Bangalore: The Karnataka government may engage private firms to manage the infrastructure and facilities in schools run by the state.
A proposal prepared by the state government suggests that private entities will handle non-academic services for the schools, freeing the state government to focus on improving teaching.
The private partner is expected to manage services such as building maintenance, security, sanitation, plumbing, gardening and power backup, according to the concept note, which Mint has reviewed.
The state government will run pilots of the concept in Bangalore, Gulbarga and a third district yet to be finalized. It has engaged ICRA Management Consulting Services to prepare a pre-feasibility report.
Both Central and state governments are looking at increasing private investment in schools. Under one proposal, the Union government is set to open 2,500 model schools by partnering with private firms across the country. It will offer a 25% infrastructure grant and fees for students, while private entities will build and manage the schools.
The Karnataka initiative is the first where improvement of existing government schools is being sought.
Although the state government was considering the proposal, it will not attempt this on a purely commercial basis, said an official in the state’s education department, who declined to be identified. “The proposal is still at the pre-feasibility stage, and we would have to work out the models.”
Government schools need to improve their infrastructure to comply with the norms laid down under India’s Right to Education law, the official added. For instance, under the law, schools have to provide separate toilets for boys and girls, provide playgrounds and secure their buildings with boundary walls or fencing.
Karnataka’s primary and secondary education minister Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri said it was too early to comment on the proposal, but said the interests of students would be paramount.
“We have not had this kind of a model in India, though this has been tried out in the UK,” said Parth J. Shah, president of non-profit Centre for Civil Society, who has been advocating greater private sector participation in government-run schools.
To be sure, although this is a necessary step, it does not tackle the main issue of teacher accountability, Shah said. “The primary goal is improving learning outcomes rather than improving facilities, and this does not address that.”
The Karnataka government is also considering a facilities management project for select government colleges in Bangalore, Mysore and Bagalkot districts.
Private-public participation in education in India is a controversial subject, as for-profit companies are not allowed to directly participate in the sector.
In 2009, the Union ministry of human resource development proposed three models in the education sector. One model proposes providing services on the lines of the Karnataka government’s proposal on an annuity basis. Another proposes handing over the entire management of a school, including academic activities, to the private partner in return for a management quota. And the third recommends augmenting incomes for government schools by allowing private partners to run second shifts in them.
A consortium of civil society organizations, including participants from Unesco and Actionaid, in their comments to the ministry’s proposals in November 2009 rejected allowing private sector involvement in academic activities.“Core pedagogical processes cannot be given to business entities, since these are not and cannot be commercial activities,” the grouping had said in its response.
The Planning Commission in a October 2011 report had proposed contract schools that will be publicly funded and owned but managed by private firms.