We feel that regulation should predominantly focus on creating an ecosystem that allows creation of accountable and autonomous institutions while at the same time encouraging investment in education sector.
India of the 21st century is young, ambitious, aspirational and eager to bridge the gap with developed economies. This idea gains further currency with estimates pointing towards a threefold expansion of the Indian economy to become USD 7.25 trillion by 2030, and, at an average growth rate of 8% over the next 15 years.
While the policy headlines paint a promising future for India, this is not in sync with the possible stumbling block that arises from the recent move by several State Governments to control independent schools – most basic service for any emerging economy – its education ecosystem. While no one denies the need to bring in transparency and disclosure to arrest commercialisation in school education, it is the straight jacketed approach to put all genre of schools in one bucket which is disturbing. It will digresses the nation’s attention away from the development and growth story.
As per our own ASER report and OECD’s PISA findings, we are still grappling with putting numeracy and literacy on track. In the meanwhile, the world has moved on to the Industry 4.0 era where technological innovations and artificial intelligence have become the order of the day. Countries such as US, Finland and Singapore had the foresight to make huge investments in R&D and innovation in education, and are now leading education initiatives in the 21st century and adequately preparing their young to live in a complex, multi-dimensional and globalised society.
According to Tony Wagner, from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, students of today need to master seven survival skills to thrive in the new world of work. These skills include: (1) critical thinking and problem solving; (2) collaboration & leadership; (3) agility and adaptability; (4) initiative and entrepreneurialism; (5) effective oral and written communication; (6) accessing and analysing information; and (7) curiosity and imagination. Unfortunately, we in India, still have an education system that mostly propagates rote learning, leaving little scope for creativity, analytical thinking and problem solving.
International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) World Employment and Social Outlook 2017 estimates that Indian unemployment rate will remain at 3.4 % in 2017-18. Conversely, from an employers’ perspective, finding right people for the right job is becoming an an increasingly uphill task. CEOs and HR heads across industries often lament the dearth of leaders, independent thinkers, self-starters, problem solvers or even people with pure common sense in the workforce. If our students are unemployable right now, what happens at the onset of the fourth industrial revolution? Where and how are we building the skills that Tony Wagner refers to in India? How can we even aspire to equip our children with skills and knowledge for the 21st century?
Government has an obligation to ensure that every citizen in the country receives a good education either from public or private source. While systems and processes in government schools should ensure accountability for delivery of high quality education, regulation of private education must seek to ensure the same while at the same time encouraging investments into the education sector.
The Right to Education Act, 2009 has imposed legal obligations on the central and the state governments to provide elementary education to every child of 6-14 in the country. However, the low public spend of 2.9% of GDP and young demography has generated an enhanced demand for private schools. This has led to growth of 25% independent schools with 43% of total enrolments.
This rapid growth of independent schools has ensured increase in supply and access, however, quality education has remained limited to a small segment of public as well as private schools. While the bulk of public schools suffer from systemic deficiencies leading to lack of accountability and delivery of quality education, private schools suffer from market mechanics and sometimes over regulation due to lack of defined legislations for self – financed independent schools. This leads to ambiguity which breeds mal-practice and corruption and discourages long-term visionary players to enter the sector. At the same time, the demand for education in the country due to young demography, attracts fly-by-night operators who indulge in mal practices and malign the entire independent school segment. This has created an atmosphere of mistrust.
FICCI feels that the regulation should predominantly focus on creating an ecosystem that allows creation of accountable and autonomous institutions while at the same time encouraging investment.
In order to address the speculation on fee increase by independent schools, FICCI ARISE (Alliance for Reimagining School Education) analysed the operational expenditure made by Kendriya Vidyalas (KVs) and equivalent private schools. The findings show that the increase in staff cost per student YoY varies from 12% – 16% in different genre of schools. Independent schools have a healthier student teacher ratio as compared to KVs (independent schools- 1:20; KVs 1:32). Independent schools also introduce new pedagogical practices and have a wide range of co-curricular and sporting activities to offer. Further the capex cost, interest cost, rentals that independent schools have to incur is not applicable to the government schools.
Model code for ‘Self-Financed Independent Schools’
To provide a workable solution to the government, FICCI ARISE and Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co in consultations with some State Governments has prepared a model code for ‘Self-Financed Independent Schools (Establishment and Regulation)’ that was released at the First FICCI ARISE conference in April. The Model Code has also been aligned to the landmark decisions of the Apex Court on the aspects of operation and management of private unaided schools.
A regulatory framework of this kind will create the conditions under which private providers can operate effectively and efficiently and deliver what both the government and parents wish to see – quality education. The Code has also been shared with NITI Aayog, all State Governments and Ministry of Human Resource and Development. Private participation in education is clearly no panacea but, if sensibly regulated and suitably encouraged, it can provide government with a highly effective and efficient way of meeting the educational goals.
A recent OECD note on the PISA results relate to higher autonomy of schools in curricula, assessments and resource allocation leading to better performance of students. We’ve seen how autonomy has helped our own IITs, IIMs and the Indian School of Business produce outstanding results and students. Why not recognise the positive role that private schools play within our education system? Why not give them autonomy to innovate in their own context? And hold them accountable for their performance.
For all stakeholders, the time to act is now.