In last few months, I have been interacting a lot with my community that surrounds Swarachna school in Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh. Of varied things I got to know about them, a common link in all villages is that nobody wants to send their children to a government school. They prefer local schools being run by small entrepreneurs. One inference of this could be that people need affordable quality education. While most of the primary and mid-level public schools are affordable but they aren’t perceived well on any other parameter, among the community. At the same time, private schools here are coming up as a good alternative in the eyes of parents/guardians, which are termed as “Affordable Private Schools” (APSs)
These ‘low-fee’ schools are often characterized by low income groups as their target and low salaries for their staff. Most of these schools charge INR 490 per month on an average, lowest being INR 50 a month. Relevance of these schools becomes obvious if we look at the numbers which show sharp percentage increase in their enrollment rate as compared to government schools. Just like anything, there are several pros and cons associated with such private schools as well.
The learning outcomes are better and teachers/staff can be held accountable. While government has done fairly good in terms of accessibility to schools in remote areas, most of these schools are accredited only up to 8th standard, at least in this area. APSs stand out as they are closer to children, which also becomes an incentive for female students whose families do not want to send them far. Narrative of ‘English Medium Education’ as superior to ‘Native Language Education’ also plays a role in the decision of choosing APS.
Having said that, these schools fall short on certain parameters. They often end up employing unskilled teachers which affects the quality of education. Studies have shown that existence and sustainability of these schools is correlated with the level of public infrastructure. In areas where infrastructure is poor, it is challenging for APSs to exist. Many of them try to recruit female teachers as they are ready to work for lesser money (talk of gender inequity) and don’t leave generally. In addition to that, APSs need to abide by a long list of regulatory guidelines and have to deal with deep-rooted corruption in education department. This demotivates schools to register themselves with any Board. Instead, they take the easier, and illegal route of not getting registered with any authority. Many of them remain unregulated and unrecognized by any of the education boards.
While we need to improve the investment ecosystem and reduce regulations for increased efficiency, it is also important to understand that these schools are coming into light majorly because of failure of government schools. It has also been pointed out by many studies that private schooling does not necessarily mean high quality education.
Moreover, there is no standard rating mechanism for schools from the state. Rating would have been a great way of assessing school’s current standard of education as well as for designing future interventions. It will provide us with a clear understanding of knowing which school is better. It can be one of the many ways to create a competitive ecosystem. Making such data available for parents will also make it easier for them to make better decisions for their kids, on the basis of credible information.