Travails of School Education in India

India is the land of the free: as in, we want everything for free. In a recent petition that had 60,000+ signatures, the petitioner wanted a central government law to cap school fee hikes / control fee structure.

Leaving aside the legal naivete [Education is on the concurrent list, and any central law needs ratification from states] or the general state of blissful ignorance about the education sector [that Right to Education act is a major factor behind rising school fees], this petition brings forth a major problem with Indians as a society: we want every thing for free. If that is not possible, we want everything for a regulated price. In essence, they want to buy their grocery at PDS at subsidized rates, and want it at world class quality too. They want all of this, without sacrificing anything that they extract out of the system — including their annual salary increases.

Now, asking for education at reasonable prices is not unreasonable. Nor is it a problem when people raise their voice against profiteering. However, the issue here goes beyond either of the problems. Yes: our school fees are high, and rising. Yes: many schools do profiteering when they are required by law to be non-profit trust activities. Do any of us stop for a moment and ask why?

Consider these questions:

  1. Why is that schools that are supposed to be non-profit entities, allowed to profiteer? Did they start profiteering today? Or have they been doing this for long? If they have been doing this for long, why did governments allow this?
  2. Digging a layer deeper, do we stop and ask, why should private schools be non-profit entities? If they are to be non-profit entities, why should there be a myriad of permissions needed to start a school? Why can’t any well meaning citizen start a school?
  3. Do we dig two layers deep, and ask — why is there a paucity of good schools? Why is that schools that exist don’t create the intellectual circumstances for the child to develop? Why is that, despite obvious pitfalls of current schools, parents still queue up every year to have them admitted to schools? Let alone “good schools” — do we ask why there is a “paucity of schools”?
  4. Why, despite so much investment in government schools, parents don’t send their kids to government schools? If all the parents need is cheap / free education, why are their children not going to government schools? After all, they are asking the government to control fees in private schools right?
  5. Last but not least, do we ask if the laws regarding education in India are really secular? In other words — do convents and Vivekananda mission schools have the same regulatory regimes? [this is probably the biggest problem, but let us build up to it]

The first problem in India is that the government expects schools to be run as non-profit entities. It means it expects someone to plunk lakhs, if not crores, of their money [yes, it adds up to it] and expect them to not make a profit out of it. It sounds utopian, but at the end of the day — anyone who pumps in that kind of money, will expect returns. I would like any of these parents who signed a petition to start a terrace [evening] tuition center and run it as non-profit. I would like to see any one of those 60,000 Indians to spend 20% of their monthly salary [after TDS] to be given to a charity [no opt-out choice] for one year. Why is that we Indians think some else can afford to do what they themselves won’t? [ — running schools for charity].

The last problem is a far deeper issue. The same people who cry for “capping fees of private schools”, won’t accept or don’t know that all of this applies only to Hindu run schools. In other words — Hindus in Secular India are subject to rules and laws that are NOT applicable to other religious denominations. Even if the petitioner were to secure a legislated fee cap on private schools, such a move / law would only affect Hindu schools [if you think this is hyperbole — read up on the 93rd Amendment to the Indian Constitution].

These problems — an expectation of utopian socialist behaviour from others [not applicable to self] and skewed religion specific laws, put Hindu schools alone at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to societal activism. The solution is not in making burdening private Hindu schools through onerous socialist law making, but in ensuring government schools run as centres of excellence. However, even if by magic, if I were to find five such government schools in a metropolis, the same petitioners who ask for capping private school fees, won’t put their kids in these exemplary schools. Reason: they want their kids to grow up amidst the “right environment”. If it reeks of classist attitude, it is only because it is classist.

The typical Indian parent wants the best for their kids, provided by a private school [without having the kids slum it out], and without burning a hole in their own pockets. And we wonder why we don’t have a rational educational regime — both regulatorily and legally.