A survey released on August 29 by the New Delhi-based National University for Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA), suggests that the number of private schools (including schools affiliated with the Tamil Nadu State Board of Secondary Education, Central Board of Secondary Education and Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations) in Tamil Nadu (pop.72.1 million) is declining.
According to NUEPA’s latest Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) survey, for the first time in seven years, the number of operational private elementary (primary and upper primary) schools in the state has dropped from 19,735 in 2013-14 to 19,161 in 2014-15. Simultaneously, the number of state government schools has increased from 37,000 in 2013-14 to 37,902 in 2014-15. Moreover, enrolment in primary classes of private schools which was rising steadily for six years, has fallen from 3.75 million to 3.54 million in 2013-14, and has dropped further to 3.27 million in 2014-15. In private middle schools as well, enrolment has declined to 1.81 million from 1.98 million in 2012-13. Great significance is being attached to these numbers in Chennai’s academic circles because in major industrial states such as Karnataka and Maharashtra, the number of private schools and enrolments in them have been rising continuously.
State education officials of the Jayalalithaa-led AIADMK government are congratulating themselves, interpreting this data as reflective of improvement in teaching-learning standards, success of the mid-day meal and other freebies provided by the administration to children attending government schools. However, private school managements are less than impressed by this self-serving argument.
“Around 400 private high and higher secondary schools which were unable to comply with the infrastructure and other norms stipulated by the Right of Children to Free & Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, have been converted into primary schools with relaxed norms, and around 200 private schools have been shut down. That’s the reason for the sudden decline in number and enrolments in private schools as reported in the U-DISE survey,” explains K.S. Natarajan, principal of the Saraswathi Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School, Chennai.
Clearly, excessive regulation of Tamil Nadu’s vaunted private schools which routinely top the annual EducationWorld India School Rankings (see EW September) has forced closure of the weaker among private schools in the state. Around 1,200 private matriculation schools which couldn’t meet the state government’s land requirement norms — 14,400 sq. ft within corporation limits; 19,200 sq. ft in a municipality; an acre in a town and three acres in villages — have not been able to renew their recognition status. “However after an expert committee constituted to look into the land requirement norms stipulated for private schools submitted its report, these schools were granted exemption from the rules until May 31, 2016,” says K.R. Nandha Kumar, state general secretary, Tamil Nadu Nursery, Primary, Matriculation and Higher Secondary Schools’ Association.
Inevitably, the worst-hit are low-cost and mid-budget private schools struggling to comply with s.19 of the RTE Act which stipulates teacher-pupil ratios, classroom size, building norms, toilets, drinking water facilities, playgrounds etc. These schools also have to admit poor neighbourhood children as mandated by s.12 (1) (c) of the RTE Act, which stipulates that 25 percent seats in class I and progressively until class VIII, should be allotted to them free-of-charge with the state government obliged to pay the per-student cost incurred in government schools. These reimbursements are routinely delayed. In addition, state board-affiliated schools are obliged to levy low tuition fees prescribed by the state government-appointed private school fee determination committee.
Clearly, jealous officials unable to raise teaching-learning standards in the state’s 79,679 government primary-secondaries are manipulating provisions of the RTE Act to harass and discourage private schools in the state, forcing litigation and closures. The inevitable consequence will be dilution of the pool of Tamil Nadu’s well-educated and skilled labour — drawn mainly from the state’s 19,000 private schools — which has made the state a favoured destination for domestic and foreign investment. Not that education ministry officials are likely to lose any sleep over this inevitability.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)