New Delhi: All 15,000 schools affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) will be free to seek accreditation from approved private agencies beginning this academic year as part of a nationwide overhaul aimed at raising the standards of India’s schools.
The process of voluntary accreditation is currently handled by state-run Quality Council of India (QCI), but authorities believe the nation’s poor showing in global teaching and learning tables—it’s near the bottom in one—needs the urgent involvement of private sector entities.
The public-private partnership initiative follows the success of leading Indian business schools, including the elite Indian Institutes of Management, that seek accreditation from agencies such as the British Association of MBAs and the US Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. Like them, Indian primary and secondary schools will be given the option to choose their accreditation agency, said a government official who asked not to be named.
“There are two issues here—formally allowing private agencies into the accreditation business and making accreditation mandatory for all CBSE schools, which was not the case earlier,” the official said. “The CBSE has already put in place a mechanism to select around a dozen private agencies.”
With access to schooling having improved vastly over the last few years—enrolment is close to 100%—the government’s focus is now on improving the quality of teaching and learning, a need highlighted by the Planning Commission in its 12th Plan document. The selected private agencies will evaluate key areas of schooling, including infrastructure, the use of technology in education, curriculum and assessment of students.
“It’s embarrassing to fare so poorly in a number of surveys. We believe that accreditation and evaluation by private agencies will be rigorous and take into account all aspects of school education,” said the official cited above.
“The new move will be a continuous evaluation and certification”, he said, rather than the current CBSE practice of doling out one-time affiliation.
A 2011 survey of 74 countries by the Programme for International Student Assessment placed Indian secondary schools at 73, with only Kyrgyzstan faring worse.
In the same year, the Quality Education Survey, by Wipro Ltd and education assessment organization Educational Initiatives, found even high-end schools in large cities enforcing learning by rote. Standards of education in primary schools too were found to have slipped in an annual survey by Pratham, a not-for-profit organization.
Experts generally welcomed CBSE’s plan, but said authorities will need to be careful in evaluating private agencies in order to deter fly-by-night operators.
“The idea is good, but in India there is always a risk of outsourcing a job. It depends on how tightly the CBSE monitors these agencies,” said Ashish Dhawan, chief executive of Central Square Foundation, a not-for-profit group that nurtures new high-quality schools, and founder of private equity fund ChrysCapital.
“For India it’s a capacity issue—not many agencies have the capacity to accredit and evaluate schools. Like in the UK, they need to do ratings (of schools) and put it out in the public for feedback. This will improve accountability, and compel schools and managements to improve their ratings,” Dhawan said.
CBSE chairman Vineet Joshi said the organization’s governing board had approved the initiative, which it believes will significantly improve teaching and learning outcomes.
“Yes, the CBSE has asked all schools to get accredited within a period of thee years,” said Avinash Dikshit, commissioner of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), a CBSE-affiliated autonomous body that runs the nation’s largest school chain. “As soon as they (the board) finalize the agencies, we will be happy to open our schools for evaluation on all parameters.”
Parth J. Shah, president of Centre for Civil Society, an education think tank, said some international agencies had already shown interest in the Indian project, which would bring in experience, capacity and technological know-how.
Dinesh Kumar, additional commissioner at KVS, said that nearly a dozen schools have either obtained or are in the process of getting accreditation from QCI, which charges more than Rs.50,000 and takes over a year to complete the process.
CBSE-approved private agencies are expected to charge less and shorten the turnaround period, he said, adding, “We understand that the QCI has lot of other work and may not have enough capacity to accredit thousands of schools.”