Insights into Editorial: Private schools need to be regulated
Every now and then, our country has been making several efforts to cope with the problem of illiteracy. Though our economy is among the fastest-growing economies in the world, it has a long way to go on education front. Some of the facts depicting the peculiar condition of education in India are:
- As per the global education report-2004, India was positioned at 106 out of 127 countries in the education sphere.
- India has the largest number of illiterates by far, contributing around 34% to the total number of illiterates in the world.
- It is among the ten fastest growing economies in the world, but still has one-third of the world’s illiterates.
Even after years of independence and with large number of its population being under 18 – India is still confronting the perils of its failure to educate its citizens, notably the poor. Numerous reasons lead to adverse condition of education in our country. One of them is a huge gap between the education in government and private schools. Besides, stories of some private schools charging exploitative fees and state machineries intervening to solve the issue have taken the centre stage for some time now.
The advent of private sector:
The private sector has stepped in to cash in on parental anxiety regarding the state of education. Private schools are growing at a phenomenal rate now. Some analysts think that while the public education system is deteriorating, the private system is going from strength to strength.
Problems associated with private schools:
- Maximisation of profit prompts the owners to emphasise on competition rather than conceptual learning. Children in private schools are forced to learn by rote — and this undermines the value of understanding. Actual learning demands conceptual clarity, and is difficult and time consuming. Private schools naturally encourage the first method. In other words, they impoverish the very idea of learning to dilute the demands for a good school.
- The most damaging aspect of the private schooling system is that private schools do not want to take responsibility for the moral growth and behaviour of the child. Their ideal is to turn themselves into consultant agencies. If a child has moral and behavioural problems, these schools will call the parents to solve the problem. For academic weaknesses they advise private tuitions. In either case, they abdicate the responsibility of an educator. Their own job thus becomes minimised, which suits better margins of profit.
What needs to be done now?
The nexus between bad governance and bad schools crowds out good education. Poor governance in education allows concentrated oligopolies to develop. This manifests in many ways, including in the quality of education having no relation to the fees that parents pay. Therefore, effective regulation is the first step. The current regulatory regime is perverse—over-regulation in letter leading to a culture of graft and poor governance in practice.
For any regulation to be effective, following things should be considered:
- Firstly, it is necessary to recognize that regulation of schools is the domain of state governments.
- The regulatory mandate must be limited to only the minimal essentials. Genuine philanthropic private initiative must not be stifled. Regulation need have only two goals. One, that all private and public schools meet standards in basic academic and operational aspects: for example, the number of teachers and their qualifications, classrooms, safety. The other goal should be to protect the public from the exploitative practices of schools.
- The states must form an independent, quasi-judicial school regulatory body. Today, the state departments of education are conflicted as they are regulators and also the largest operators of schools. An independent body protected from political and bureaucratic interference will enable efficiency through focus, improve probity by forcing transparency, and increase accountability.
- The school regulator must demand that schools be not-for-profit, as required by law. And for substantiating this, annual financial audits, executed with the same rigour as in companies, must be required. Accounting standards need to be developed for schools with the objective of eliminating practices that are often used for skimming money from such not-for-profit entities.
- The schools must publish their fees publicly every year for the following three years, and thereafter no changes should be permitted. Fees must not be capped. There is no way of determining appropriate levels for capping, and any such effort will provide room for more corruption.
- A grievance redressal mechanism for parents should be made available, on stability of fees, other financial matters and safety. The quasi-judicial status of the regulator will enable this.
The best solution to this problem is to ensure high-quality, equitable education is delivered through public school system. Private sector should not be allowed to monopolize the education system.
Anything against access to equitable education should be considered a national malady and is to be cured with utmost priority and importance. The cure requires that we recognize that education is a quasi-public good that cannot be delivered effectively through market mechanisms. For good, equitable education there is no substitute for a robust public system.