Flourishing for-profit private schools

Despite higher fee, these schools are a necessity till we develop alternatives.

By Author T Muralidharan   |   Published: 11th Feb 2017   2:00 am

Last week, we delved into whether the furore over school fee is justified. Taking it forward, in this second part, we look into whether private ‘for-profit’ schools are flourishing despite government and government-aided schools being affordable. How big is the private school sector? 

According to a report by Ernst & Young — ‘Private Sector’s Contribution to K-12 Education in India’, 25 per cent of all schools (Kindergarten to Class 12) in India are under private management. Their enrolment has crossed 40 per cent (urban and rural together) of the total enrolment. This number increases to 55 per cent when you look at only the secondary and higher secondary enrolment.

The Annual Status of Education Report 2016 points out that this is not just an urban phenomenon. Enrolment in private schools (age 6 to 14) even in rural India is increasing — from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 30.8 per cent in 2014.

Every poor family spends a disproportionate amount of its earnings to send her child to a private school. Clearly, private schooling is big and is growing in both urban and rural India.

Government Spend
A study by Ambrish Dongre and Avani Kapur titled ‘India’s Spend on Elementary Education’ states that the government (Central and across 16 States) median spend on elementary education (Class 1 – 8) works out to Rs 11,225 per student enrolled in 2011-12. This looks quite low because it is the average across India and across all types of schools in rural and urban areas. A better benchmark is ‘government-spend’ in Kendriya Vidyalayas that provide the best quality among government schools.

Elementary school education (Class 1 to 8) is free in KVs and is subsidised thereafter. The fee notified by the KV Sangathan is nil for these classes. From Class 9 to 12, a tuition fee of Rs 200-400 per month is claimed from boys. In addition, Rs 650 per month is taken for computers and Vidyalaya Vikas Nidhi, with exemptions for certain categories of students. The government expenditure per child in a KV was Rs 32,700 in 2015-16. Thus, the total cost incurred by parent and government together in a KV per boy student is around Rs 45,000 per year.

Hence, one of the real issues in government schools is the huge variation in the ‘spend’. The schools set up by the Central government fare better compared with municipal schools because of higher spend.

The 7th Pay Commission announced in September 2015 has significantly improved the salary of Central government teachers. State governments like Telangana are following the same direction. However, teachers in private schools, especially those catering to the poor, are paid lower than the government teachers and this gap will further increase.

Lacking Motivation
The first reason for the poor motivation in government teachers is HR issues like slow promotions, no incentive for performance, irregular salary pay-out, poor health schemes and absence of ‘need-based‘ transfers.

The second big reason is politics and bureaucracy in government schools. The teacher unions are a political force. Bureaucracy de-motivates passionate teachers significantly. The third reason is the declining quality of student intake. For example, most of the poor parents want to join their children in English medium private schools.

Role of non-profit societies
Most private schools are run as a society/trust but many are run by ‘for-profit’ societies. Many of us believe that non-profit societies like Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and DAV only should run schools. But, our exploding demographics mean that the demand for quality education far exceeds the supply.

Old non-profit societies like BVB and DAV started at a time when the land was not expensive. Some even got endowments or land from philanthropists or government. This is repeatable today only if the government gives land free on a long-term lease basis and gives grants. Even then, the non- profit educational institutions can only accommodate a few more schools and cannot meet the full demand.

So let us face it – the private ‘for-profit’ schools are a necessity unless we develop alternatives, including a new set of non-profit societies to substantially improve the government school system. Some more actions required include;
• Building the enrolment capacity of the ‘non-profit’ society schools
• Celebrating passion for teaching
• Encouraging technology-assisted teaching
• Encouraging peer and self-learning
• Shunning bureaucracy at all costs

Creating Quality Schools
Assess and divide government schools into two categories– performing or special category and non-performing schools. The government should invest and expand performing schools like KVs. It should encourage non-profit societies to maintain and operate schools independently. Non-performing schools can be handed over to performing non-profit societies on a long-term lease.

Encourage school and college alumni to take over schools. Students will get free education up to Class 8. Thereafter, they will pay a nominal fee as in KVs. The government will pay a fixed fee per student to the school. The fee must be determined with an incentive for hiring passionate teachers and rewarding them. It should be based on the cost incurred at quality schools like KVs.

Alumni Support
The IIMA Alumni Association, Hyderabad, took over a school three years ago, renamed it and runs as Udhbhav School at Rasoolpura here with 650 children from Class 1 to 10. This is with financial support from Coromandel International and other corporate employees. If not the infrastructure, at least the quality of education imparted is comparable to the best government schools. The key point is old institutions such as Grammar School or Osmania University have alumni of varied age groups and adequate volunteers.

But will teacher unions come on board? This is a big question. However, it is time the unions took a pro-active step before government schools become irrelevant. Instead of living under the threat of shut-down, it is better to embrace change now, protect the jobs and flourish under the new management.

(The author is chairman – TMI Group and co-chair, Ficci Telangana)