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Delhi: Model secondaries wariness

EducationWorld May 12 | Education News EducationWorld
Although dismissed as pious intent, if not populist propaganda, the Central government’s  proposal to promote 6,000 model secondary (classes VI-X) schools in every administrative block countrywide (i.e 6,000 blocks) during the 12th Plan quinquennium (2012-17), is inching forward. Of these 6,000 model secondaries, 2,500 are proposed to be promoted in the public-private partnership (PPP) mode. Presenting the Central government’s budget on March 16, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee confirmed that “in the 12th Plan, 6,000 schools have been proposed to be set up at block level as model schools to benchmark excellence. Of these, 2,500 will be set up under public-private partnership (PPP)”.
 
Plans drawn up by officials in the Union HRD ministry indicate that the 2,500 PPP secondaries affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will be promoted in administrative blocks which currently lack secondary schools. Each school will accommodate 2,000 students, with the Centre sponsoring 980. In Budget 2012-13, a provision of Rs.972 crore has been made for these model schools.
 
Under the blueprint being finalised in the HRD ministry, private partners will procure land sites and design, develop, operate and manage the PPP model secondaries. The government will offer a 25 percent infrastructure grant and pay the tuition and other expenses of students sponsored by it. In compliance with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (aka RTE Act), 25 percent of seats will be reserved for children drawn from poor households in the neighbourhood with the government paying for their schooling. The initial contract period between the Union government and private education providers will be ten years, renewable by mutual consent.
 
Thus far, private education trusts, societies and private educationists have failed to respond to the PPP model  with discernable enthusiasm. With the Central government having “sneakily transferred” part of its obligation to provide free education to children aged six-14 under the RTE Act to private schools, educationists are wary about government intentions and fear “creeping controls” and “inspector raj” in private education, especially in model PPP schools. “The government needs to pay adequate attention to the root problems plaguing its own schools — lack of funding, teacher absenteeism, high dropout percentages, poor infrastructure, lack of quality teachers. Public-private partnership is not the solution to these deep-rooted problems. The government needs to invest more in improving its own K-12 schools on the lines of Kendriya Vidyalayas or Navodaya Vidyalayas to inspire private educationists to collaborate with it,” says Ambarish Rai, convener, RTE Forum, a Delhi-based coalition of 10,000 NGOs including Save the Children, Campaign against Child Labour, Unicef, Oxfam-India, National Coalition for Education, among other civil society organisations.
 
However Rakesh Mittal, vice chairman and managing director of Bharti Enterprises (including Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile telecom corporate) and trustee of the Bharti Foundation, which manages five senior secondary schools in partnership with the government of Punjab under its Adarsh PPP schools initiative, believes the PPP model can be made to work. “The Central and state governments should promote the PPP model in education in flexible ways. Apart from funding schools, private educationists and NGOs can aid teacher training, curriculum development, adopt government schools or build schools on land leased from government. Admittedly government must retain some control, but day-to-day management should be firmly invested in the private partners based on mutually agreed deliverables for the PPP model to work successfully,” says Mittal, who has considerable domain knowledge of school education. The Bharti Foundation has promoted 245 primary schools countrywide (Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu).
 
With the Union and state governments running massive fiscal deficits, root and branch reform of the country’s 1.26 million government primary-secondaries, which requires the annual budgetary allocation (Centre plus states) for education to double from the current 3.7 percent of GDP to 6 percent (as recommended by the Kothari Commission way back in 1966), is an impossible dream. In the circumstances, success of the PPP model secondaries proposed in the 12th Plan period is critical. If they can be shown to work, they will inspire private education providers to believe in government and to meet it half way.
 
Swati Roy (Delhi)
 
Budget schools panic
 
With the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009 having been substantially cleared by the Supreme Court on April 12, promoters of Delhi’s estimated 7,000-12,000 private budget schools — low-cost primaries established by small-time edupreneurs in the city’s proliferating slums and down-market residential areas — are in a panic. Under s.19 read together with the Schedule of the RTE Act, schools which don’t fulfill the infrastructure norms specified therein risk being shut down. The Schedule requires all schools to have a playground, separate toilets for boys and girls, one classroom for every teacher and libraries stocked with story books, newspapers and magazines. Under s.19(2), all private schools have been given a time frame of three years (from April 1, 2010) to shape up or close down. This deadline expires next April.
 
Educationists in the capital are unanimous that for private budget schools which levy tuition fees of Rs.200-400 per child per month, the norms and standards specified in the Schedule are unattainable in the foreseeable future. “If the RTE Act’s Schedule provisions are imposed strictly, most private budget schools will have no choice but to shut down. The RTE Act doesn’t make any provision for helping budget school managements by way of long-term loans,” says Prof. Marmar Mukopadhyay, director of the Gurgaon-based Educational Technology and Management Academy.
 
According to Kartik Mishra, associate, School Choice Campaign at the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), the well-known Delhi-based think tank, after implementing all mandatory provisions laid down in the RTE Act, “budget schools will no longer remain budget” and will have to substantially increase their tuition fees by 354-533 percent. “Currently elementaries in rural Delhi charge an average tuition fee of Rs.295 per month and in urban Delhi Rs.370. If they install the infrastructure specified in the Schedule they will be compelled to raise their tuition fees to Rs.1,039 and Rs.1,450 respectively,” says Mishra.
 
For several years, CCS has been in the vanguard of a snowballing movement to save the country’s estimated 400,000 private budget schools in slums and shanties, eulogised by Prof. James Tooley of Newcastle-upon-Tyne University in his bestseller A Beautiful Tree (2009), for providing far superior education compared to government primaries. “Budget schools started mushrooming to fill the void created by poor quality government schools where teacher turnout is abysmally low. It’s not an easy decision for poor parents — most of whom are construction labour and factory workers — to send their children to fees-charging budget rather than free-of-charge government primaries, which not only provide free education but also free mid-day meals to their students,” says Dr. Parth Shah, former professor of economics at Michigan University and promoter-president of CCS (estb. 1997).
 
Sentient educationists including top brass within CCS are outraged that neither the RTE Act nor the majority judgement imposes any obligation upon the Central and/or state governments to improve and upgrade teaching-learning standards in the 1.26 million government primaries country-wide, while targeting budget schools. “If children from poor households received a half-decent education in free government schools, their parents would not send their kids to fees-levying budget schools. Since the Central and state governments can’t take the tough decisions required to improve their schools, they are forcibly shutting down budget schools which offer better quality education,” says Shah.
 
S. Kapoor, promoter and principal Spring Time School (estb. 2011) in Daryaganj, old Delhi, which offers English-medium primary education to 40 children aged three-ten in a tiny 350-sq. ft primary school levying monthly tuition fees ranging from Rs.500-650, is fearful of the future. “Meeting the norms specified in the RTE Act schedule is out of question. Delhi needs as many schools as it can get. I don’t see the logic of shutting down low-priced primaries which people prefer to government schools. Let them improve their standards to attract our students. That’s a better way of closing us down,” he says.
 
But it’s also the more difficult option.
 
Vimal Chander Joshi (Delhi)
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