Fee regulation for K12 schools – 1 step forward or 2 steps backwards

Education in India is supposed to be charitable, any educational institute should be based on the premise that there cannot be any profiteering. This law, a relic from Nehru era was governed by the dominant thought of despising anything for-profit. The idea of making money was looked down upon as India just emerged from British rule with majority being illiterate and poor. The overwhelming tone was of service to the fellow Indians.

And in such an environment talking about privatization of education was close to blasphemy. Education was considered primarily Central and state government’s responsibility. But over time with rising salary of teachers in government school, mis-management, deteriorating infrastructure (majority schools don’t even have toilets), absent school staff a gap was created in terms of quality education.

This gap created by the inefficiency of the government was filled in by the private sector. However, unlike other sectors the profile of private players entering in education was restricted because making profit from education institutions was not legal!  Add to this the, high upfront investment required in education because of infrastructure and land requirements, coupled with the long gestation period to break even, individuals with high amount of black money and connects in the upper echelons could only enter. Education itself being not for profit, provided a safe haven for them.

Just like most of the rules which sound too good to be practical, education remained not-for-profit on paper but multiple methods were devised to take money out, which was bound to happen because as individual who is putting in money, taking up the liabilities, putting capital at risk will seek returns. Expectations of state from private individuals to start a charitable organization is beyond unreasonable. And something as important as education requires fair amount of innovation, new technology, better teachers and better management which does not comes cheap!

Basically, every government was completely hand in glove with what was happening but none of them ever recognized the elephant in the room and kept on hiding behind the not-for-profit charade.

With the rising clamour created by parent against fee hikes, the scenario changed a bit forcing state government to take some action and with central government implementing RTE the situation became much grimmer for private schools. Recently Gujarat came up with fee regulatory act in which fee thresholds have been defined, which is so low that it will make any school unsustainable. In case a school want to charge higher than they have to get approval from Fee regulation committee which will demand loads of paper work and a painful process to get an answer. Tamil Nadu had already implemented such an act in 2009. The question arises Where does it leaves the private schools?

Let’s just quickly recap the facts in a nutshell-

1.      Government failed society by not providing good public schools

2.      Government created an environment where private schools can only function by following a not so correct route to make money from schools

3.      Instead of making the system more transparent and open, the recent act just makes the process more cumbersome

4.      To add to it, government has also given communal color to something as basic as education by providing exemptions to minority schools

And the worst part is there has been no discussion whatsoever on how to improve the 2 parameters for education which should have been at the forefront-

1.      Increasing the standard of education – There is no major innovation happening from India as far as education in schools are concerned, we are still grappling with ‘how much to teach’ instead of ‘how to teach’

2.      Availability of quality schools – Neither of the fee regulation acts emphasizes on how to increase the number of schools. In fact, with the implementation of draconian fee regulatory acts the investment in this sector will dry up leading to lesser number of schools

If only the entire talk about regulating can be replaced with talks about ‘opening’ up of the sector, we could have focused on much more relevant things like quality of education and availability of schools for all classes.