Schools or Money-making Institutes?

The Right to Education (RTE) Act gets presidential assent in 2009 and is notified a law – “The Children’s Right to Free and Compulsory Education”.  Six years have elapsed, but what’s the ground reality.  Does every child receive free education, is every child compulsorily admitted to school?  Is the child really learning or is it just a numbers game?  Is education only the prerogative of those who can afford it?  Is education becoming a commercial venture?  Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka’s article questions the core ethos of school education.

 

Parents of kids in Mumbai who go to private schools – and they are rapidly constituting a majority – are up in arms against the frequent fee hikes they are subjected to; not to mention regular “voluntary” contributions towards building funds, school picnics and the like. The agitated group is now holding dharnas in front of the state Education Minister to do something about it.  

Schools in Business!

The parents of kids in private schools are basically battling an ingrained Indian trait : greed. One wishes them well but they are unlikely to succeed. The people who run these schools – with a few notable exceptions – consider profit as their top priority; education comes second. For them, education is a business; not a vocation. The Maharashtra government may keep giving false assurances to the disturbed parents but, in reality, there is not much they can do.

Private enterprises, including schools – especially if they do not take any grants from the state – are legally and constitutionally outside the government’s control. Unless these schools commit a felony by, for example, not paying taxes or other statutory dues in time; or do not meet state prescribed norms, the government cannot interfere. If the state does take some pre-emptive action, the schools can challenge the government in a court of law – and they would probably win. It is easy for the Education Commissioner to placate the parents with insincere assurances because, after all, our government officials are adept at making promises they have no intention of keeping.  The parents are unfortunately caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to keep giving in to the schools’ demands, no matter how outrageous, because they have no alternative.

Plight of Municipal Schools

Actually, there is an alternative, but it is so dismal that it is shunned even by many parents from the lowest strata of society. I am talking, of course, about our municipal schools which are regarded as the last resort of the desperate. The situation is so pathetic that the BMC (Municipal Corporation of Mumbai) literally has to bribe students with freebies like notebooks, pencil boxes and other sundry items just to get them to stay in school. Some come just for the free lunch, as unappetizing as it is. The desperate parents who are forced by economic circumstances to send their children to these schools do not expect them to get a good education; and the BMC does not disappoint them.

That is why even parents with a meagre income scrimp and save to enroll their kids in a convent or other private school. They realize that this is the only hope of their children doing better in life than themselves. To their credit, although there are some convent schools catering to the reasonably well off, who charge substantial fees, there are several in lower middle class localities who keep their fees at a reasonable level. They have not entirely abandoned their original purpose of mission.

Our Conscience does not bite

It is the private operators who take full advantage of the mismatch between demand and supply – with too many students chasing too few seats – who need to examine their conscience (I can’t believe I just said “conscience” in the same breath). To them, the schools are a business, rather than a social service. And if the parent of a child becomes a nuisance, the child can be shunted out without qualms, because there are a dozen more eager to take his place. I am not talking about elite schools like Cathedral and Ambani, nor the “International” and IB schools that seem to be sprouting all over the city. The parents there are paying not just for quality education but a certain snob appeal – and they can afford it. Incidentally, the IB schools who tout the Baccalaureate certificate as the ultimate in educational certification, are doing a bit of a snow job. The reality is that an IB qualification has real value only if the parents are planning to send their laadla sons and daughters to colleges abroad. Indian colleges do not give it any special prominence.

So that is the situation. On the one hand, you have school promoters who try to milk their investment or every rupee they can get. Then there are the politicians shedding crocodile tears, which is a bit rich considering that many of them run colleges and other educational institutions where flouting the norms of good practice is the rule rather than the exception. Caught in the middle are the hapless parents who can only vent their frustration without any genuine hope of redressal.

Mr. Firoze Hirjikaka is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to FF Digital.  E-mail: leonardo8_99@yahoo.com

From FF Digital : Freedom First had published a series of articles on the Right to Education in its issues between 2012 and 2014.  The articles authored by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma have been compiled into a booklet entitled “On the Right to Education Act – A Commentary” and is available at our office.  You can write, e-mail or telephone us and we shall post you a copy.

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8 thoughts on “Schools or Money-making Institutes?

  1. The question to ask is this: why are schools able to charge extra and arbitrarily but neither our sabjiwala or the neighbourhood Chinese restaurant or a 10 room hotel able to do so? What gives this kind of monopolistic power to schools? The answer can’t be that people who run schools are greedy, the sabji, restaurant or hotel or local doctor are all equally greedy. So what’s the reason?

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  2. These articles bring out a very significant aspect of reality — if we do not care for the younger generation, then in our old age when we are dependent on them we will have to suffer.
    It is rightly said that those who tolerate injustice are greater criminals than those who propagate it. And most of us are guilty of tolerance and neglect in this sector. As long as our child gets into what we think is the right school, we couldn’t care less what happens to others.
    If each of us takes under our wing on e child who is deprived of good education, and takes him forward, our society and country can be transformed.
    Dr. Ali Khwaja
    Bangalore
    alikhwaja50@gmai.com

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    • The operative word here is “we”. I believe most of us are genuinely concerned about our children’s education, but what can we do when our options are limited? If you are reasonably well off, you can afford to pay for a decent education in a good school. If not, the alternative is pathetic.

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  3. By now, the talk on our education system has become like a talk on weather; everybody talks about the weather, but nobody can do anything to change it!

    I am not writing any comments on this article, but expressing my anguish and frustration at the inability and inaction on the part of the taxpayers in setting right the things, including the education, that have gone astray over the years.

    Sorry to say that the RTE Act, 2009 is not a panacea for all the ills in our education system, but only a dressing on the wound that has become cancerous, let alone gangrenous.

    Mr. Firoze writes that some parents have been agitating before the state education minister demanding to direct the private schools to reduce the fees. Are the parents rest content with the reduction in fees regardless of the quality of education imparted to their children? Have they taken the schools for granted because of the high sounding or tongue-twisting names or tags they carry or the curriculum they follow? So lopsided a thinking it is that nobody has any time to pause and ponder.

    Now, coming to municipal or government schools. Don’t we all know that the children of those who run/administer these schools do not study in them but elsewhere in snobbish English medium convent schools, at the expense of the very same taxpayer? Then, why shed tears on the fallen standards in these schools? Don’t we know that recently, the Patna High Court ruled that the children of all politicians and government officials should study in government schools only? But sure enough, we also know that has gone with the wind!

    Are we aware that India, despite its tall claims of having a number of elite schools and higher institutions of learning, it stood at 73(second from bottom!) out of 74 countries, selected all over the world for an educational standards survey conducted by PISA* in 2009?
    (*The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in member and non-member nations of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance on mathematics, science, and reading. It was first performed in 2000 and then repeated every three years. It is done with a view to improving education policies and outcomes. It measures problem solving and cognition in daily life.
    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment)*
    And, are we aware that due to loss of their face and after being pressured by many states in India, the Government of India have quietly withdrawn from the triennial survey after 2009?

    But for Kyrgyzstan, India would have won the (dubious) distinction of being the first from the bottom in the list of surveyed countries!

    ​See the strategy of the government: Just drop out of the competition, rather than to accept the challenge and try to better its performance in the next attempt!​

    ​So, with the passage of time, the field of education having assumed mafia like proportions, be it in the case of admissions, fees, cost of uniforms and books, miscellaneous expenses, etc., the governments have abandoned their role of reforming it and the parents and the rest of civil society left to do ad hoc firefighting measures other than quality of education provided in the schools and colleges.

    Let the governments restore the pride and honor of government schools; let the civil society assert itself for the same. Both the parties can be happy and can also make ​the future generations happy.

    We can rightly boast of having had the finest educational institutions in the world, viz., Nalanda and Taxila, at a time when there were no Cambridge or Oxford. So, why and where did we go wrong in plummeting to this lowliest of the levels now? Let’s introspect and rectify. Nothing is impossible. Let’s come up with innovative ideas to reform our educational system in consultation with other like-minded organizations already working in the field, viz., Pratham, Lok Satta, etc., and then force the governments to work in the direction.

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    • We constantly hear this big talk from our PM, FM and others about the imminent emergence of India as the next superpower, but the reality is that our human development status is pathetic. To compound the error, we have been foisted with an Education Minister who has no education to speak of; and who’s pre-occupation is to please her boss.Cosmetic gestures like hoisting the tri-colour in every school and college are an eyewash to disgiuse incompetency.

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      • That’s why i said what can’t be done individually can be done jointly, in combination with other like-minded people, in a democracy like that of ours. There are some NGOs, viz., Pratham, Lok Satta, etc., working on measures to improve the quality of teaching in government schools. Let’s lend a hand to them supporting their cause. Expecting the governments to change on their own will be foolhardy. The civil society has to assert itself in bringing the government to the table for any tangible gains.

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  4. Article is well written . Do schools account their grants properly? Is it not money laundering? They ask parents to pay in cash . Is it fair?

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