The CBSE action against NPS schools is a classic study of everything that is wrong in the way we manage education. Without going into the specifics of NPS itself, we should be able to see the wrinkles in the canvas.
a. First, the public school system is bad. To be precise, it is one of the WORST IN THE WORLD. It is so bad that even poor people are fleeing it, and putting children in private schools at their own cost. In Karnataka, only one out of three children who depend on the state pass high school, and even among those who pass, learning outcomes are low.
b. Private schools are regulated by the same people who run the failed public system. I.e. they are not only bad at what they do, they have been put in charge of overseeing others too !!
c. Schooling, according to the government, should be affordable. But, for anything to be affordable, the input costs have to be low too. If the input costs are high, it is common sense that the prices will rise too. The government doesn’t accept this – it wants prices to be low even if the input costs are high. In fact, with RTE, it even raised the input costs.
d. The government treats minority schools differently from other schools. No one knows why being a minority should matter to the ECONOMICS of a school. But that’s how it is today.
This is the crux of the problem. Private schools try to find some eye of the needle through which to pass, in this messy situation. They overload classrooms, fudge costs, bribe Block Education Officers, declare themselves minorities, etc. And public schools, meanwhile, continue to with their failure knowing fully well that they will never be put to scrutiny.
To address this, we can do three things, each of which will address one aspect of the problem.
1. Improve the public system. A large number of good, government-funded schools will keep prices down for many parents.
2. Create an independent regulatory who will oversee both public and private schools. The Education Department cannot excuse the failures of its own schools if this is done.
3. The government needs to make up its mind on the question of affordability. It should either make land available at low prices to private schools (and then regulate their prices) or let them buy their own land and set un-regulated fees. Trying to have it both ways is the problem.
4. Remove exemptions given to minority schools under the RTE. If education is a right, there’s no reason why being a non-Hindu should make it less of a right.
Part of the problem is an unspoken arrangement between the sarkar and parents – both want high quality at low cost to themselves. The schools are just caught in the middle of this contradiction.
The Boards have a nasty habit of threatening the students as a way of forcing schools to fall in line. Even if a school is not doing things right, the Boards have no right to bar students from appearing for their exams. It is ridiculous to drag their learning years into the middle of a mess that has nothing to do with them.
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