India: Learning a hard lesson

Financial Times
Publication Date: 
Thursday, 7 May 2015

Excerpts from the article:

Madan Lal Choudhary, the 28-year-old founder of Rajasthan’s Akshita Public School, knows a lot about rural frustration with the state education system.

An hour outside Jaipur, his private institution has 730 students, whose parents pay Rs3,200 ($50) per child per term to attend the spartan school. Aside from a dedicated teacher for students of each grade, Akshita’s main selling point appears to be a closed-circuit television system, which allows Mr Choudhary to monitor classrooms.

The parents of Akshita students are among millions enrolling their children in low-cost private schools that are mushrooming across the countryside. Nearly 31 per cent of rural children now attend private school, while in five states — including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala, the proportion exceeds 50 per cent.

“Parents are voting with their feet,” says Parth Shah, president of the Centre for Civil Society. It is unclear, however, if these private schools — often started by entrepreneurs with little experience — are any better than those offered by the state. But Mr Shah believes ending the government monopoly on primary education will eventually create schools that are more responsive to student needs.

“Giving parents a choice and compelling government schools to compete with private ones would certainly create a better education ecosystem in the long-run,” he argues.

Yet India’s educational establishment is going on the offensive against the private system.

In some states, officials are attempting to shut down budget private schools, citing their failure to comply with physical requirements — such as classroom or yard size. In Punjab, state authorities ordered 1,190 private schools to close, while Haryana closed 1,200. But in Haryana, the schools are fighting back, obtaining a stay on the closure notice.

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