India’s government schools are often mistaken to be the only option for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Private school enrollment has been increasing at rates comparable to government schools even after the government started implementing its flagship program, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan for universalising education. The percentage of children in the 6-14 years age group in rural India enrolled in private schools increased from 18.7 percent in 2006 to 29 percent in 2013 (Annual Status of Education Report 2014). The figures for urban India were estimated to be around 58 percent in 2005 by the Indian Human Development Survey and could only have increased (Muralidharan, A Renewed Model of Education 2014). This is a clear indicator that parents prefer private schools, if they can afford it. It may also be noted that the number of private schools which charge very low fees and function in low income areas have been identified to be on the increase, in response to this demand (Baird 2009).
The focus of private schools on English-medium education and the significance of English in the social mobility aspirations of the people is one of the primary reasons that poor parents prefer private schools. But this is only one side of the story. As the annual ASER reports brought out by Pratham indicate, states with higher enrollment in private schools also perform better in testing of learning outcomes. Most of these private schools in rural areas and poorer sections of urban areas function at costs much lesser than what the government allocates for its schools (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2014). Thus, due to several such reasons the private schools in India share a huge load of the education sector—and this is without even considering the smaller private schools that are not recognised by any education board.