By Kamlesh Narwana, University of Delhi, New Delhi.
Over the last two decades, the low fee private (LFP) schools have witnessed an unprecedented growth in India. The per cent of children in the 6-14 year age group in private unaided schools increased from around 10% in 1996 to as much as 28% in 2005. According to the Institute for Human Development Survey (IHDS), carried out in 2005, as many as 51% of children in urban areas and 21% in rural areas were enrolled in private unaided schools. According to DISE Flash Statistics 2011-12, the total share of private unaided elementary schools to total elementary schools is as high as 40% in Delhi, 37% in Chandigarh, 34% in Pudducherry, 27% Rajasthan and 25% in Haryana.
The increasing presence of LFP schools has given a new dimension to the public-private schooling debate. On the one hand, the LFP schools have been seen as cost efficient and better quality alternative to failing public schools. On the other hand, these schools are seen to contribute to the marketization of education. One set of research studies argued that LFP schools are now being preferred over public schools by the poor and that students in these schools outperform government schools. These studies underlined the importance of private schools in the context of meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. However, these claims have been contested by others as these studies reported that instead of treating education as a social good served by the welfare state, this neo-liberal phenomenon anticipates education as an opportunity offered by the market. These schools have been criticized for untrained teachers and faulty teaching methods. Besides these, the popularity of these schools has also been attributed to different factors such as parents’ aspiration for English medium schools, accessibility and better quality of education.
Among all these factors, I looked into two aspects in my study: a) the role of the medium of instruction; and, b) the professional status of teachers in government and private schools. The study area, Narwana, was a small semi-urban town, in Jind district, Haryana, India. Both government and private schools are located in this area. Given the small sample of the study, the findings cannot be generalized to the country; however, such examples cannot be ignored in this important debate over public vs private schooling.
As far as the medium of instruction is concerned, all four surveyed private schools in the town follow Hindi as the medium of instruction. According to DISE data 2010-2011, over 50% of all private schools in the town follow Hindi as the medium of instruction. All the private schools that use Hindi as the language of instruction have also registered high enrollment like their English counterparts. There is no English medium government school in this town. The choice between English and Hindi medium private schools depends to a large extent on what parents can afford. This is not to deny that the English medium is one of the attractions of private schools that makes them more popular than government schools. However, the quite visible presence of Hindi medium private schools underlines the fact that even when both Government and private schools offer the same medium of instruction (i.e. Hindi), parents prefer to choose private schools due to their lack of trust in the government sector.
On the other hand, a comparative analysis between a government English medium school and Hindi medium private schools (situated in another village of the same block) shows that parents prefer to send their children to the Hindi medium private schools rather than the English medium Government schools. In spite of all these major facilities in the studied English medium government school, the private schools in the village are attracting students in larger numbers. Different reasons have been reported by school authorities and parents as to why private schools are attractive to parents. One reason is that many public teaching posts have not been filled by the government since 2007. Another factor responsible for the withdrawal of students in higher secondary classes was that many students wanted to pursue humanities and commerce courses in Hindi while the school was offering all the courses in English. This factor led to the closure of these courses in the school. It was also mentioned that many students dropped out as they were not able to cope with the English medium. It was further observed that the teachers appointed for teaching in English are not themselves educated to a sufficient level in English; the interviews and classroom observations clearly revealed that none of them were able to speak or teach in English to a sufficient standard.
Besides government schools, there are two private school in the village. These schools have hardly witnessed any decrease in their student enrollments after the establishment of the English medium Government school. In other words, very few students left the private schools for the newly established Government school. The parents whose children study in private schools expressed a lack of trust in government teachers’ dedication to their duty due to their class absenteeism. It was also argued by the parents that the government teachers themselves do not trust the quality of government schools as none of government teachers’ children study in government schools. Another argument for not sending their children to government schools emerged in terms of a perceived lack of accountability. The parents had a clear understanding of the fact that the private schools teacher’s job security is attached with the learning achievements of the students. However, the teachers in government schools are not accountable for any aspect of students’ learning.
The attraction of the English medium does not solely explain the parents’ preference for private schools especially the LFP. The stakeholders’ perception about government schools and experience with government sector/schools influence their choice for different schooling i.e. private or public. The growth of private schools cannot be solely explained by factors such as English medium, paying capacity of parents, facilities in private schools etc. The breakdown of government schools is more pivotal in explaining the growth of private schools.
The growth of private schools is proportional to decrease in the stakeholders’ faith in public schools. The study noted that the medium of instruction is not always a determining factor, as disillusioned by the dysfunctional government schools, parents even prefer Hindi medium private school than English medium government schools. As far as professional status of teachers in private schools is concerned, private schools are also now hiring more trained teachers. It is the result of increasing privatization of teacher education which eventually has made obtaining a degree or diploma a very easy task.
Kamlesh Narwana is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi, New Delhi. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org