Poverty no bar for quality-conscious parents as private schooling booms

Written by Kirtika Suneja | New Delhi | Updated: Mar 2 2012, 06:46am hrs
They may be poor, but they don't compromise when it comes to their children's education, show data on schooling compiled by a Delhi-based research firm.

A study conducted by the India Institute said in Patna, 65% of children go to private unaided schools while 34% attend government schools. The trend spans many states and is seen strengthening every year, even as the country tries to ensure free and compulsory education for all with a planned increase in spending on education. Observers said private schools are perceived as providers of high-quality education, driving more parents away from government schools.

The Right To Education Act is still being implemented in many states and we expect increased migration from government to private schools because of the 25% reservation in government schools. The poor consider good education as a way out of poverty. They see limited outcome from government schools, said Bharat Gulia, senior manager at consulting firm Ernst and Young.

India's 2.6-2.9 lakh private schools form a fifth of all schools in the country. Student enrollment is close to 50% of the total 248 million from kindergarten to Class 12. Nationally, private school enrollment for the 6-14 age group is rising every year, up from 18.7% in 2006 to 25.6% in 2011.

In Kerala, Manipur, Gujarat and Maharashtra, more than 60% of students attend private schools.

Even if government schools improve the quality of education they impart, their perception will take time to change. Parents never migrate their children from private to government schools, said Arvind Mohan, economist at Lucknow University. Another concern is the number of students who do not get included in official data.

The India Institute report said the government may be significantly underestimating the number of students enrolled in primary and upper primary schools. The actual student population in Patna is 3.4 lakh against the official estimate of 2.4 lakh, the study said.

Some students are unaccounted because of the lack of standardised processes and quality. Right to Education is still new and there are no national guidelines on how it will count students. In fact, Bihar may be one of the states which is looking at this, Mohan added.

Between 30% and 60% of children in rural areas of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Punjab, J&K, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are enrolled in private schools. North-western states like Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana have had high enrollment in private schools as well.

The RTE act, if seriously implemented, will make it impossible for low-cost or affordable schools to operate. But over the last six years, private school enrollment in rural India has gone up by 5.5 percentage points, which translates into an increase of just over 25%, noted Madhav Chavan, president of Pratham.

According to the Annual Status of Education Report, private school students have done slightly better than those of government schools. While 56% Class V government school students were unable to read Class III text, the number was 38% in private schools.