The business of education is for profit. Then why hide behind mottos & notions of public service

The Right to Education Act came into force in the year 2009, guaranteeing a minimum quota of seats at educational institutions for the economically challenged. Children from poorer sections of the society would now have access to quality education without the burden of capitation fees and donations. Essentially, the government transferred its own constitutional responsibility of providing education to private players, who now had to contend with a 25% decrease in revenue. In one stoke the UPA government achieved two aims; divesting its responsibility and creating a populist program that few could argue with. Who in the right mind would protest against universal education for the poor?

RTE has ensured education facilities to many children across our country. However, in many cases there is a lack of transparency in the screening process and allegations of nepotism are rife. Government schools in many districts are now falling short of admissions as even the financially challenged are aspiring for private, English medium education. Government schools which still account for 70% of all primary and secondary education services in India are poorly managed, with crumbling infrastructure and a lack of dedication by the teaching staff. It is clear now that the beneficiaries of RTE are mostly urban citizens, living in proximity to well run private schools, who manage to pay fees with great difficulty and have to use some form of influence to gain admissions.

But what of the thousands of children who live in rural areas and other who reside in urban areas but lack the resources to gain admissions. It is a well known fact that Indian parents would go to great lengths to ensure their children receive the best education, often at the cost of their own necessities in life. They believe a good education is a surefire way to ensure the happiness and prosperity of their children and they enable it with great sacrifices. However, many of these parents live in places where even a government run school is non-existent or in many cases they exist only in name

In cities too parents go to great lengths to provide quality education to their children, often travelling huge distances to work while living in localities with good educational facilities. The role of a dual income family is to provide the best education for children while maintaining their existing lifestyle standard. In the midst of these developments, over the last 15 years we have witnessed a sharp spike in the number of private funded schools. Most of these institutions are trusts run by politicians, politically connected individuals or entrepreneurs who have little or no background in the sector and are purely there for commercial gain and in most cases to add a layer of respectability to their business profile    

During the admissions season, we witness a huge surge in the number of advertisements by schools and colleges promoting their services. These costs are then recovered through a highly structured fee program that includes capitation fee Although the RTE act explicitly states that schools cannot screen students during admissions, most school do not adhere to the rules. Private schools also have a wide assortment of money spinning activities throughout the year, where they devise programs and courses that aim to provide extra-curricular support for students. Some schools rent out their facilities during the holidays for summer camps and other related activities. These actions closely resemble that of any business, but the governments of most states are unable to enforce any action because they themselves are at fault.

In the midst of these developments, the Delhi State Government has taken a bold step in 2015 by appointing external auditors for government schools with real time monitoring and reporting of their activities. Schools with infrastructure issues were identified for major redevelopments, teacher and administration workforce was revamped and a host of innovative programs were launched to bring in a holistic framework for education. The government subsequently allocated 25% of its budget to education and created Centers of Excellence, schools for top performing candidates with advanced curriculum funded by the government, with the result that in Delhi, children from affluent families are choosing these schools over others.

How is this possible? There are several factors. One is the strong will of the government in making their mission a practical possibility by involving external stakeholders with experience in education. Two, strict monitoring and ensuring transparency in execution of infrastructure works and the supply of school essentials and Three, the efforts of individuals who shared the passion of the government in overcoming challenges and non interference from the central government.

If it is possible in New Delhi, why can’t it be replicated in other cities and districts? The answer again lies in the preceding paragraph. Every state government must increase its budget, design and execute a vision in consultation with on ground experts, ensure transparency in governance and encourage citizens to start enrolling their wards in public funded schools, starting with the children of lawmakers and government employees who in turn can inspire the ordinary citizens