The current scenario of the education sector does not promise much for a Nation that aspires to be a superpower in the near future. The central or the state governments have not shown any willingness to lend a helping hand to the drowning education sector. It is no less than a wonder that that on one hand the nation wants to build an international image as the most progressive nation, at the same time it is seeing the future of its young citizens going down in the darkness and not doing much to save it.
The present situation arising out of the COVID 19 has brought the reality out in the open. We already know that we don’t have international standard educational institutes that are comparable or competing at the global level. As per the report published by Business Insider in Nov. 2019, only 6 Indian Universities feature in the top 500 International Educational Institutes. (Times Higher Education Report), still, the efforts being put in by the governments at this crucial stage are disheartening. Particularly speaking about the school education system in India, it is going through its worst times.
Nobody had ever imagined that education, which was considered to be an evergreen service, would undergo such kind of slump. Private schools have historically been synonymous with elite institutions, but the rapid rise of low fee private schools signals a growing market for community-sourced, adaptable, and accountable education. Enrolment data strongly suggest this – in 1996, around 10% of students received a private education, while in 2016-17, according to the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE), 43.18% of students from grades 1-12 attended private schools. India has nearly 400,000 unaided private schools, with more than 7.9 crore students enrolled. In Punjab alone, nearly 45 % of primary class students are studying in private unaided schools whereas nearly 55% of students in secondary classes are enrolled at private schools.
The above data shows that the private unaided schools are shouldering a huge responsibility alongside the government, which would be, without any doubt unable to sustain the pressure of educating the masses. These are well-known facts that the standards of infrastructure and instructional methodology at state-run schools have not improved much as the following figure shows:
Children in Grade 5 who can do division
Only 56% of schools have electricity, with the lowest rates in Manipur and Madhya Pradesh.
Less than 57% of schools have playgrounds according to the UDISE 2017-18 surveys. Almost three out of four government schools in Odisha did not have a playground as of 2018. (The Hindu, March 2020)
On average, private schools cost less per child than government schools: Various calculations put private schools as being approximately 3.25 times as cost-effective as government schools at producing learning outcomes when controlled for SES. (Kremer and Muralidharan, 2008) This is largely because government teachers are paid a bureaucratically determined salary several times higher than the market-clearing wage which private schools pay their teachers (determined by demand and supply of graduates in the labor market).
The purpose of showing the above data is just to show a mirror to the government agencies as to where do they stand in spite of the huge finances and manpower. On the other hand the private educational institutes, often called the education mafia by the so-called saviors of the education (notably they don’t have school-going children as they have passed out from posh private schools), have been fairing quite well as is evident from the fact that most government teachers and bureaucrats have their children studying in private schools. I have no intention to propound a theory that the government teachers are not qualified enough, but still, the government must now stop taking undue advantage of being at the helm when it is in competition with the private schools. As a regulatory body or a law making agency, it should provide a level playing field to the private players by minimizing the state interference in the education sector.
There are unconfirmed reports and media evidence about the misuse of the U- DISE data by the government education department with reference to fetching the students from private schools for increasing admission in government schools. Statements by the head of the government instigating people for not paying the school fees during COVID 19 has only added fuel to the fire. While the government is paying hefty salaries without any cut to the government teachers from the state exchequer which is funded by public money, how can it stop the private schools from collecting fees to pay salaries to its employees? Either the government should provide financial assistance to the private school teachers or it should immediately stop defaming the private schools and unnecessary control over them. It seems the government is clearly at war!
The current school fee issue has been nothing but a conspiracy by some vested interest groups who want to disturb the entire system of education. That the issue had to be settled in the court of law is a misery that the nation is witnessing. Kudos to the judiciary for passing such a verdict which should be an eye-opener for the government.
While the central and state governments are reluctant in passing on any benefit to the common people by way of reducing taxes, they certainly want private schools to do so. The schools have adapted really quickly and adjusted themselves to provide online education so that at least a link could be maintained with education, the teachers have worked a day in and day out to make pdfs and online assessments apart from conducting live classes on Zoom or Google meet apps.
The most amazing part of the story is that while people are paying for everything else they are purchasing, they are unwilling to pay for the school which is constantly working from day one to keep their wards attached to studies. Even the government (particularly Punjab Govt) is against the schools for collecting fees. While we understand that the governments have their own agendas and they may differ on this issue, why people are not asking a question to the government as to what it has to offer freely to people apart from the private school’s fee?
The concept of no school, no fee is absolutely baseless and illogical as it is a fact that the schools did not stop working for a single day. The writer’s school itself even worked during full June and it’s been 4 full months now since the schools started online education. The question that the quantum of studies was less or more is out of the equation here given the limitation of a common parent to pay for the continuous and uninterrupted internet connection. Mind it, had the schools not been offering whatever little or more they are offering, most of the parents would find it almost impossible to keep their wards in touch with the studies. My personal experience says that the online education has not just kept the learners engaged; it has also worked as a formative tool as the self-induced learning has been induced among many learners who earlier used to depend on the classroom only. Children have started reading and applying their minds more than before and there has been a temporary end to tuition culture. These are a few positives that we can have from COVID Time Education.
The COVID 19 has vastly impacted millions of teachers who are unpaid for 4 months and students in rural and remote India who are left with no option but to stop studies in the absence of digital access. To add to their despair, the government is not doing anything positive either. The government has gone all out for opening the liquor vends and has hurriedly ordered plying of buses with full capacity even when COVID cases are rising alarmingly, it has hardly chalked out any strategy to streamline education and that shows its priority. Moreover irresponsible statements by the chief minister urging people not to pay school fees in spite of the High Court orders and plain refusal by the education minister for opening the schools are adding fuel to the fire.
The Government should provide adequate financial support to the staff of private schools or it should refrain from policing the education system in order to restore normalcy. People should also understand the importance of education in general and online education in particular as it was the need of the hour. It is not a gimmick to collect fees but it is a sincere effort of the private schools to keep their learners well connected to their studies. The fate of the private schools and the teachers are hanging in fire at the moment which is very disappointing and certainly is not a good sign for any progressive country in which schools and teachers are left to suffer.
“No nation can progress who does not respect its teachers”.
The future of the society or the Nation is built by Teachers only and the people who are using condemning language against teachers are definitely not learned ones.
Author Dr. Som Prakash
Educationist, Author & Life Skills Mentor