Monday, August 01, 2011

Do we need to regulate private schools?

The onset of private schools has given a new dimension to education in India. Opening up of the sector has brought in more reforms with new innovative teaching practices, attracting students. The onslaught of private schools can be witnessed in major states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The India Education Report, 2009, says that there has been an increase in percentage growth of private schools with a decrease in public schools.

Privatization has been more profound in the education sector, because of the realization on the part of the government that it can no longer manage the education system and provide quality instruction. However, large questions are asked on the quality of private schools because of the lack of a regulatory mechanism to monitor their functioning.

Levying of hefty fees is a major concern, as it is said to affect the prospects of poor children studying in such schools. Financially backward students are left with no option, but to join government schools. In spite of various incentives accorded by the government to the disadvantage sections of the society, they have failed to provide quality education to these children. The Right to Education Act (RTE) was considered as landmark legislation. It, however, is caught in the ebb of centre-state dilly dallying. The RTE gives a parent the right to enroll his child in the school of his choice and the school will be compensated by the government. This needs to go a long way to achieve the objectives of the Sarva Siksha Abhyan (SSA), as there is no data on the real beneficiaries. Awareness of RTE is very less and parents more often do not want their children to study, but work in rural areas. While the Gross Enrollment Ratio has had a massive increase after SSA, there has been a downturn last year.

The Private Fee Regulation Bill, though tabled in 2007, was not passed, because of strong opposition from various quarters. The Bill sought to regulate the functioning of private schools by empowering state governments in setting up of Education Authorities to monitor the same. The Bill stated that the running of unaided private schools had become a business, with the aim to make money than impart education. The Bill also seeks to address the issue of low payment of teachers and arbitrariness in appointment and suspension of teachers. The Bill, therefore, mentions that it has become necessary to set up adequate mechanisms to monitor, regulate and control the thriving education business, not only to ensure that children get good education, but also to protect people from exploitation.

As per Section 4(3), the Authority may:
(a) prescribed the student-teacher ratio for each standard;
(b) put a ceiling on the tuition fee that may be charged by a school for a particular
(c) fix the hours of duty for teachers;
(d) monitor the funds collected by the schools; and
(e) perform such other function as may be prescribed

Interestingly, the provision of the Bill did not intend to apply to minority schools (as per Section 6).

The Bill also seeks to restrict private schools in matters of levying fees. This directly affects the financial status of schools that thrive on this source of income. Such regulatory measures will scuttle the growth of schools, which can then hamper the development of education. Private schools have brought in a new wave of innovation and quality in the sector, making it competitive. The higher education sector has been highly privatized, with even the IITs and IIMs facing the heat to bring in autonomy, free from government intervention.

The Government, while promoting autonomy to educational institutions, needs to balance it with the society’s interest of affordable education. At a time when the RTE is wanting of a push, private schools need to be redefined. Regulation and autonomy are crucial questions at the policy and legal levels.

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