A conspicuous flaw of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, presented to the country on July 29, is the cursory attention it has paid to India’s large and growing private education sector. Yet the grassroots reality is that almost half the country’s 256 million school-going children are attending private schools. In 1993 a mere 9.2 percent of in-school children were in private education. By 2017-18, the proportion had risen to 47.5 percent, and is most likely to be over 50 percent currently. According to State of the Sector Report: Private Schools in India (PSIR 2020) commissioned by the highly-respected Central Square Foundation and the Omidyar Network India (both based in Delhi), the number of private unaided (financially independent) schools countrywide is 350,000, and the number of private aided (recipients of government subsidy) is 84,000. To this aggregate one should add a large number of ‘unrecognised’ budget private schools and preschools (which don’t need government licence). Altogether, they are mentoring a massive cohort of 119 million children in the 3-16 age group across the country.
The plain truth is that even bottom-of-the-pyramid households have become disenchanted with government schools distinguished by crumbling infrastructure, chronic teacher absenteeism, English language aversion and rock-bottom learning outcomes. Therefore despite government schools being free of charge and providing free mid-day meals, books, uniforms etc, they are exhibiting incremental preference for fees-levying private schools, in the hope of giving their children a better chance to rise to middle class status.
The great service rendered by the diligently researched 153-page PSIR 2020 is that it demolishes carefully curated myths of Left-liberal intellectuals who dominate the academy and media, to the effect that India’s 460,000 private schools are elite education institutions defined by high pricing, snobbery and exclusion. It discloses for instance that 70 pecent of the country’s private schools levy monthly tuition fees of less than Rs.1,000, and 45 percent less than Rs.500. Only 9.4 percent charge more than Rs.2,000 per month.
These and other startling facts about the valuable contribution of private school promoters, managements and principals — mainly public-spirited individuals driven by motives of enlightened self-interest rather than greedy pursuit of profit — are contained in PSIR 2020. Therefore this unprecedented and overdue report is a fit subject for our cover story in this mid-September issue of EducationWorld.
One of the major subjects of discussion and debate in the immediate aftermath of NEP 2020 is on ways and means to implement this ambitious policy prescription. In our complementary cover story, we present the expert advice of experienced education leaders on seven domains of primary-secondary and higher education. Check out these and other stories and opinions in this information and insights packed issue.