Aristotle once said “a civilised society is one where good people become good citizens.” For this, the role of schools, especially primary schools, is of paramount importance. The purpose of education is to produce citizens who are not only strong emotionally and spiritually, but also strong in character.
Aristotle once said “a civilised society is one where good people become good citizens.” For this, the role of schools, especially primary schools, is of paramount importance. The purpose of education is to produce citizens who are not only strong emotionally and spiritually, but also strong in character. They should be able to face any situation with aplomb and confidence. Schools—irrespective of whether it is government-run or private-run—are the centres of formal education that imbibes in citizens such facets of character building. In the real world, there has always been a competition among the private schools to attract students through enabling infrastructure and extracurricular commitments that ideally command a monetary premium.
The government schools, however, stay away from such commitments. Against this background, new trends are being observed across states. Take for example, Karnataka. The enrolment ratio in private schools has been continuously increasing, while the strength of government schooling is declining. In Karnataka, there are, in total, 54.5 lakh students in primary class, as of FY17, a figure that has largely remained stationary in the last decade. The enrolment ratio in private schools in primary education has increased from 23% to 43% in a decade; boys’ increased from 25% to 47% and girls’ from 21% to 38%. We believe that, if this enrolment ratio trend in private schools is to continue, then, in the next 10-15 years, the ratio may touch 75%, which is a serious concern for government schools where only 25% of total students will study. Now, this will have important implications but, before that, we have to find out why students are abandoning government schools. To appreciate the reasons behind this, we closely looked at the demographic profile of Karnataka. The population of Karnataka is now ageing.
In 1971, there were only 17.9 lakh (6.1% of total population) people that were aged 60 or above, in Karnataka. A figure that has now increased to a whopping 57.9 lakh (9.5% of total population) according to the census of 2011. This, along with the lower number of babies being born, are also making Kannadigas richer. Between 2001 and 2011, when the total population of Karnataka increased by 15.6%, the population in the age band of 0-6 years declined by 0.3%. The richer Kannadigas (per capita annual income of Karnataka was Rs 1.57 lakh compared to India’s average of Rs 1.04 lakh as of FY17), with per capita income of urban Bengaluru as high as Rs 3.2 lakh, now had better choices for lower number of children. Hence, the importance of and demand for private schools are increasing.
Interestingly, there is now also evidence that people in rural areas, who have access to formal deposits, are now becoming more socially empowered and putting their wards in good schools. Apart from this, another crucial reason is the infrastructure of government schools. In Karnataka, there are 21,441 government and 4,279 private schools (for primary level) as of FY17. Government schools have 53,154 classrooms (with only 66% in good conditions), while private schools have 20,405 classrooms (with almost all of them in good condition). In the last decade, 3,446 government schools have closed while 1,036 new private schools have opened. The quality of teachers at government schools is also a matter of grave concern. In the last decade, around 8,500 teachers left/retired from government schools and hence the school teacher ratio remains stagnated at 2.0.
The importance of English language is undisputed, and in Karnataka, only 0.07% of government school students are studying in the English medium compared to the private schools’ figure of 57%. Governments are also spending meagre amounts on education. In terms of expenditure, out of per rupee spends, only 12 paisa is allocated to education. The implications of increasing private enrolment is more bad than good. Given the situation of private schools in Karnataka (the number of students in private schools has jumped 2.5 times in the last decade), the burden on private schools is increasing exponentially. Alternatively, with the enrolment in government schools declining, the huge physical and social infrastructure in government schools will become redundant. The government is planning to hire more teachers for government schools but this will not solve the problem: it will aggravate it further. The need of the hour is thus to improve the overall situation of government schools across states. They need better classrooms, English as a medium of teaching, more qualified teachers and better remuneration. We strongly believe that the Karnataka government should seriously think of implementing the recommendations of the Kannada Development Authority report on strengthening government schools.
Recommendations such as relieving teachers from non-teaching work like census surveying and confining them only to teaching, introducing English as a language from class one, stopping the granting of funds to private schools under RTE and using them to upgrade infrastructure in government schools, among others, need urgent consideration. However, there is also an alternative view that the cure may not be to take the RTE funding away but to create competitiveness in the public schools by creating value based education programmes. There is evidence that the same has improved attendance and excitement amongst teachers, students and parents. Another point is how the Karnataka government will handle this problem of ageing. We believe that this is a problem across other states too, and India’s strength of its demographic dividend could actually turn into India’s disadvantage by 2030. The population growth trend indicates that incremental population growth was stagnant for the past 2 decades (approx 18 crores) and that fertility rates are quite varied across states. The moot point of all this discussion is that India has perhaps now only a limited window of a decade to get into the developed country tag, or it will stay put perpetually in the emerging group of economies.
Soumya Kanti Ghosh & Pulak Ghosh
Soumya Kanti is group chief economic advisor, SBI, and Pulak is professor, IIM Bangalore Views are personal