“The NEP does not separate funding and provision of education”
The EDge Editorial Team June 2019
One of the lesser discussed aspects of the draft National Education Policy (NEP) is the private school sector. We delved into the details with Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, Professor of Education and International Development, University College London and President, City Montessori School, Lucknow.
CSF: The NEP states that "private schools have, over the last 50 years, become much less diverse in student socio-economic profile than before." You have researched private schools extensively, would you agree with this assertion about the diversity and equitability in private schools?
Geeta: There is no evidence cited for this statement. In fact, there is hardly any publicly available information on private unaided schools. In my research using National Sample Survey (NSS) 2014-15 data, I found that the median ‘total course fee’ for 6-14-year-olds who attended private unaided schools in the country was ₹417 per month (with much variation across states). I also found that only 3.6% of private unaided school attendees paid more than ₹2500 per month for ‘total course fee’ in 2014-15. Median fees was 6% of state per capita income, 43.4% of the per pupil expenditure in government schools, and 9.7% of the annual minimum wage of daily wage labourers. This shows that quite low-income families are sending their children to budget private schools. In this sense, diversity and inclusion in private school sector has, in fact, increased.
The impression that private schools have become less diverse may have come from the elite private schools, whose fees has been prominently covered in the media. However, there are just under 20,000 such schools (mostly CBSE and ICSE affiliated), out of the roughly 3,50,000 recognized private unaided schools in the country, i.e., only 5.7% of schools are ‘elite’ by this definition. Private school enrolment has expanded massively in the past 10 to 15 years, and it is clear that private schools now cater to the whole spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds in the country.
CSF: One of the recommendations that follows from the NEP’s claim of increasing inequity in private schools is that private schools should be philanthropic in nature. What is your view? Should private schools remain “not-for-profit,” as they always have been traditionally? Does this have any bearing on their quality?
Geeta: I can state what is, rather than what ought to be. More than 40% of children in the country today are studying in private unaided schools. While there are about 3,50,000 recognized private unaided schools as per DISE data, research studies suggest that there are roughly an equal number of private unrecognized schools (not included in DISE data). It is unlikely that most of these are philanthropic in nature. Whether to allow for-profit education is a judgement each society needs to make, and there is much soul-searching about it. A May 2018 paper by Lynda Dunlop in the Journal of Education Policy explores the growing phenomenon of for-profit schools in the UK, highlighting that the ‘Education (Independent School Standards) Regulations 2014’ allows an individual or group, referred to as a school proprietor, to own and manage for-profit school(s). Dunlop finds that a high proportion of the 977 for-profit schools in the UK belonged to private school-chain companies such as Cognita Schools Ltd (35 schools), Cambian Group PLC (28 schools), Priory Education Services (20 schools), Alpha Schools Ltd (12 schools) and Alpha Plus Group Ltd (11 schools).
One way to ensure inclusivity and accountability in private schools is through direct benefit transfer (DBT) schemes such as school vouchers, by which money will be given directly to the parents rather than to schools. This will allow parents to hold schools accountable as they can use the voucher to move their child to a better school if required. Unfortunately, DBTs have not been considered in the NEP, even though the government is already running similar schemes, e.g., the Ujjwala LPG gas subsidy, and indeed in education itself, where central government employees are all given a DBT of ₹2,250 per month per child for the education of up to two children in any school of the parent’s choice.
CSF: The NEP refers to the creation of an independent agency – the CESD, or Central Educational Statistics Division – to gather and analyse data for the education system. What are crucial data gaps on private schools that the government – at the central or state level – should strive to fill? How could the CESD potentially fill that gap?
Geeta: There is hardly any data on private schools because they are rarely included in studies or surveys done by the government. It is as if private school students belong to another country and need not be of public concern! For example, the National Achievement Survey (NAS) is conducted only in government and aided schools and excludes private unaided schools. This mentality needs to change. We need more information about private schools to get a fuller picture of the education sector. DISE doesn’t collect data from private unrecognized schools, but for the sake of the crores of children studying in them, we need to know why they haven’t applied for recognition and information on their enrolment, fees, teacher salaries, etc. Even for recognized private schools, data is lacking or not updated in DISE.
CSF: What do you think of the proposition to separate regulation, provision, and policy-making in the NEP? How do overlapping interests between these functions presently impact private schools, and what do you foresee as the impact of this separation on schools and on the schooling market?
Geeta: The idea of separating roles is very good, because if government performs all the roles – funder, provider, regulator, policy maker, assessor – it leads to many conflicts of interest. However, the NEP does not go far enough because it does not separate funding and provision – the government is both the funder and producer of education, i.e., it runs schools itself. The NEP does not consider public funding for privately produced education (public-private partnerships or PPP). It is a myth that in educationally developed countries, all schools are state-run. Actually, they are only publicly funded, not publicly run. This is an important distinction that many in government are unaware of. In India, there is an entrenched belief that the government shouldn’t just fund education, it must also produce it (i.e., run the schools) – even when it has struggled to deliver quality. Our main focus should be to ensure that all elementary education is publicly funded, so that parents do not have to pay to send their children to school. But the operation of the schools themselves could be in private hands if they are deemed to be more efficient, i.e., to deliver better child outcomes at lower cost.
The NEP has also proposed the establishment of an independent State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) for each state, to handle all aspects of school regulation and accreditation. It recommends reducing the burden of over-regulation on private schools, and regulating public and private schools within the same framework/benchmarks. These are welcome proposals. Much depends, however, on how the SSRA will operate. Will it subject public schools to accountability pressures? For example, will government schools have to go through a process of recognition same as private schools? And will they also be closed down if they do not comply with the norms of the RTE Act? The NEP doesn’t clarify this, leaving open the possibility of the continuation of non-accountable public schools and resultant poor learning outcomes.