The Gujarat government has asked two private school operators to run tribal residential schools for the next five years on a non-profit basis.
The Narendra Modi-led government is still looking for eight more firms to engage in a public-private partnership, a relatively new model in education management. Such partnerships are more common in infrastructure projects, especially construction of roads and highways.
The state government plans to make the capital investment and provide the funds required to meet the schools’ running costs. The private schools that will take part in the programme say they have introduced stringent norms to make sure the government pays on time.
“Besides building the school, we will give funds for everything from teacher salaries to student uniforms,” said A.M. Tiwari, secretary of the tribal development department in Gujarat.
The state has pegged the annual running cost of a 400-seat residential school at Rs70 lakh.
The first such residential tribal school will be run in Panchamahal by the management of the elite Navrachna International School in Vadodara. It will start its academic session this month.
The state government also plans to sign an agreement with Singapore-based Global Indian Foundation to run a second school in Tilakwada. The foundation runs schools in cities such as Tokyo, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, as well as in India.
Government officials said they feel private management will bring the much-needed professionalism into the state-run school system.
“I am a non-resident Indian, and this is my chance to do something for the Indian community,” said Atul Temurnikar, chairman of the Global Indian Foundation which has an annual revenue of Rs25 crore. “It will be a challenge as we will have to change our curriculum to meet this school’s needs”.
Temurnikar said that he was wooed aggressively by Gujarat state officials to partner in the project. He was worried that the government may not adhere to payment deadlines, and says he introduced strict guidelines in the memorandum of understanding that he plans to sign with the Gujarat government later this month.
Many state governments, including Gujarat and Maharashtra, have experimented with partnering non-government organizations in running tribal schools called Aashramshalas. But officials say those have not been run well.
Experts say the Gujarat cases are still too few to make a case for private-public sector partnership in education.
“One or two schools do not make a difference,” said Madhav Chavan, programme director for Pratham, a non-governmental educational organization that has studied rural education. “The question is how to get the system going.”