Central Square Foundation

Experts Call for an Enabling Environment for Private Schools

The EDge Editorial Team July 2020

Central Square Foundation, in partnership with Omidyar Network India, recently released the first-of-its-kind report on the private school sector in India. The ‘State of the Sector Report on Private Schools in India’ was launched by Amitabh Kant, the CEO of NITI Aayog, at a digital event on July 22, 2020.

About 12 crore students, i.e., nearly 50% of India’s school-going children attend private schools. However, learning outcomes require urgent attention. About 60% of rural private school students in Class 5 cannot solve a simple division problem, and 35% cannot read a Class 2 level graph. The report underlines the need to work towards improving student learning by reviewing the current regulatory framework and bringing policy focus on learning.

Mr. Kant also delivered the keynote address wherein he stressed the need for reforms guided by access, equity and quality. “We need to bring reforms using access, equity and quality as guiding factors. More importantly, we need to shift the focus from monitoring of inputs to monitoring of outcomes. Quality education has been this government’s priority and NITI Aayog is drafting a model regulatory act in consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.

The growth of the private school sector can be attributed to the rising demand by aspirational parents. 73% of parents with children in private schools — from privileged as well as underprivileged households — believe that these schools provide a better learning environment. Mohandas Pai, Padma Shree Awardee and Chairman of Manipal Global Education, delivered a special address at the event and highlighted the increasing demand: “Parents are making a choice and sending their children to private schools despite the government creating the capacity and spending enormous money on school education."

The report identifies two key barriers to improving learning outcomes. First is the lack of learning-based information on schools in the absence of which parents choose schools based on tangible parameters like ‘school infrastructure’ or ‘English as the medium of instruction’. We need to empower parents to make informed decisions while choosing a school based on a universal learning indicator that compares learning performance across schools. Second is the regulatory complexities which make day-to-day operations difficult and deter quality providers from entering the sector or scaling up. The need of the hour is to create an enabling environment for the private schools by introducing policy reforms that focus on and incentivise learning outcomes.

Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda, the Vice President and Spokesperson of the Bharatiya Janata Party, participated in the first of the two panel discussions at the event. He said that the role of the government need not be restricted to providing education via public schools, but should extend to providing the platform and the regulatory environment so that education is received universally.

Taking Panda’s point a bit further, Gurcharan Das, Author, and Former CEO of Procter & Gamble India, said that we need to “remove the License Raj and declare education as for-profit.” This would encourage honest entrepreneurs who are idealistic about education, he opined. Other key speakers in the first panel included Arun Bharat Ram, Chairman of SRF Limited, and Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, Chair of Education Economics and International Development at the Institute of Education.

Watch: Digital Launch of the ‘State of the Sector Report on Private Schools in India’

The second panel discussion on ‘The need for reforms in the private school sector: Voices from the ground’ witnessed a very engaging discussion on the impediments in running and scaling private schools between Prabhat Jain, Founding Chairman of FICCI Arise, and Co-Founder of Pathways World Schools & Pathways Early Years; Kulbhushan Sharma, President of NISA, and President, Federation of Private Schools Association, Haryana; Bhuvana Anand, Director, Research at Centre for Civil Society; and Vikas Jhunjhunwala, Founder & CEO of Sunshine Schools. The session was moderated by Dilip Thakore, Co-founder and Managing Editor of EducationWorld.

Prabhat Jain echoed Das’ thoughts and underlined that an open market in the sector will drive competition and the consumer will be the winner. Vikas Jhunjhunwala said that if the founders of Flipkart were to invest in the private school sector, they would have been rejected by every investor. This is not because the business opportunity is poor, but because they would have not been able to give ‘legitimate returns’ to the investors. He further added that if “we want to attract good quality entrepreneurs which is the basis for high-quality education, then we really need to remove the non-profit clause. Otherwise there will be no innovation.”

Bhavana Anand spoke of the extensive licensing required to set up a private unaided school. “Opening a private school is really hard. We've examined actual files — some of them have been in the queue for 5 years for recognition," she said. Complementing Bhuvana’s argument, Jain spoke about the need to see through the recommendations of the draft National Education Policy 2019 which includes establishing an independent regulatory body for the private school sector.

The report recommends 5 pillar sectoral reforms that would help create an enabling environment for the private school sector and subsequently lead to improved student learning. It suggests the need to help parents compare schools based on quality of education by creating a universal learning indicator; setting up an independent regulator separate from the Department of Education for the private school sector; developing a pragmatic accreditation that accounts for the constraints of low-fee schools; reviewing the non-profit mandate for education; and strengthening the Right to Education Act Section 12(1)(c) to ensure equity in accessing private schools, especially by underprivileged children.

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