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Learning deficit in private schools huge contrary to perception

Even among students from richest 20% households, attending private schools, only 56% of children between eight and 11 year old and read a basic grade two level paragraph

There is a huge learning deficit in private schools across India contrary to perception that these schools catering to almost 120 million students offer the best quality education.

There is a huge learning deficit in private schools across India contrary to perception that these schools catering to almost 120 million students offer the best quality education.

Foundational learning levels are low 60% of rural private school students in grade five cannot solve a simple division problem, and 35% of students in grade five cannot read a basic grade two level paragraph, said a status report of private schools released jointly by education focused venture philanthropy Central Square Foundation and impact investment firm Omidyar Network.

Foundational learning levels are low 60% of rural private school students in grade five cannot solve a simple division problem, and 35% of students in grade five cannot read a basic grade two level paragraph, said a status report of private schools released jointly by education focused venture philanthropy Central Square Foundation and impact investment firm Omidyar Network.

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“Consequently, learning in later years suffer…the average score for grade 10 students in private schools, was below 50% in four out of five subjects," the report said adding that the learning crisis is the worst for the poorest students.

Even among students from richest 20% households, attending private schools, only 56% of children between eight and 11 year old and read a basic grade two level paragraph, it added.

“We need to bring reforms using access, equity and quality as guiding factors. More importantly, we need to shift the focus from monitoring of inputs to monitoring of outcomes," Niti Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant said while unveiling the report.

The first barrier to improving learning outcomes in private schools is that while parents care about the quality of learning, it may be hard for them to judge how much their children are learning in school in absolute terms, or how good their school.

“This is particularly true in early grades, and about 60% of all private schools do not extend to a board exam grade at all, making it particularly hard for parents to judge the quality of these schools," the report said, that has collated data from various central ministries including the ministry of statistics and the ministry of human resource development, besides the Annual Status of Education Report for rural India.

The second barrier for improving learning outcomes in private schools is the current regulatory structure and higher focus on input standards around land, infrastructure and salaries and less focus on outcome.

“Today, despite parents’ perception of quality, learning outcomes in private schools are not where they should be. They do better than the government system, but 35% of grade 5 students in private schools still cannot read a basic paragraph. After accounting for the advantages of a child’s home environment, the private school learning advantage over government schools reduces further," CSF founder Ashish Dhawan said.

Rupa Kudva, managing director of Omidyar Network said while almost half of students attend private schools, some 70% of them pay a monthly fees of less than Rs. 1000. “Fueling this dramatic growth of India’s private school sector are the aspirations of millions of middle and low income families… however, as this report shows, learning outcomes in private schools are not materially different from those in government schools," she added.

There are some 16 states and union territories where the private school enrollment is over 50% including Goa where nearly 80% of students go to private schools, the report said underlining their role in universalization of school education. The report said “outcome in private schools are achieved in one third of the cost of Govt schools".

Underlining a five point suggestion on how to improve the situation at private schools, it said there is a need to create a universal learning indicator to help parents compare learning performance across schools and make informed decisions. Besides, a “pragmatic accreditation framework that factors in constraints of low fee schools", the “need to establish an independent regulatory agency for the private school sector" and timely fee reimbursements by governments for the 25% reservations mandated in the Right to Education Act will help the sector.

The report also advised a review of the “non-profit mandate for the education sector and existing fee regulations to attract investment".

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