On the occasion of Teachers’ Day, allow me to share the story of Head Sir (as he is fondly called by his students, past and present), founder-principal of a low-fee private school in a remote town of Bihar, and his ordeal while trying to get government recognition for his school.
Head Sir started out as an educational entrepreneur – or edupreneur – in early 1990s by tutoring three kids of the same family at their home. He was dedicated to his job and keen to make a name for himself. He used to devote long hours to make sure that students under his care do better. His hard work started to bear fruit when he started getting requests from more and more parents who were desperate to find a good teacher for their kids.
Soon he had enough numbers to start a school of his own. He started a school and ran it for the next 20 years during which time, the school went from strength to strength and became one of the most trusted name among a sea of low-fee charging private schools in town. So far Head Sir had run his school without any government recognition and was patronised by thousands of parents over the years. His school has now become a trusted name in town.
In 2010, a new law (www.righttoeducation.in) was passed by the central government which among other things, made it mandatory for all private schools to adhere to certain norms. Private schools were asked to meet these norms within the next three years, or face a shutdown.
Head Sir was worried, but also thought that this presents him an opportunity to take the next step and get government recognition that enables his students to take secondary school board exams at his facility. He started on an endeavour to meet these norms and what follows is an account of his experiences.
Recognition norms (Infrastructural or otherwise): Head Sir started out enthusiastically but the extensive list of infrastructural norms made it impossible for him to build a school in the city. Norms such as having a playground of certain size forced him to look for spots outside town. The spot closest to the town that he could find was some 14 kms away from his old school. He knew he ran the risk of alienating potential students but took the plunge anyway.
Now he starts building the school that meets all the infrastructural norms. He builds a library, a computer lab, a science laboratory for the secondary students of Std. IX and X, a playground – all according to the specifications made out in the law.
On-site inspection: Now the inspectors appointed by the government came to make sure a school seeking survival and recognition is meeting all these norms.Now you must know that the number of detailed norms that one has to meet is so huge that it is almost impossible to meet all of them as prescribed. This leaves a lot to the discretion of the inspector to either allow the school to survive or force the shutters down. It is well known that the subjective discretion of inspectors is subject to change in school’s favour if favour, as asked, is granted in return. The favour as asked by the inspector was a sum of money equivalent to fees charged by school for 100 students for a year (100 students*10 months*500 rupees per student = Rs 500,000).
Not-for-profit education: The law also mandates that education cannot be a profit making enterprise. For an edupreneur, like Head Sir, it thus becomes impossible to secure institutional credit for building/expanding his school. This is because banks are reluctant to lend to organisations which do not show healthy operating profits, which schools can’t since they are not supposed to make profits (or at least seen making profits on their books). So, now Head Sir is forced to source funds from private moneylenders, which comes at an usurious rate of interest. This thus increases his costs, which in turn may reflect in increased fees for students and/or decreased capacity of his school.
Teachers salary: The law mandates that all private schools must pay their teachers a certain minimum salary, which incidentally is approximately four times the salary that he has been paying his teachers. He believes that it is impossible for him to operate a school which pays such high salary to his teachers while at the same time continue charging low fees from students. Now you must know that even this low amount is not paid by all parents in time, but the Head Sir is accommodating and continue the learning of such students on credit without interest.
Now, he is about to give up on his plans of a government recognised school when suddenly an idea comes to his mind. He opens a bank account in the name of each teacher working for him and keeps all the documents with himself, including the ATM card and the password. Now each month he deposits the salary prescribed by the government in the accounts of his teachers and immediately withdraws the difference (between the government prescribed wage and the wage agreed between teacher and Head Sir when hiring the teacher).This is all done voluntarily with teachers consent. So, another crisis averted!
Teachers qualification: The government mandates that all teachers must have certain minimum qualification like B. Ed. degree or should have passed Teachers Eligibility Test (TET). Head Sir has no option but to recruit only teachers with the required qualification, and let go of other great ones that are well respected and good at their job but do not possess the requisite qualification on paper. So now anyone who wants to teach has to procure these qualifications – either by doing the degree, or, if you want to save time, by buying it at a premium. Also understanding the need of the market, many new B Ed degree rewarding colleges (teacher training institutes) have come up which award degree instantaneously at a fee. The recognition of these colleges themselves were procured by paying large sums of money to the corresponding recognition granting government organisations. Either way, it increases the costs for everyone without any guarantee of improvements in quality of teaching or learning outcomes.
So, what is the end result of all these safeguards and regulations put in place by the government? Head Sir is deep in debt, all his personal property is now hypothecated to moneylenders, and has sustained serious physical and mental torture that has increased his medical bill. He is also finding it difficult to continue his operations that has cost a fortune and is showing slow progress in terms of enrolment. Students and parents who were happy with their neighbourhood school and now can’t travel far had to drop out or settle for a school low on their preference.
I suppose Head Sir never had anticipated all these difficulties when starting out. I am also sure his story will deter many individual from getting into this profession.
Happy Teachers’ Day Head Sir!