The country’s unique budget private schools are facing an existential crisis and are being forced to close down. However, they offer bottom-of-the-pyramid households an acceptable alternative to the country’s dysfunctional government schools
For India’s lower middle class and bottom-of-the-pyramid households shortchanged by the country’s dysfunctional public education system defined by crumbling infrastructure, multi-grade classrooms, English language aversion, teacher absenteeism, corporal punishment and abysmal learning outcomes, the nation’s estimated 450,000 budget private schools (BPS) are manna from heaven. They provide English-medium education at monthly tuition fees ranging from a mere Rs.100-150 in rural India to Rs.300-600 in urban areas. A staggering number of 60 million children are reportedly enrolled in budget private schools countrywide.
However, these affordable private schools are facing an existential crisis following enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009. Over the past eight years since the Act became law, an estimated 23,000 BPS have been forcibly closed down for non-compliance with s.19 and Schedule of the RTE Act, which makes it mandatory for all schools to comply with minimal infrastructure and teacher-pupil ratio norms. Iniquitously, private (but not government) schools, which fail to provide the infrastructure and teacher-pupil ratio norms prescribed by s.19, are subject to heavy fines and forcible closure. EducationWorld’s editorial opinion on BPS is unambiguous. We believe that BPS promoters who combine enlightened self-interest with social philanthropy are rendering a valuable service to the public. Therefore, instead of being forced to close down, they should be provided soft loans and official encouragement to upgrade their schools to comply with s.19 norms (see cover story April 2018, www.educationworld.in).
Therefore to facilitate and celebrate the country’s best private budget schools, we have been rating and ranking them inter se for the past four years. As in previous years, this year too the BPS rankings have been conducted with the help of Delhi-based think-tank Centre for Civil Society (CCS, estb.1997) and the National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA, estb.2011), a representative organisation of 55,400 BPS in 20 states of the Indian Union. CCS and NISA shortlisted 25 well-managed BPS in six major cities. Subsequently, field representatives of C fore interviewed 1,027 SEC (socio-economic category) C, D and E parents and teachers to rate and rank them on 12 parameters of school education excellence.
In the EW India Budget Private Schools Rankings 2018-19, St. Mary’s High School, Kalyan, Thane (Mumbai), previously ranked #2, has dethroned the three-time champion Muni International School, Delhi which has been pushed down to #2. SR Capital Public School, Delhi has retained its #3 position while Little Flower Matriculation Hr. Sec. School, Chennai has advanced to #4 from #6 in 2017. The other notable promotions are NES High School Bhandup, Mumbai to #7 (10) this year and M.A. Ideal High School, Hyderabad #9 (11). Strikingly, Holy Paradise High School, Vasai West, Mumbai and Priyadarshini School, Indrayani Nagar, Pune, both hitherto unranked, have been voted to the Top 10 league table.
An English postgrad of Mumbai University and founder-principal of St. Mary’s High, Kalyan, Mumbai (estb.1989), affiliated with the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, Neelam Malik is elated that the school is ranked the country’s #1 BPS after three years as runner-up. “As a BPS, we never thought our school would be recognised and acknowledged nationwide, hence the #1 ranking is very special to us. We had a very humble beginning with 200 students, and the journey under the guidance of our chairman Bharat Malik has been long and hard. Our students are from underprivileged households and we do our best to ensure that they receive good quality education. We run two shifts, use other schools’ playgrounds, focus on extra-curricular activities such as public speaking and music, and go the extra mile in academics. Our 3,000-strong alumni, who are well-placed in society today as doctors, engineers, lawyers and chartered accountants is proof of the hardwork we have been doing over the past 30 years to provide good, affordable education,” says Malik. Currently, the K-10 St. Mary’s has an enrolment of 3,000-plus students instructed by 66 teachers (tuition fee: Rs.1,440-Rs.1,510 per month).
Likewise, John Xavier Thangarajan, alumnus of Periyar University, Salem, Tamil Nadu and promoter-principal of the Little Flower Matriculation Hr. Sec. School, Chennai (estb.1994) which has been promoted to #4 this year from #6 in 2017-18, is delighted his school has earned an excellent reputation within SEC C, D and E households for providing high-quality budget schooling to its 1,800 students. “Little Flower has been consistently improving its national ranking, which indicates that we are moving in the right direction. Our strength is that we are community-centric and involve parents and our community in all school activities. The school’s strength is its 74 teachers who mentor children academically by offering remedial teaching, given the reality that most of our parents can offer little academic support at home. Another important focus is life skills education and sports activities. Our objective is to develop well-rounded children prepared to take on life’s challenges,” says Thangarajan, who was awarded the Tamil Nadu government’s Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Best Teacher Award in 2014.
Megha Ghadge, an alumna of Mumbai University and headmistress of NES High School, Bhandup, Mumbai (estb.1963), is pleased that the school has also risen in the public esteem to be ranked #7 this year (#10 in 2017).
“We started way back in 1963 with the objective of providing quality English-medium education to children from under-privileged households in suburban Mumbai. However and quite frankly, I expected a substantially, higher ranking as our achievements surpass those of all other private budget schools in Mumbai. We are one of the 252 schools countrywide selected by Niti Aayog to be gifted an Atal Innovation Lab, and recently a science centre by Nehru Science Centre, Mumbai. In the latest class X exams of the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, 55 of our students averaged 90 percent-plus. Despite the school expanding and offering excellent infrastructure facilities to students, we have ensured that it operates on a low-fee model with our other institutions subsidising it,” says Ghadge. NES High is the first institution to be promoted by the National Education Society, which runs 60 educational institutions in Maharashtra. Currently NES High has an enrolment of 5,500 students mentored by 110 teachers.
Sruthy Susan Ullas