With around 30% of Indian children attending private institutions, the Indian private education market is the largest in the world. This is hardly surprising given the population size but, for a variety of reasons, private schools are outperforming state run institutions despite recent study showing that the Government spends, on average, more than twice as much in educating a pupil. The key factors behind this imbalance are inefficiencies that have become imbedded in state schooling and efficiencies fee-paying schools have created. To lift the performance of their own schools issue the Indian government must take heed of both.
Most serious among the malpractices commonly associated with India’s free education are the attacks oneducation standards and teaching practices.Schools are accused not of completing the syllabi in the school year and the necessary equipment is not always available. Often much power is bestowed on individual teachers who have the ability to pass or fail their own pupils while offering extra-curricular tuition(for a fee). Teacher absenteeism is also rife and the authorities seem powerless to prevent.Additionally, there are stories of outright corruption including overcharging and bribes taken to admit or promote a child, or even issue qualification certificates.
The problems found in the provision of school infrastructure pose the most direct threat to a child’s education. A survey in 2013 found that of 780 schools across 13 states 30% were found to have inadequate toilet facilities and 60% had no playground. Given this it is hardly surprising how unfashionable it has become to teach in Government schools. Formerly a position of prestige and respect, teaching is now seen by many graduates as a last-resort career giving rise to a severe shortage and pushing the student:teacher ratio as high as 70:1 in extreme cases. The lack of mentorship or access to a professional network as well as antiquated career progression(often based on seniority rather than performance) are obvious changes the government must make to buck this trend.
Conversely, by operating in a private environment;fee-taking schools have learned to streamline their practices to remain competitive in a diverse market. Principles have far greater authority over their teachers and employment contracts include performance and attendance clauses. The teachers themselves are often less qualified so must strive to hit their targets to guarantee employment and command less salary, allowing the private schools to reduce the student: teacher ratios.
India’s stand out legislation on learning in recent years is the Right to Education Act (RTE) of 2009. This established free and compulsory education for every child between the ages of 6 and 14 and guaranteed 25% of places at private schools for pupils from economically weaker sections of society. The idea was to level the playing field for poorer students however, sadly this policy has had the effect of devaluing the education provided in state schools and, thus, exacerbating the superiority enjoyed by private institutions. Furthermore, the RTE included no provision for the improvement of the existing Government schools, embedding the problems outlined above.
However, the enforcement of this 25% has led to a number of malpractices being adopted by private schools where unfair financial barriers (high cost of uniforms or add-on admission and maintenance costs) are placed to prevent poorer students filling the RTE enabled places. As a result it has been estimated that across India only 15% of RTE places at fee-paying schools were filled.
In response to these issues India’s education department has announced ambitious and far-reaching reform in two stages; peripheral and core. The first outlined fundamental infrastructure shortages that have been holding back Government schools and targeted 8000 new classrooms and 25 new schools are to be opened by the end of 2016 and a recruitment drive to employ 9000 new teachers. The core stage, yet to formally begin, proposes a radical change in teaching practices including a decentralisation of authority giving more powers to individual principles, incentivised contracts, and the creation of School Managers. And then perhaps most adventurous is the creation of a pilot “super-school” complex of 10 schools each specialising in different areas of education.
All in all it appears that the government has started to take note of the problems that have blighted their school system for a generation. Some issues (support for newly qualified teachers) are easier fixed than others (changing the mind-set that Government schooling is inferior) and in the meantime the private education sector will continue to innovate and dominate.