Clipped wings of India’s Education Sector: A case to give more freedom to private schools

When I read the article by Mr. Gurcharan Das, link here, the only thought that came to my head was – “Finally someone asked the right question!”

Being in Education sector for nearly a decade now, I have constantly tried to reason with the “non-profit tag’ for schools. 25% of all the schools are private schools but they enroll 40% of children. Private schools are plugging the gap left open by government schools that have continued to fail miserably.

The idea of charitable schools work when quality education is provided by Government and the need for private school is limited to minority or religious based education. But that is not the case in India. I am thankful to the ‘profit’ making school that I went to in a tier 2 city of India because the only other option was convent school or a government school!

Year on year the benchmark for government school has been falling, we are still talking about availability of clean toilets and drinking water rather than quality of education. Let’s take a quick look at the performance of government school as captured by ASER (Annual Status of Education Report).

1. 54% of children in government schools cannot read grade 2 level text

2. 78% of children in government schools cannot do division

Source: ACER, 2018 report.

No wonder a common man in India is preferring ‘higher’ fees private school than the next door ‘free’ government school. Despite the ballooning demand for good private schools, the private players are tied down by regulations and prohibitory policies.

Evaluating the series of ‘unfortunate events’

1.      Burden of ‘Not of profit’ tag:

The private sector contributes to nearly 40% share in enrolment although it has a 25% share in the number of schools in the country. Basically 25% of schools are bearing the load of educating 40% of students! By 2022 private schools may account to 50-60% enrollment.

If the trend continues India would need 1,30,000 more private schools by 2020. However the cross of “not for profit” is too heavy to bear. What it has effectively done is created a deep moat not letting entrepreneurs enter the segment. The boom that we witness in Ed Tech could have happened to K-12 segment if it was “for profit”. Giving rise to lot more innovative schools, use of technology, many more choices of teaching/learning pedagogy, and eventually better equipped students.

2.      Over regulation stifling innovation

Schools are governed by both central and state laws. To open a school the promoter would need anywhere between 30-45 permissions. For the purchase of land from the government- for the school a no-objection certificate referred to as the Essentiality Certificate (EC) from the concerned state’s Department of Education, is required. The Department of Education (DOE) decides the need for a school in a particular zone. By restricting the supply of schools in an area, it restricts the role of the market in assessing the demand for school education. Restricting the role of market is exactly what ‘license raj’ was all about, and we all are acutely aware of the damage that it did.

To top it off the recent fee regulations further reduced the incentives for honest entrepreneurs to open new schools. Schools are operation intensive and high involvement work. Unless someone can monetarily benefit in a legitimate way they will not invest into it. Education is too important to leave at the mercy of philanthropists!

3.      Impact of RTE on quality of education in private schools

When government realized that their schools were failing, instead of taking strong measures to correct it, they instructed private schools to block 25% seats for poor.

How can an idea like this go wrong? You might ask.

This was a typical socialist thought that shattered as soon as it met with realities of implementation.

º    Government failed to compensate private schools for these free seats

º    The cost of compensation to private schools turned out to be higher than running government schools

º     Private schools tried to compensate the fall in its profit by charging more from remaining 75% Or in some cases reducing the quality of education

º     Many private schools had to shut down because of RTE

‘Profit’ is not a bad word. It allows organizations to grow, allows them to innovate, allows them to service their customers better and provides better benefits to their employees. Then why have we‘tabooed’ the use of profit when it comes to education.

We have been hearing that kind of education that is being delivered now is not preparing our children for jobs of future. Unless we unshackle the education sector and let smart educated entrepreneurs come up with new products without jumping through regulatory hoops of fire, we as a society are collectively letting our children down!