About a year ago, I had the chance to be a part of a very interesting event
in New Delhi. As many as two hundred people from across the country had gathered to speak about some special kind of schools – schools that operated a wafer-thin profit margins, delivered better educational outcomes than most government schools and were the preferred choice of even those parents who had the smallest amount of money to spend on their children’s education.
As I heard some notable speakers
talk about these schools, I gathered that there were some serious challenges, which would not let them flourish and grow, to the extent that they would need external protection and promotion in order to even survive. I learnt that these schools are not RTE-compliant, which means they do not fulfill an array of conditions that would qualify them as ‘schools, where children could learn’. In another session, I also realised how difficult it was for them to upgrade to meet those norms and standards, which as research
indicates, have no significant effect on learning.
What are the consequences of not complying? Notices, closures and more out-of-school children – meaning, that the RTE undermines its own objectives: instead of bringing children into schools and learn, it is pulling them out!
The RTE Platform has reported a number of stories
which narrate the fear and fate of such schools (commonly referred to as Budget Private Schools or BPS) – the children who study there, the parents who toil hard yet willingly pay their fees, teachers who teach better than those in government schools at a quarter of salaries, and the school owners and associations who are constantly struggling to protect their schools from shutting down. If you follow closely, you would see that most of the stories are about
1. Research supporting the goodness of BPS
2. News talking about their limitations (leading into closures following court notices) and
3. Occasional edit pieces and articles about the change that needs to be brought in.
In my own perspective, more than anything else, it is about trust. The reason why so many of these special schools mushroomed is because the regular (read: state) schools couldn’t do well – people lost faith in them. Year after year, ASER and media reports have shown us that this is true – that these schools do not perform well in terms of learning outcomes. Conversations with parents and research from across the world have strengthened this conclusion.
The only idea behind a school should be a child’s development – academically, and in other ways. Whether the government does it or an individual, by charging a fee or for free, with qualified teachers and compliant infrastructure or otherwise – as long as the child learns and the parents can trust the choice they made, it is good enough.
That said, the whole articulation around these special schools needs to be changed, too. The government, the judiciary and the media must be a little more considerate and thoughtful before writing off these schools. There is an extremely bright future at stake, and an equivalent amount of potential.
In addition to working around the year on (1) brand building and advocacy and (2) quality improvement for BPS, NISA also holds the annual School Leaders Summit
, the third edition of which is happening in New Delhi on Friday, 27 September 2014. It will discuss the challenges and opportunities of BPS in India.