DeccanHerald,Thursday, March 04, 2004
Private schools for poor?
Sabith Khan
In October 2003, the Centre for Civil Society, a thinktank based in New Delhi published a book entitled, ‘State of Governance-Delhi Citizens handbook’ which looked into many of the government departments of Delhi and suggested recommendations to fill in the gaps in the gray areas. This writer was a part of the research team, which also looked at among other sectors, the education sector of New Delhi in particular, and India in general. This article provides a gist of our research. The findings are quite astounding. Recommendations and some refreshingly new ideas are suggested for improving the state of education.

Consider this: 80% of children who pass class V from State run schools in Delhi do not know to read or write their names. In our own State, MAYA an NGO found that in Government Lower Primary School in Gavipuram Guttahalli, for eg. 33.4% of children in the third standard were unable to read and write Kannada alphabets. In the Government Model Primary School in Gavipuram Guttahalli, 24% of children in the second standard were unable to read and write.

State-run government schools countrywide are known for their lackadaisical attitude and bad quality of education. The private schools in comparison seem to be doing well in terms of both the reputation they enjoy as centres of learning as well as satisfaction of parents of the children who attend these schools.

Surprisingly, in the Unnikrishnan judgement, the Supreme Court has declared commercialisation of education unconstitutional. Norms are set for setting up of private schools, licenses are required which are not easily available, and a plethora of bureaucratic hurdles need to be crossed before starting a school, which only the rich and “well connected” can manage. Hence, we do not see private schools for the poor, but rather only for those who are well off.

These governmental policies make it impossible for sincere but cash strapped NGOs or individuals to start schools. It is surprising that in our neighbouring State of Kerala more than 60% of primary schools are privately managed, while the average for India is about 5%.

The system in place in Kerala, which encourages private initiative and aims at delivery of education and not setting up more schools; has earned the state 100 per cent literacy and we definitely can learn from the methods adopted here. The Kerala model of education — of choice and competition — is unique in the country and so is Kerala’s educational performance.

Government financing of education in Kerala observes the principle that funds follow students in the form of scholarships or vouchers, and are not directly spent on education departments. The State also subsidises the highest proportion of students in private schools.

This fact gives the citizens of Kerala wider effective choice in selecting primary schools for their children. The parents can send their children to any school of their choice. The private schools must provide the best services to attract students and retain them for the government grants and hence, this competition in turn is a boon to the students.

The notion that only the government can provide for the education of the poor children is erroneous. Even State governments seem to be realising this. In Delhi itself, the State Education Minister Rajkumar Chauhan privatised non-performing government schools (about 30 of the MCD’s worst run schools) (Delhi handbook, pg.39). The motive behind is to improve the quality of education through private-public partnership. Education vouchers can be given away to students, who may use them to choose which school to join.

This ‘Education Voucher’ system is one of the means, which could bring in quality in the education process and help the government schools compete with the private schools for quality education.

The government may concentrate on the output rather than the inputs, which go into the education system. Schools may be privatised or teachers may be hired on a contract basis to work in government schools instead of employing full-time teachers, who are not present even half the time.

The decision making must be further decentralised for the school principals to decide on matters related to the running of the school. If a sense of ownership and accountability is built into the system, the government schools can also impart good quality education. It is the lack of any incentive and indifference that drives most government schools to run in an unprofessional manner.

The research points out that with strong incentive based structure in place and good accountability, any State can replicate what Kerala has been done. It is a matter of weeding out archaic policies and putting in place regulations which are in tune with the needs of our times.

The author was a research intern with the Centre for Civil Society, a libertarian thinktank based in New Delhi, in 2003. For more details Visit

                                                FIGURES OF FAILURE 
  • Consider this: 80% of children who pass class V from State run schools in Delhi do not know to read or write their names. 
  • 33.4% of children in the third standard were unable to read and write the Kannada alphabets in Government Lower Primary School in Gavipuram Guttahalli. 
  • In the Government Model Primary School in Gavipuram Guttahalli, 24% of the children in second standard were unable to read and write.

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