Anil Swarup, secretary in the Department of School Education and Literacy of the Union HRD ministry, tells Bula Devi that the preference for private schools owes more to perception than performance. Excerpts from the interview:
Why do lower middle class families prefer to send their children to private schools in the neighbourhood, not a government school?
Private schools are not a homogeneous lot—they range from schools for the elite to those for low-income communities. After accounting for socio-economic background of students, private schools do not fare better than government schools, which, by and large, have better infrastructure and more qualified teachers. It is perhaps the aspiration to maintain a special social status that makes parents prefer private schools. It does not help that public perceptions are not “favourable” to government schools. In India’s status-conscious, hierarchical social structure, private education easily catches the imagination of the upwardly mobile classes, not so much because of what they deliver in terms of knowledge and values, but more as sending children to such schools adds to social rank.
What has the HRD ministry done to stop private schools from profiteering?
That’s within the purview of the state governments. With regard to schools affiliated with the CBSE, as per the affiliation bylaws, a school can only be opened by a trust/society or under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013, which has to ensure the school is run as community service and not as a business and that commercialisation does not take place in the school.
The Allahabad High Court had given a ruling that all public servants’ children should go to government schools….
The real issue is ensuring good quality infrastructure and teachers in every government school so parents, students, teachers and officials can take pride in the school. This will help in increasing enrolment and reducing dropout rates, besides raising the morale of teachers and improving the children’s levels of learning. Rajasthan has shown that with greater community ownership of government schools, they can be rejuvenated and the trend of children moving from government to private schools reversed.
"Ensuring good quality infrastructure and teachers in every government school can help reverse the trend of children moving to private schools."
How does the ministry ensure schools are not shortchanging the teachers? There are complaints about schools not paying proper salaries and keeping teachers on ad-hoc basis.
Since education comes in the concurrent list, recruitment and service conditions come under the domain of the respective state government/UT administrations. However, under the flagship Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the central government provides financial assistance as per the approved fund-sharing ratio for additional teachers in order to maintain appropriate pupil-teacher ratio as per the norms of RTE Act, 2009.