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Raje government's studied silence on privatisation of education

Why the public-private partnership model in education doesn't get a show of hands from its naysayers

Sahil Makkar  |  Jaipur 

July 8, 1 pm: Around 500 school teachers were protesting outside the building of Shiksha Sankul, which houses the various educational departments in the state.

They burnt effigies of the education minister, demanding the Vasundhara Raje-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government withdraw the order on increased man-days. The teaching fraternity wanted the government to revisit the decision to adopt a public-private partnership (PPP) model in education.

"The government has not held any talks with us on the privatisation of education. We are around 350,000 teachers, and we will not let the state government hand over the management of schools to private entities in Rajasthan," said Mahavir Sihag, one of the agitating leaders.


The state government, faced with a cash crunch, has invited the participation of private players in other sectors as well. The move to commercialise education was first notified in May, with the issuance of a draft policy, which says the quality of government schools has been deteriorating as compared to private schools. This was despite the government's increase in education budget. The private schools were trotting out better results with lower per student expenditure.

On an average, the state spends about Rs 16,900 per student per annum in the 80,000 elementary schools, and about 10,000 secondary schools. This cost per student was Rs 9,000 in 2009. Though there is no official estimate for expenditure in privately managed schools, social activists suggest it could be anywhere between Rs 4,000 and Rs 8,000 per student.

The government believes the private players can manage their schools better and produce the desired results. It has decided to hand over the management of existing schools to private players on a first-come, first-served basis and also through competitive bidding. The government will reimburse the per child cost, and provide for the mid-day meal, textbooks and other government benefits.

In the new schools to be set up under the PPP, the government will fund 40 per cent students, whereas the private partners can fix fees for the rest of the students. The private partners are supposed to hire staff and ensure discipline in the schools.

On paper, it seems like a good policy since parents will not have to cough up extra money, and will have the option of sending their wards to a government school, which is under PPP.

Fuzzy logic

The draft policy reviewed by Business Standard is, however, silent on the number of schools the state government intends to give on PPP. The draft doesn't mention the funding of the infrastructure and land for the new schools to be established under the PPP. It doesn't talk about the Right To Education (RTE) Act, which provides reservation of 25 per cent of seats in all schools for free, and compulsory education to children from the less privileged classes.

The ambiguities in the policy have earned the wrath of political parties, education activists and teachers, since nowhere in the country has PPP in education been tried on a scale such as this.

"It is simply transferring the state's revenue to private entities. Private entities will choose only those schools which have better real estate value. The government is planning to give undue favour to some on a first-come, first-served basis," alleged Ambarish Rai, national convener of the Right To Education (RTE) Forum in New Delhi.

Komal Srivastava, an education activist in Rajasthan, says the Rajasthan government's basic premise that private schools are better than the government schools, is grossly flawed. "There is no empirical data or study to substantiate such a claim," said Srivastava.

In fact, a five-year study between 2009 and 2013 by the Azim Premji Foundation in rural Andhra Pradesh suggests that private schools are no better than the government schools. It said the performance of students was the same, whereas the teachers in private schools were less trained, inexperienced and lowly paid. The parents preferred sending their wards to private institutions, mainly because of uniforms, discipline, attendance in school (both of children and teachers), and social standing in the community.

Kishore Singh, UN special rapporteur on the right to education, too cautions against the commercialisation of education in his recent report. "The commercialisation of education and its unfettered liberalisation, open to operators for lucrative purposes or objectives, is contrary to international human rights law. The introduction of private, for-profit education into the national education landscape has a number of serious repercussions. Privatisation leads to shrinking of public investment," the report says.

The state government has already come under severe criticism for its decision to close down 17,000 primary, secondary and senior secondary schools in villages in the name of pooling resources and converting them into one Adarsh school. A study by Bharat Gyan Vigyan Samiti, a non-profit organisation, on the merger of 105 schools in five districts - Jaipur City, Alwar, Pali, Baran and Bundi - reveals high dropout ratios. In some schools, 89-90 per cent students have stopped going to schools, ostensibly due to long distances. The RTE Act suggests that the state provide for primary, secondary and higher secondary education within the reach of one, two and five kilometres.

After a lot of protest, the government reopened 3,000 schools, but many say the closure of neighbourhood schools is resulting in more enrolments to private schools.

The whys & wherefores

Rajasthan Education Minister Vasudev Devnani said in the last few years, there has been a dip in the credibility and quality of education in government schools. "Parents are more inclined towards the private schools, so we decided to go for the PPP model on an experimental basis in Adarsh schools. Currently, we are going ahead with five schools, and they can be a role model for other government schools."

The minister said the state government wants to have one Adarsh school (Class I to XII) in each gram panchayat so that students don't have to switch schools. "Our school enrolment has increased by 500,000 in the current session. More than the distance, it is the quality of education that matters. What is the point in having a neighbourhood school when there are no teachers? Now, each Adarsh school has a minimum of 14 teachers."

The minister, however, failed to provide justification for the first-come, first-served model and drawbacks in the policy. Another school of thought is that the quality in government schools can be improved by hiring more staff, strict monitoring and giving the necessary infrastructure. A state cannot abdicate its responsibility in the guise of PPP, said Congress state president Sachin Pilot.


REVISED PPP POLICY ON EDUCATION

EXISTING GOVERNMENT SCHOOLS

Management of schools by private partners on first-come, first-served basis
  • Government will sponsor 100% students. Government-sponsored students will be charged according to prevailing fee structure in other schools
  • Private partner can select any of the government schools
  • State government to provide free textbooks, mid-day meal and other benefits
Management of schools by private partners through competitive bidding
  • Government will sponsor 100% students. Government-sponsored students will be charged according to prevailing fee structure in other schools
  • Selection of schools will be done by state government keeping in view educational backwardness of the region
NEW PPP SCHOOLS

Private partners to set up new schools through competitive bidding
  • Government to sponsor 40% student paying fee prevailing in other government schools, rest will be charged by private partners according to their rates
Private partners to set up new schools in economically backward areas through competitive bidding
  • n Government to sponsor 100% student paying fee prevailing in other government schools, rest will be charged by private partners according to their rates
Amendments to the draft policy
  • Applicable to schools under the control of secondary education
  • All PPP schools under this policy to be treated as govt schools
  • The period of agreement will of at least 10 years but no more than 30 years
  • Performance of PPP to be reviewed by third party

First Published: Wed, July 29 2015. 00:34 IST
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