New Delhi: The government is considering a proposal to allow full autonomy to a little less than half the 6,000 so-called model schools that are to be set up jointly with the private sector all over the country, attempting to give the poor access to quality education.
The schools, designed to prevent teenage dropouts and encourage sponsored studies for the poor, were promised by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Independence Day two years ago.
Contested template: Under the new model, the government would sponsor students and pay a fee per child, subject to some performance criteria. Madhu Kapparath/Mint
While 2,500 schools are to be set up under the public-private partnership (PPP) mode, the rest would be set up by state governments with help from the Centre.
The template, termed Whole School Management (WSM) in a draft paper on the PPP concept reviewed by Mint, is one of the four key models being considered by the ministry of human resource development, which oversees education, for the schools.
The paper likens the WSM model to the School Voucher System in countries such as Chile, where parents are given vouchers to admit children to a private school of their choice.
“This is at the proposal stage and opinions from all stakeholders have been invited for consideration,” a person familiar with the plan said. The person didn’t want to be named.
The WSM model, if approved, would hand over complete management of the schools to the private sector partners, including appointment of teachers and other staff and infrastructure creation, while allowing the government to sponsor the education of all or a certain percentage of students.
Under the model, the government would sponsor students and pay a fee per child, subject to some performance criteria that may include the attendance of students and teachers, teachers’ qualifications, school infrastructure and services, and examination results. Such a system may be adopted for schools in urban areas where parents have a choice of private schools for their children, people familiar with the plan said.
Critics question the proposal, arguing that the effectiveness of the voucher system is still being debated in nations such as Peru, Chile, Columbia and Sweden and is the source of bitter legal battles in the US.
“This system has no merits at all. There are major problems with the voucher system—it distracts the government from paying serious attention to improve its own system, which is the only way to provide good quality education to all children,” said Anita Rampal, an educationist and professor at Delhi University.
Within the WSM model, the government is considering two variations: the school could either admit a fixed percentage of students as nominated by the government while retaining a management quota for admissions on higher tuition fees, or all the students could be sponsored by the government.
In either of the models, the school could continue to be privately managed while admitting students from economically weaker sections for whom fees and other expenses would be borne by the government.
The other PPP models being considered include involving private firms in infrastructure development for existing and proposed schools and allowing them to run second shifts in existing government schools. Infrastructure at private schools that are already receiving aid from the government could be upgraded and they could be equipped with facilities such as computer labs.
A variety of PPPs already exist in the education sector, the most common being the government-aided schools system in which private schools are aided by the state through funds or provision of land (free of cost or at concessional rates) or both. They are required to follow government norms on fees, admissions and teachers’ appointments.
In 2006-07, 30.05% of higher secondary schools and junior colleges, 27.15% of high schools, 6.75% of upper primary schools, 3.19% of primary schools and 5.15% of pre-primary schools in India were run by private institutions with substantial financial assistance from state governments.
The School Voucher System, widely considered an advanced stage of PPP because it involves private firms for a combination of infrastructure, support and educational services, was first introduced in Delhi’s poor areas by the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a not-governmental organization that advocates market-based solutions.
The first 400 vouchers were distributed only among parents, wherein they received Rs300 per month per child. This year, the scheme enters its third year and will target girl students in Delhi.
“There have been two big lessons in the last two years—one, parents are more aware and are now deciding which school to send their child to. Some talk to neighbours, visit schools,” says Parth J. Shah, national campaign coordinator for CCS.
“They now ask basic questions which they didn’t ask earlier. This is a big leap,” he adds. “Second, even with the vouchers, parents are spending more than ever on education, sometimes on transport and sometimes on private tuitions for their child to do well in their new private schools.’’
Rampal argues that such a system leads to the segregation of children as they try and fit into their new schools. “In other countries, the voucher system has resulted in poor children getting segregated into low-achieving poor schools, where teachers feel demotivated, further depressing their performance,” she says.
In US schools, the debate on vouchers has led to an argument among teachers’ unions and their allies that government schools will be undermined if parents can use taxpayers’ money to send their children elsewhere.
Critics also question whether the system really improves the quality of education, the main drawback of state-run schools. The vouchers, Rampal argues, did not ensure better quality education for children from poor families in the US.
“Only improving government school quality and ensuring that mixed-ability groups study together has been shown to raise the overall quality of achievement of all children,” she says.