The year was 1984, a German company, fed up of making the rounds of government offices for the customary approvals to set up shop left vowing never to turn to India. Today, even if an Indian edupreneur wants to establish a school he would need close to 36 permissions and wait for months or even years before he could get going. It was only after the New Economic Policy of 1991 that India broke free from the Licence Raj thus paving the way for integrating with the world economy and in the process shedding the import substitution model. Several sectors benefitted except the schools.
The 484-page long Draft National Education Policy (DNEP) envisages a plethora of changes but does not say much in easing regulations. It is akin to saying, we have done away with licence raj but inspector raj is to continue. The DNEP prescribes that all schools to have world-class infrastructure with the support of competent teachers but how it would implement is left to imagination. The draft talks about establishing world class facilities with school complexes in villages but does not prescribe how it would tackle the issue of one lakh schools that have just one teacher.
The draft wants people to believe that admissions would pour into public schools once the recommendations are enforced. DNEP is a policy document that identifies issues but does not provide an action plan on implementation. Ironically, the mandarins who propose the changes themselves send their children to private schools. While the voluminous document spells out a wide array of suggestions, there is little for the enhancement of private schools. A central government employee gets an education allowance of ` 2,250 per month per child and never thinks twice of sending his or her child to a government school.
move forward, private schools need to be protected
Everyone agrees that the road to arming the younger generation (52% of the present India was born after 1991) and who are looking at private schools for education need a fillip. Sample this: 75 million school students in the 350,000 private unaided schools in India that constitute 24% of the schools need to be taken into consideration. Kulbhushan Sharma, President, National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) says, “It is a forgone conclusion, if India is to move forward, private schools need to be protected and given a free hand.” Echoing a similar sentiment, Revathi Kanan, educationist and a strong votary of reform avers, “Hospitals, pharmacies, retailers and just about anyone is allowed to make profits. The need of the hour is to de-license and allow for-profit companies in education sector. There are scores of edupreneurs willing to invest in education.”
Bharat Malik, Founder Member, NISA and Former President, Private Unaided School Management Association, Maharashtra asks, “Are all the Government of India departments completely assured that education is not-for-profit and money is not generated through education right from play school to university level?
Everyone believes that huge profits & assets are generated out of education, why not legalise it. Why this hypocrisy? Atleast for those who are ready to pay taxes and bring revolutionary changes in the field of education can contribute in country’s development.
Madhusudhan, Vice President, National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) argues, “If one goes by the DNEP recommendations, future schools would be run by School Management Committees but the committee would not take responsibility of investment. This is tantamount to- we want state-of-the-art infrastructure but do not ask us how the money would come by.”
For long, academicians have been pitching for a level playing field. Deepak Khaitan, President, All Goa Government Recognized Unaided Schools Association says, “It is high time that the not-for-profit clause is removed. Schools pay electricity, water and property tax at commercial rates but making profits is an anathema.”
Rajeevan Nair, a social scientist and columnist says, “India is surging ahead in all spheres. Even Communist China has commercialized education. The education sector needs to be pulled out of the stranglehold and made free. It is important to start considering education on par with health sector where profit is no longer a ‘bad’ word. Better still, give a choice for people wishing to establish schools to choose between non-profit and for profit.”
not-for-profit in reality?
Creation of a monolith structure such as Rajya Shiksha Aayog (RSA) as an apex body for monitoring, regulation of all educational institutions and policy making is well intentioned but can it encompass the whole of India which is so complex is what educationists are asking.
The sheer complexities would make it if not impossible but hardly feasible for RSA to oversee. You have the up-market schools in the hills, as against the millions in the plains and towns in the cities, the urban (read English speaking) versus the rural schools, the one-teacher for 28 students schools where parents do not mind spending versus the jam-packed classrooms where the sole aim of the teacher is to rush through the syllabus.
B Anantha Krishnan, Operational Head, Kalorex Group says, “The Gujarat Government’s new ruling in March that land and building of a school should be a trust is looking backwards.” The highly regulated governmental interference is more inimical than facilitative.
A contentious issue in the DNEP is the role of School Management Committees (SMC). The draft policy states: “Teachers and principals are often not allowed to take decisions of a local nature that they should be taking, this includes choice of pedagogical approaches and teaching learning materials, matters of setting the time table and basic financial matters that are important to the daily functioning of the school. Yet the teachers and principals are made accountable to SMC’s constituted primarily of parents and elected representatives of people (local, corporate, etc. i.e. politicians) on them, who will dictate to the teachers and principals on issues of everyday functions.”
state-of-the-art infrastructure but do not ask us how the money would
Advocates of laissez faire for private schools say that the per pupil expenditure on teacher salary of government sector is ` 4,326 per month in 2017-18 but the state of affairs in terms of output is far from satisfactory. In such a scenario, it is the private schools that need to be nurtured.
Welcoming the draft policy recommendation of 5+3+3+4 model from nursery to Grade XII, Madhusudhan of NISA says, “The draft policy intentions are good but there is a need to also show a path forward in implementation.”
Fee regulation is one of the most debated issue. “The policy is more a knee jerk reaction than well-thought-out draft. Private schools provide facilities that are unmatched and as far as fee is concerned, it should be left to the private managements,” says Arvind an education consultant. Martin Kennedy, President, Tamil Nadu Private School Association says, “There should be freedom from the hands of the government and autonomy also has to be there. We are ready to pay taxes so we want autonomy in economic side also. Apart from the autonomy which we have in administrative aspects we also want in economic side.”
There is a growing demand to amend RTE. Presently, several schools in states where RTE is implemented are under financial strain as dues are not reimbursed. Starting a school against the backdrop of the RTE Act makes it difficult. G N Var, Chairman, Private School Associations in Jammu & Kashmir says, “Education is considered to be a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). There should be an option whether the school entrepreneurs want to make it to CSR or profit mode.”
at commercial rates but making profits is an anathema
When asked why is it so challenging to run a private school? M K Mukund, a veteran educationist pointed out: The teachers are to be paid as per 7th pay commission, there is property tax, permit for school buses, compliance regulations for CBSE/ICSE boards, taxes for electricity and water apart from a host of commissions.”
The odds are loaded against starting a school as the Return of Investment (RoI) is often not clear and there is no guarantee that it would click. However, if one were to go by the latest statistics, India has over 250 million school going students, by far the most in the world and approximately 29 percent of India’s population is between the age group of 0-14 years.
The biggest challenge is to provide ample opportunity for all types of schools to grow with strong synergy between industry and educational providers.
Among the positives, the draft NEP envisages for critical thinking and creativity as a basis for intellectual development which is welcomed by one and all. There have been several studies showing the grim reality of children not ready for school readiness due to the lack of proper training at the pre-primary level.
Another noteworthy proposal in the DNEP is to make Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) for 3-6 year-olds an integral part of the education ecosystem. Considering that 85% of a child’s brain development happens prior to the age of 6, the recommendation is commendable.
The challenges however in implementation is something that needs consideration. Funding such a massive exercise is a major one. The proposal of doubling the funding on education is desirable but fraught with skepticism. Expanding the RTE Act to encompass pre-school is a move in the right direction but first, the present situation in several states where the act is in vogue which is riddled with host of issues has to be dealt with.
How the RSA would shape up? Is a question that is on everybody’s mind. It would be the apex body that would be responsible for developing, articulating, implementing, evaluating and in short- the sole authority with all the powers vested with it to chop and churn anything and everything in the school education sector.
It will also have the power to review budgets and their utilization. Educationists fear that so much centralization of power would result in corruption.
Certain proposals in the draft have already been retracted, for instance-the recommendation of Hindi as one of the three languages of study. Thanks to the opposition in Tamil Nadu, the committee swiftly withdrew the suggestion as a policy mandate.
In the coming months another issue that one would hear more and more is about the conspicuous absence of the words ‘secular’ and secularism’ that are missing.
There is no doubt that the Indian education system, especially school system needs a major overall. The DNEP has several positives such as the provision for creative learning instead of rote, extending protection to early childhood education, extending the RTE and improving the schools in the hinterland. The implementation part is a major cause for worry. The suggestions solicited by the Government of India are varied and have come from different sources. The National Independent School Alliance (NISA) comprising 22 states and 45 state organisations have come up with a sling of recommendations which we are reproducing here in the following pages. How many would be taken and what is in store, is something only time will tell.