in the face of adversity. And Mr. Behar wants us to believe that it is the government schools that are facing the challenges and not the private. Suffocating regulations, norms and licenses, prevention of for-profit investments in education etc. are just tip of the iceberg in terms of how government has made survival of low-cost private school difficult. Most of these schools arose from effort of individuals pained by the state of education in the country. These individuals were seldom those who could afford to forego pursuit of a well-paying career. If Mr. Behar had visited more low-cost private schools perhaps he would have realized the difficulty with which these schools are being run. Apart from monetary difficulty, even getting good teachers is a Himalayan task given the high minimum wage paid to teachers in public education system. If Mr. Behar thinks that this is not adversity, but it is that where one has to have absolutely no worries about monetary, performance and accountability issues, then I am at a loss of words to describe his intended or unintended malevolence.

According to DISE Flash Statistics 2011-2012: between 2010-2011 and 2011-2012, the share of government schools to total number has decreased by 1.79% while in the same period it has risen by 1.78% for private schools. There is much truth to the criticism that despite the migration towards private schools as shown by the above data, the absolute learning outcomes are low across the board. This view is concretized by the ASER study also. But the subsequently unasked question is: At what cost? According to a 5 year study conducted by Prof. Karthik Muralidharan in the state of Andhra Pradesh, private schools perform almost the same as public schools in the standardized tests but at nearly 1/3rd the per-child spending by government.

There is no denial that there is a strong public inclination towards private education. While the reasons might be debated, this is not a phenomenon which is neither undesirable nor can be wished away with. And Mr. Behar seems to be concerned more about the ethical standpoint of the school management than the benefits reaped by the society at large. He feels that those that provide education shouldn’t be concerned about profits. His view is typical of those who believe that education is a right and not a service like any other. While we may try to delude ourselves into believing otherwise, education is a service provided either by public or private sector. There is always a cost incurred in such provision. And the best incentive to make best use of resources arises from profit maximization. This is something one would have hoped Mr. Behar would know, given that the foundation he leads receives endowment from is a profit-making company. If one doesn’t aim for profit, one doesn’t have excess money to spend on anything other than mere survival. Without that excess money, charity will not happen and the foundation he leads will not exist. But if despite all this Mr. Behar continues to downplay the potential of private education and the role of profits in delivering the best, all that I can say to him is that – no sir, Santa Claus is not real.

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Private schools threaten to defy RTE rules

Budget Private Schools, Reservation of seats, Right to Education

The New Indian Express


From the next academic year, private schools in the state may not admit children under the RTE (Right to Education) quota. The schools have taken a decision to this effect following delay in the government releasing reimbursement towards 25 per cent of seats they have provided under the quota.

“We cannot continue to cooperate with the  state government in implementing the RTE Act from next academic year, unless the government addresses our issues,’’  L R Shivarame Gowda, president of Karnataka Private Schools – Joint Action Committee (KAP-JAC) told Express.

“We have extended complete cooperation and support in implementing RTE in the state effectively. But the authorities are least bothered about our problems and are not addressing our issues which we cannot tolerate,” Shivarame Gowda said.

As per the data available from KAP-JAC, the state government has to release around `65 crore to private schools as the first installment towards the seats they have given under RTE. The deadline for releasing the reimbursement was September 30, 2013 and for second installment it is January 2014.

‘’We have not received any communication from the government side. The government does not have the courtesy to call the managements and find out the ground reality. It is not that easy to run an education institution. When we have accepted RTE Act and joined hands with government in implementing it, the government should know its responsibilities,’’ said D Shashi Kumar, convener of KAP-JAC.

Last year, members of KAP-JAC met the Education Minister four times, principal secretary to Primary and Secondary Education twice and the Commissioner for Public Instructions three times and made their representations.

There are over 16,000 private schools in the state (except minority schools) including CBSE, ICSE. A major number of them are in the cities like Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Shimoga and Hubli-Dharwad.

The government had fixed a reimbursement of `11,800 per child. In 2012-13, government released half of the reimbursement and in 2013-14 (current year), it has not released anything. According KAP-JAC, this year (2013-14) around 70,000 seats in private schools were given under RTE and the reimbursement for 40,000 seats of 2012-13 is pending.

What if private schools refuse to provide seats under rte quota?

If the private schools refuse to provide RTE seats, then every year around 1.10 lakh children will lose the benefit of getting seats in private schools. It would also amount to a violation of the Act. According to school managements, though it is Central government policy and children have right to free and compulsory education, the state government should be supportive to private schools. “The Government has transferred its responsibility to private schools and is not providing financial assistance to schools. If the government continues to delay the release of funds, we are even ready to fight it legally,” said another member of KAP-JAC.


Budget schools offer quality education, get no government support

Budget Private Schools

Times of India


NEW DELHI: Budget schools have been having an especially rough time of it under the Right To Education Act 2009. This year, many Delhi ones faced the threat of closure due to the land-norms for recognition, set by the Delhi Development Authority, as only recognized schools can operate under RTE. Nearly 150 representatives from budget schools, educators, researchers and investors gathered for the second School Leadership Summit of the National Independent School Alliance (NISA). They discussed school leadership, education outcomes, shrinking space for them after the RTE Act and staying afloat. And from this year, NISA is a registered society.

An initiative of the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society (CCS), NISA links 7,000 “low-fee and budget private schools” across 20 states. Leaders of budget schools argued that the RTE Act conflates quality education with quality infrastructure. “In the RTE Act, quality is represented as the area the school should cover, teacher’s salary and pupil-teacher ratio. The criteria are laid differently,” said Amitav Virmani of Absolute Return for Kids (UK) and trustee of two family-run budget schools in Delhi.

Many among the speakers and audience felt the schools in this category do not get enough government support and that much of the ‘quality’ is delivered-as one audience member observed-“at the cost of teachers.”

R C Jain, president of NISA and Delhi State Public Schools Management Association, argued that making a BEd degree a compulsory requirement while hiring teachers is forcing schools to hire teachers who may be qualified but not competent.

Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, professor of education economics and international development at London University pointed out that a large number of government schools do not meet the standards set by the RTE Act and that budget unaided schools deliver better quality education though its teachers, in most cases, earn a fraction of what a government school teacher makes.

The meeting also included a session on financing. Neeraj Sharma who heads the Indian School Finance Company, which extends small loans-a maximum of Rs 50 lakh-to “affordable” schools which charge Rs.1,500 or less per month as fee, says they are “replacing money-lenders.


Rules to set up schools tightened for corporates

Budget Private Schools

Aug 13 2013

Mint & Wall Street Journal

Prashant K. Nanda

Govt asks corporate houses to deposit Rs.50 lakh for each school, experts say it will dissuade participation

New Delhi: Corporate houses keen to open schools in partnership with the government will have to deposit Rs.50 lakh for each school with the human resource development (HRD) ministry.
This will be in addition to shouldering the entire expense of building and running the schools.
The government believes the requirement will deter entities that are not serious about education, but some experts say it will only dissuade companies from participating in the programme.
The ministry has issued a fresh qualification proposal to open 2,500 model schools in developed neighbourhoods through public-private partnerships (PPP). The government plans to spend nearly Rs.5,000 crore a year on subsidizing the cost of educating poor students and providing infrastructure grants to the companies setting up the schools.
According to the proposal document, any interested company, including Section 25 companies (non-profit) and trusts, need to have a net worth of Rs.25 crore or more during each of the two financial years preceding the date of submitting qualification application.
“… It shall undertake to make an interest-bearing deposit of Rs.50 lakh for each school awarded to it, which would be released in three equal annual instalments after the school is commissioned,” the ministry said in the document. In case more than three schools are allocated to a private entity, it shall deposit Rs.25 lakh for each additional school awarded to it.
The company will also be responsible for shouldering all expenses including purchasing land from state governments or others. “The private entities will acquire land and then develop, design, build, finance, provide infrastructure, operate, maintain, manage and own these schools,” minister of state for HRD Shashi Tharoor told parliament Monday.
The associates of a company participating in model school projects will not be allowed to take part in the scheme. Any entity hiding information or forming a cartel will be blacklisted.
The chief executive of a private company looking to participate in the scheme was critical of the process and the requirements.
“The PPP scheme of the HRD ministry has too many unanswered questions. The proposal document details is not very encouraging. It asks private players to procure land, (which) is a tough task. We believe the government should facilitate that,” he said, declining to be identified.
Besides, “when, all expenses are being taken care by the private partner till the opening of the school, what is the point of asking for the security deposit? The amount they are asking is too much,” he added. “If it’s interest-bearing, they need to spell what’s the interest rate.”
The ministry seems to have learnt nothing from its earlier PPP scheme to open 300 polytechnic institutes in the 11th five-year Plan period (2007-12), the executive said.
Following a poor response to that programme, the All India Council for Technical Education, the technical education regulator, has set up a committee to revise the scheme, the HRD ministry told Parliament on 7 July.
Narayanan Ramaswamy, partner, education practice, at consulting firm KPMG, said the government is right in asking private entities to procure real estate as that will ensure participation of only those keen on developing education.
“Government is of the view that don’t come to open school to expand your profit and this will distract some foreign companies who want to do this for quick money. The government’s stand is correct here,” he said. “But the blanket deposit amount is difficult to explain. That is discouraging.”
India’s school segment was valued at $44 billion (Rs.2.4 trillion) in 2011 and is expected to reach $144 billion by 2020, according to consulting firm Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd.
The HRD ministry, since it does not have the money required to expand school education, believes the PPP model is the best way to achieve this.
“Adoption of the PPP mode would lead to rapid expansion of access to quality education. The scheme for 2,500 model schools under PPP mode should be viewed as an opportunity to evolve innovative ways to empower and enable non-government players to engage in providing quality education,” the HRD ministry said in its document, but made it clear that the scheme should not be viewed as a “privatization” of school education.
The objective of the scheme is to set up 2,500 model schools for providing quality education to about 4 million children, including 2.5 million from socially and economically disadvantaged categories.
Each school can have a maximum of 2,500 students, and the government will subsidize the education of 980 of these students from underprivileged backgrounds.

Educating India: Choice, autonomy and learning outcomes

Access to education, Autonomy, Budget Private Schools, Reservation of seats, Right to Education

Oxford India Policy Series


Parth J. Shah

The Indian education system does not effectively promote the prior right of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. This column argues that the degree of freedom of not just parents, but also of school principals, teachers and education providers is a key determinant of quality and equity in education. It outlines reforms to promote the right to ‘education of choice’.

The Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 deals with education and has three clauses the first demands free and compulsory elementary education, the second sets the goal of education to “promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups”, and the third clause states that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”. This idea of parental choice has always been an important component of the Right to Education (RTE), but is hardly ever mentioned in the current debates on education reforms in India.

The education system does not effectively promote parental choice. This lack of choice or the lower degree of freedom is at the heart of our education problems.  The degree of freedom of not just parents but also of principals, teachers and education providers (‘edu-preneurs’) is the most critical determinant of quality and equity in education. All parents do not get to choose the school, principals and teachers in government get to choose the system but not the school, and ‘edu-preneurs’ cannot choose their own curricula, language of instruction, or whether to be non-profit or for-profit. In this column, I outline my suggestions for education reforms. These revolve around the idea of choice for parents, principals, teachers and ‘edu-preneurs’ (Shah and Miranda 2012).

1. Increase autonomy of state schools
Education departments of the government minutely control government schools. The schools have hardly any autonomy to manage their affairs. They are closest to the students and parents, and should have the necessary freedom to adjust their functioning so that they are better able to cater to the changing needs. The principals and teachers must be empowered and given the freedom that their private school counterparts enjoy; they cannot be expected to compete with both hands tied behind their back.
The principals should be education leaders, not just administrators. Government schools should hire teachers directly, not through the state education department (Pritchett and Pande 2006).  The salaries and perks for teachers should be set by the state, but hiring and performance assessment should be done at the school level.This would help make principals genuine leaders of their schools, with all the staff accountable to them.
Financial autonomy for schools/ principals is critical. However, the current method of funding government schools through lump sum grants against various heads of expenditures leaves little discretion (Accountability Initiative 2012). Moreover, it is very common that government schools with the same number of students get widely different funding from the state. This inequity in funding is inhumane and unjust. Funding based on the number of students in the school addresses these issues effectively. The per-student funding approach would provide strong incentives to schools to work hard to attract and retain students. It would also make it easier to tie funding with performance – an increment in the school grant can be tied to learning achievement of students.
All private schools aided by the government can be immediately switched to this per-student formula. For government schools, it may be easier to require that all new schools be funded on a per-student basis. The principals and teachers of existing schools could have the option to switch to the new system that would also offer them more autonomy.
To help schools assess their performance, and also help parents to make an informed choice, the government should conduct or contract an independent agency for annual learning outcome assessment (including private schools).  The entire assessment data, along with information on infrastructure, staff, and financial allocations should be placed in the public domain, preferably online.  Private schools, just like companies, should be required to provide similar data so that relevant data about all schools would be available to parents in one place.
These reforms would give more autonomy to government schools, principals, and teachers, and also increase accountability.
2. Provide access to aspirational schools
The government of Uttaranchal has been running a scheme called Pahal where street children go to higher-fee private schools. In more than four years of the programme, a majority of the enrolled children have remained in the school. This is in contrast with the high dropout rates seen in earlier annual enrollment drives that brought children to government schools. This has been seen in the Delhi Voucher Project (CMS 2009, CCS 2009) as well as in many voluntary efforts.
The aspirational schools don’t have to be private schools – many government schools would also serve the purpose. They don’t have to be high-fee private schools – budget performing schools (BPS) such as Delhi Public Schools and Deepayala schools–are equally aspirational for many poor parents. So the scope is much wider than it may appear at first.
Marginalised and specific under-served groups such as migrant children, out of school children, street children, girl children, Scheduled Caste (SC)/ Scheduled Tribe (ST)/ Other Backward Classes (OBC), minorities such as Muslim children, differently-abled children, children of the poor, refugees, migrating tribes, prisoners and orphans are most likely to be left behind by the education system. Empowering them to go to aspirational schools through vouchers, cash transfers or charter/ community schools would be more effective for their educational achievements (Shah and Braun-Munzinger 2006; Saavendra and Garcia 2012).
The RTE Act has already reserved 25% seats in private schools to socially and economically disadvantaged students, for which the government would pay private schools. The challenge is to design a transparent, fair and accountable method to implement the 25% so that right students are selected, their learning outcomes are tracked, and also ensure that private schools are paid in time (Shah 2012).

The RTE’s recognition of the power of aspirational schools should be extended to go beyond the 25% reservation for the disadvantaged, starting first with the most marginalised and under-served children.

3. Make learning outcomes the central focus of regulation
The whole focus of RTE is on schooling inputs – ‘learning outcome’ or learning achievement’ does not appear even once in the whole Act on quality education for all! For brevity, I enumerate key reforms for making learning outcomes the primary focus of education regulations.
i. Conduct annual independent learning outcome assessment.

ii. Empower School Management Committees to monitor learning outcomes and take necessary action to achieve their targets. iii. Recognition of low fee, budget schools should be based more on learning outcomes than infrastructure norms. The Gujarat RTE Rules assign 85% weightage to learning and 15% to infrastructure norms.

iv. Open Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams to all students, not only for students who study in CBSE affiliated schools. If learning is the focus then it should not matter which school the student attended – the student should get CBSE certificate if she passes the same exam.
4. Encourage ‘edu-preneurs’ to promote quality and equity through choice and competition
The legal and moral obligation of the government is to assure, not deliver, education to every child.Any monopoly service provider is unlikely to be very concerned about the customer. The education monopoly would serve the interests of the providers (bureaucracy, teachers and staff), not of the end-users of the service (parents and students). Competition among providers is necessary (Coulson 2008).  It also offers choices to parents and students.  Parental choice is the best way to determine education quality and also to keep the pressure for continuous improvement in quality (Shah 2009).
Below are a few suggestions:
i. Make entry easier by rationalising the license raj.
ii. Declare education an ‘industry’ for easier access to credit and venture capital fund.
iii. Offer schools (and colleges) the choice to be non-profit or for-profit, and treat for-profit ones as companies for disclosure and taxation norms.
iv. Apply the same standards to private and government schools. According to the law, government schools must meet the same norms as private schools, but this may or may not happen in practice since the law does not require that a government school be closed down or penalised for failing to meet the norms. The children of the poor go to government schools. This means that the government worries about the education quality of the children of the rich by requiring private schools to meet its standards, but feels that the poor should be grateful that they at least have a school to go to. The government treats the children of the poor as second-class citizens. This inequity must end – government schools must meet the same standards of quality by going through the same process of recognition. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), as a monitor of RTE, could be put in charge of this process since the department of education itself should not be. 
Concluding thoughts
The key mindset change necessary to implement many of the reforms is the role of the state in education.  It needs to change from controller to facilitator, from producer to financier, and from inspector to informer.
The role of the government is to liberate the supply side (facilitator role), fund the demand of the poor through vouchers, cash transfers and charter/ community schools (financier role), inform about the quality of education in schools and empower parents to make their own choices that are right for their children (informer role).

The state’s mantra should be not just the right to education but right to education of choice.

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