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 Education for Life
Law threatens low-cost private schools
Mint, India Friday, June 25, 2010

The Right To Education Act threatens many schools which operate on a shoe string budget. There are more than 75,000 such schools in India, operated by small businessmen. RTE stipulates that the schools should have huge pay grounds and high salaries, but if implemented, the fee would rise four fold, writes Anupama Chandrasekaran in Mint.

In a small hamlet in Andhra Pradesh’s Ghatkesar district, 20km from Hyderabad, Indus Academy is one of four schools offering private education for the poor. Run by Career Launcher India Ltd’s foundation, its three single-storey buildings house around 40 children in the age group of 4-10.


Charging as it does a student fee of less than Rs200 a month, Career Launcher is planning intensive door-to-door canvassing next year to enroll an additional 60 students—at least to recoup its Rs1.5 lakh investment on its educational tools.

At the same time, three other groups are furiously developing a chain of affordable private schools, or non-government schools for poor families, in and around Hyderabad.


Over the last decade, the number of poor private schools in India charging Rs100-250 a month and run mostly by small local businessmen has risen to 75,000. English language skills of students in such schools are better than those of government-school children, according to an annual study by education not-for-profit Pratham. English language skills of students in such schools, the study shows, are better than those of government-school children—largely because low teacher absenteeism ensures regular tutorials.


Even as these entrepreneurs search for low-cost teacher training and curriculum improvements to add “high quality” to the “affordable” label, the Right to Education (RTE) Act of April 2010, which seeks to ensure primary education for all 6-14-year-olds, threatens to fracture their efforts.

This law requires all schools to be government-recognized—a bribe-ridden and expensive process, costing at least Rs50,000 per school, according to school operators and policy advocates. The law also mandates higher teacher salaries.

... ... ...

To support better education, funding agencies such as the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF) are offering computer-aided materials and financing the training of a few schoolteachers in Hyderabad and Bangalore. What will be key for these schools is whether they can continue upgrading themselves without grant money or fee increases.


James Tooley, a British academic known for his groundbreaking 2006 study on budget private schools catalyzed by his observations in Hyderabad’s slums, believes he has an inexpensive polish for a shiny pedagogy.


Tooley is hoping to treat two primary ailments without stretching his purse: shoddy instruction and teacher attrition.

The monthly salaries of private budget-school teachers are in the Rs1,500-4,000 range, only 10-20% of government school salaries. Many private-school instructors thus switch jobs even for Rs100-200 increments, says the M-CRIL report. But teacher salaries are often the largest chunk of these schools’ expenses; keeping salaries low keeps fees low.


“A low-cost teacher training model ensures that you are not investing in instructors so much that the whole system collapses when they leave,” says Tooley, whose current business interests have not diluted his reputation as a researcher.

... ... ...

The hope is that an aggregation of dispersed poor private schools into a chain run by a single management will ultimately shrink tariffs of teachers and curriculum providers, as vendors need to knock on fewer doors. But the RTE Act, with its mandate for playgrounds and kitchens in schools, may yet put the brakes on this revolution.

“These businesses are striving to provide world-class education through a sustainable model, which like microfinance is not dependent on charity,” says Gurcharan Das, chairman of SKS Educational Society. “The threat from the government to close down these schools persists. How can a school in the slum have a football-field-sized playground and pay minimum salaries of Rs20,000? If they had to pay such salaries, the fees would go up fourfold.”

This article was published in the Mint on Friday, June 25, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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Tags- Find more articles on - Gurcharan Das | Parth Shah | Pratham | Right To Education Act | RTE

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