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Maharashtra: Suspicious sudden fervour

EducationWorld September 12 | Education News EducationWorld

The dismal condition of 1,167 primary and secondary schools with an aggregate enrolment of 650,000 children, run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in India’s commercial capital (pop. 20.5 million), is now officially admitted. On July 26, by a resolution of the corporation, private educators including corporates, education trusts and NGOs were invited to take over the reins of Mumbai’s municipal schools.

The proposal has been pushed through BMC by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance which has a large majority in BMC on the recommendation of the corporation’s all-party standing committee, indicating a general consensus within the corporation on the issue.

On the recommendation of the standing committee, private educators will be offered four public-private partnership (PPP) models — ‘Full school management with private partner’s teachers’ model which permits private partners to manage an existing or new civic school and provide free quality education through its own teachers and principal; ‘Full school support’ model restricting private partners to use existing school teachers; ‘Specific services partnership’ model under which private educators undertake to provide specific services to improve  the quality of curricular and co-curricular education in BMC schools; ‘Short-term support from private organisations’ model restricted to provision of teacher training, coaching support, vocational programmes and special needs education; or the ‘One-time donation model’ under which private parties provide computers, books, furniture, uniforms etc.

According to the BMC resolution, the corporation wants to infuse dynamism, competitiveness and expert management into municipal schools. However, private educators are wary about the fine print of the PPP options and public opinion is divided on whether the BMC is shirking its responsibility or is genuinely interested in improving the quality of education in dysfunctional BMC schools.

According to Jayant Jain, president of the Forum for Fairness in Education (estb. 1994), the BMC’s PPP models are precursors of “backdoor privatisation” of municipal schools sited on the most expensive real estate countrywide. “This proposal is not a permanent solution to the challenges confronting these schools. It is the duty of the government to provide free, and equal education. It should not outsource this constitutional obligation to the private sector through the PPP model. The BMC should focus on improving the quality and accessibility of its own free schools,” says Jain.

Certainly, finance is no constraint for India’s richest municipal corporation which expends Rs.2,342 crore on education annually. In 2011, BMC spent Rs.1,800 crore on 445,779 primary school students — Rs.40,390 per capita. And this year the amount has been enhanced to Rs.52,255 per student — substantially more than provided by any municipal corporation countrywide. Despite this, the flight of students from BMC schools has not abated, with the percentage of drop-outs rising from 6.23 in 2010-11 to 12 in 2011-12.

Moreover, the waters of BMC education have been further muddied by a proposal to invite private educators to construct education institutions on 50 percent of the land reserved for municipal schools, and build a municipal school for the BMC on the remaining portion. Though BMC officials say this policy change is needed as the corporation doesn’t have the financial resources to build schools, the opposition Congress party believes it’s a conspiracy to gift BMC land under the cover of PPP, resulting in a war of words.

Farida Lambay, co-founder of Pratham (estb.1994), India’s largest and most respected education NGO which provides remedial and supplementary education to 3 million underprivileged children in 21 states countrywide, is broadly in favour of PPPs. “However these agreements need to be carefully thought-through and they shouldn’t become a cover for practicing crony capitalism. To start with, there has to be a transparent public enquiry into why free-of-charge BMC schools which are well-funded with many of them served by excellent teachers, are not popular with underprivileged sections of society. The outcome of this enquiry should shape the terms and conditions of PPP agreements which should not be signed hurriedly,” advises Lambay.

This is sound advice which the suddenly fervent proponents of greater private involvement in BMC education would do well to heed.

Praveer Sinha (Mumbai)

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