Despite the country’s 400,000 BPS schooling a staggering number of 60 million children, they are anathema to the establishment including the academy. However, your editors believe BPS provide poor households a preferable alternative to dysfunctional government schools and should be celebrated – Dilip Thakore
The phenomenal success of the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings (EWISR), published uninterruptedly every September since 2007 — and which over the past 12 years has evolved into the world’s largest primary-secondary schools rating and rankings exercise — hasn’t satisfied everyone. Although parents, teachers and educationists in SEC (socio-economic category) ‘A’, which, broadly speaking comprises high income households — elite and upper middle class family units — countrywide have warmly welcomed the annual EWISR inasmuch as it enables them to choose day, day-cum-boarding, legacy boarding and international schools for their children, they are disappointing for the majority of aspirational parents and children in the country’s estimated 60 million middle and lower middle class households. The tuition fees of the country’s Top 1,000 schools, although modest by international standards, tend to be beyond their payment capability.
Therefore, for some time your editors have been under pressure to also rate and rank ‘affordable’ primary-secondary schools beyond the Top 1,000, especially the country’s sui generis budget private schools (BPS) whose number, according to the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a highly reputed Delhi-based think tank, is over 400,000 with a staggering enrolment of 60 million children. BPS are anathema to the establishment dominated by the neta-babu (politician-bureaucrat) brotherhood, the prime beneficiaries of Soviet-inspired Nehruvian socialism which over the past 70 years since independence, has transformed India into one of the world’s most ill-educated and backward countries on Planet Earth. But that’s another story.
However, the brotherhood hates BPS promoted by private education entrepreneurs (edupreneurs) because they offer poor households an alternative to dysfunctional government schools whose prime purpose seems to be provision of well-paid teaching jobs to under-educated neta-babu kith and kin rather than schooling to children of bottom-of-pyramid households.
This is evidenced by the insertion of s.19 in the landmark Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. Under this section, all private schools are obliged to adhere to several stringent infrastructure norms — bathrooms, kitchens, store-room, playground and teacher-pupil ratio — on pain of punitive fines and forceful closure. However, government schools promoted and/or managed by the Central, state and local governments are exempt from provisions of s.19 and infrastructure norms detailed in the Schedule of the RTE Act. Quite clearly the objective of s.19 is to stifle and/or eliminate BPS which provide children of the lower middle and working class an alternative to failing government schools time-warped by English language aversion and pathetic learning outcomes.
It’s an encouraging discovery that the native spirit of private enterprise is alive and well in Indian education that BPS have united under the banner of the Delhi-based National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) to obtain stay orders from high courts across the country against mass forced closures of private schools providing millions of children affordable (Rs.500-4,000 per month), half-decent primary-secondary education.
“During the past eight years, 23,000 BPS primaries, which were providing better education than government schools, have been shut down across the country, and another 20,000 are contemplating shutdown because of continuous harassment by government officials. At the same time because of increasing harassment and widely divergent rules prescribed under the RTE Act by state governments, investment in new private schools is drying up,” says Kulbhushan Sharma, president of NISA and the newly formed Coalition for School Education. A commerce graduate of Panjab University and promoter of the class I-VIII SDM Model School, Ambala (estb.1989) which has an enrolment of 480 pupils, Sharma is a relentless critic of the RTE Act and champion of budget private schools.
According to Sharma, far from improving the quality of elementary education (class I-VIII) provided to India’s 250 million children registered as school-going, the RTE Act has jeopardised their future by in effect outlawing the country’s 400,000 BPS which offer children of lower middle and working class households refuge from state and local government-run schools. “It’s now a proven truth that 45 percent of school-going children in India are studying in affordable private schools. Despite a growing number of parents exercising their choice in favour of BPS, government and the media paint our schools as mafia enterprises extorting money from parents without providing quality education. Yet the reality is that affordable BPS represent the changing landscape of India’s K-12 education with continuous migration of students from government to private schools as parents voluntarily exercise their choice in favour of BPS. Therefore, our fraternity urges the government to give us due recognition as legitimate education providers and architects of the future of this country,” says Sharma.
Ab initio, EducationWorld, whose editors are proponents of free markets and against all, including government monopolies, has been supportive of BPS and NISA and as such is opposed to several provisions of the RTE Act, especially s.12 (1) (c) which transfers part of the State’s constitutional obligation to provide free and compulsory education to all children in the 0-14 age group (Article 45) to privately promoted schools. Moreover, we have repeatedly condemned s.19 of the Act which imposes strict infrastructure norms on private schools from which government primary-secondaries are exempt.
Therefore in April last year we wrote a detailed cover story titled ‘Why RTE Act should be scrapped’ (see https://www.educationworld.in/why-the-rte-act-should-be-scrapped/). In this feature, we advanced the argument that the national interest would be best served if instead of being harassed and forced to shut down for non-adherence to stipulated infrastructure and teacher-pupil norms etc, BPS promoters/managements should be offered soft loans and land at concessional price to enable them to upgrade their schools to comply with s.19 and schedule norms.
This point of view is endorsed by Sumeet Mehta, an alum of IIM-Ahmedabad who quit promising careers with Procter & Gamble, Singapore and Zee Learn, Mumbai to promote the Mumbai-based Leadership Boulevard Pvt. Ltd (estb.2012), a company which owns four affordable K-X schools, and provides 500 budget private schools (annual tuition fees: Rs.18,000-50,000 per year) its LEAD whole-school academic solutions — including textbooks, curriculum-mapped ready-to-use lesson plans, on-demand teacher development and student assessment services — in 300 tier II-IV cities and towns countrywide.
“Government schools have failed India’s children. Learning outcomes continue to be poor amidst wide scale apathy as indicated by the annual ASER and other surveys. And as most parents cannot afford to send their children to high-fee schools, the country’s 400,000 BPS, whose number is growing at 7 percent per year, are the sole option for saving schooling at scale in India. Against this backdrop, BPS are of huge importance in the country’s K-12 system. Therefore, the hostile attitude of the Central and state governments towards them rooted in mistrust, is not in the national interest. Instead of adopting a facilitative and supportive approach, government has forced the heavy hand of regulation on BPS across the country. The irony is that most of the infrastructure norms and rules and regulations imposed on private budget schools are not observed by government schools themselves. If budget private schools can deliver better learning outcomes, sometimes at half the actual costs of government schools, how advisable is it to stifle this important segment?” queries Mehta.
To enable budget private schools to withstand official discrimination and hostility, Mehta offers useful advice for promoters and principals. “While budget private schools are entitled to support and protection from government, instead of playing victim, BPS need to become respected for quality and affordability to command societal respect. Unfortunately, student learning outcomes are also poor in a majority of BPS. Therefore, I recommend that their managements allocate a proportion of their budgets towards innovations in teaching-learning and invest in learning interventions rather than in short-term gimmicks. BPS should aim to produce the next CBSE and IIT topper, the next Vishwanathan Anand and the next Sunder Pichai. As learning outcomes and the profile of graduating students from BPS improve, they will have a much stronger case before regulators and the general public,” advises Mehta.
This is valuable advice which your editors have anticipated. Therefore, to encourage BPS to compete inter se and raise teaching-learning standards, late last year we commissioned Centre for Forecasting & Research Pvt. Ltd, Delhi (C fore, estb.2000), the highly respected market research and opinion polls company and partner organisation which conducts the annual EW India School Rankings (September), EW India Preschool Rankings (December) as also the EW India Private University Rankings (May) surveys, to conduct yet another field survey to assess informed public opinion to rate and rank the country’s Top 300 BPS on 11 parameters of excellence in primary-secondary excellence.
The first step of this unprecedented initiative undertaken to provide valuable information to the country’s neglected SEC (socio-economic category) C, D and E households and parents interested in enrolling their children in BPS in 18 states and 143 cities/towns across the country was to persuade NISA, which claims a membership of 60,000 budget private schools countrywide, to shortlist sufficiently well-known BPS in 18 states for evaluation by sample respondents comprising teachers and parents (with children in BPS). Early last November, the NISA leadership, which has the best information and knowledge about these continuously neglected and rubbished schools increasingly favoured over government schools, presented lists of most preferred/ respected BPS in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Gurgaon, Chandigarh, Ghaziabad, Jaipur, Bhopal, Jammu and Lucknow among others.
To rate and rank these schools nationally and more pertinently in each city (because they are day schools for which city rankings are more important), C fore constituted a database of 2,458 respondents comprising 2,115 parents from SEC C-E households and 343 teachers employed in budget private schools — averaging 150 respondents per city — who rated each city’s most well-known BPS on 11 parameters of primary/elementary education excellence, viz, competence of faculty, infrastructure, individual attention to pupils, life skills education, co-curricular activities, sports education, value for money, leadership/management quality and safety & hygiene.
Respondents were asked to award perceptual scores under each parameter on a scale of 1-100. Subsequently, the scores awarded to each BPS were totalled by C fore and schools ranked nationally, and in each city on the basis of total score. Schools ranked by less than 25 respondents are not included in the league tables.
“Because of historical official and media neglect, BPS tend to be very low profile, parochial institutions, rarely known outside their neighbourhoods. Therefore, although the number short-listed by NISA aggregates over 1,000, only 300 of them were sufficiently well-reputed to be included in the national, state and city league tables. Nevertheless, this first-ever ranking of BPS serves a very useful social purpose because the league tables offer hitherto neglected but aspirational SEC C-E parents valuable data based on which they can choose the most suitable affordable private schools for their children. For parents in low-income households who often make great sacrifices to enrol their children even in affordable private schools, making the right choice of school is perhaps even more important than in middle class and elite homes,” says Premchand Palety, an alum of the Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh and Fore School of Management, Delhi who acquired over a decade’s market research experience with ORG — India’s pioneer retail market research company — prior to going solo and promoting C fore in the new millennium year. Among C fore’s major clients: Mint, Nestle and the Congress party.
With the country’s 1.20 million government schools going from bad to worse as testified by the highly respected independent ASER surveys which field test the actual learning attainments of primary/elementary school children across the country (see editorial p. 10), despite the hostility of the Central, state and local governments as also of jholawalas (Left academics and intellectuals), BPS whose number is rising by 7 percent annually are here to stay.
In the considered opinion of your editors, official discrimination and hostility towards the estimated 400,000 BPS countrywide, which provide 60 million children education of their choice, is unwarranted and iniquitous. On the contrary they should be encouraged to upgrade themselves and strengthen their capacity through the provision of long-term soft loans and concessional land pricing. To force children of SEC C-E households to compulsorily attend dysfunctional government schools is blatant social injustice which needs urgent correction.
In the pages following, we present national, state and city league tables of the country’s 300 most respected BPS rated on 11 parameters of school education excellence. Our objective is to aid and enable hitherto neglected aspirational parents aware of the foundational value of primary/elementary education to make the best aptitudinally suitable school choice for their children, and also provide models for other BPS managements to emulate.