The public, especially the great Indian middle class, has a curious love-hate relationship with private schools. On the one hand, almost every household in the country aspires to educate its children in private schools which are not only a status symbol, but provide passports for upward mobility and financial security.
However once they have ensured the admission of their progeny into private schools of their choice (or second choice), not a few parents transform into hostile witnesses and often into persecutors of institutional managements. Instead of co-operating with the school’s administration and teachers to jointly educate their children, they transform into carping critics and fault-finders.
And even though private school promoters and managements have made heroic efforts to switch to online classes to continue the education of their students during the Covid-19 pandemic, parents groups and associations demanding fees waiver and concessions have mushroomed countrywide. Despite parents being well-aware that schools have incurred substantial expenditure for installing digital connectivity and hardware, and training teachers to conduct online classes. And state governments, which are less than enamoured with private — especially affordable budget private — schools that are continuously attracting government school students, are happy to oblige. Almost all of them have issued notifications and directives slashing private school fees while simultaneously issuing stern warnings against laying off teachers and staff.
Contrary to popular perception, India’s private schools don’t educate the children of a thin upper crust. According to a study conducted by the Central Square Foundation last year, 47.5 percent of the country’s 260 million in-school children are enrolled in 450,000 private schools across the country. Yet despite their critical role in the pre-primary to class XII education system, the Central government has denied private schools MSME (micro small medium enterprises) status which would have qualified them for interest payment moratoria, soft loans and other concessions to tide over the pandemic.
Therefore the troubles and travails of private schools is the subject matter of our cover story in this issue. The plain truth is that if a large number of India’s private schools go under, the K-12 education system will self-destruct.
Our second lead feature focuses on the recently concluded CENTA Teaching Professionals Olympiad (TPO) 2020, which attracted 25,000 entries from 8,000 schools in India and abroad. That so many in-service teachers are testing themselves in this annual competitive contest open to all teachers worldwide, is good news. It’s an indicator this community is beginning to appreciate the virtues of continuous improvement and skilling. Moreover, this EW spring issue also has several commentaries on the controversial resignation of widely respected public intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta from the faculty of the high-potential, new- genre liberal arts Ashoka University.