School as mint

July 10, 2015

Published in Deccan Herald 10th July 2015

Rohit Dhankar

A myth of Private Schools for the Poor (PSP) which provide good quality education and also make profit is being created through a kind of educational research and its dissemination. However, if one travels the length and breadth of the country looking for such schools, one is likely to see excessively cramped classrooms with unsuitable furniture with majority of exploitatively underpaid and untrained teachers.

On the other hand, if one wants to see the Private Schools for the Rich (PSR), one may find well-groomed teachers teaching in well-equipped classrooms in impressive air-conditioned buildings.

In spite of irreconcilable difference in their appearances, both of these schools have exactly the same notion of quality: that which gives the maximum return for the investment is good quality education. This is the market-friendly definition which is almost unquestionably accepted by the parents, the governments and the economics centric researchers in education.

A cursory look at the advertisements of these schools will make the functioning of this notion of quality unambiguously clear. The PSPs advertise 100 per cent board exam results and publish pictures of high scoring students. The 100 per cent board results are achieved through disallowing many students from appearing in examinations but that is never mentioned in advertisements. The selling point here is high scores in exams that supposedly leads to admission in prestigious institutions for further studies, and good jobs as the final result. This charts the supposed path of poor parents in their struggle to escape poverty.

On the other hand, advertisements of the PSRs will define school as a place where children live, play and study together to form lifelong bonds. Here the school, in addition to learning, is a place for forging bonds with the elite. The goal is to get an entry into the echelons of power. Learning is a means, but the selling edge is the bonds with others belonging to the same strata of society.

The notion of quality in both the cases is that which gives success in earning more money. Motto seems to be ‘pay now to earn more later’. The National Curriculum Framework (NCF) and Right to Education (RtE) Act, however, indicate a different notion of quality. They define our nationally accepted official aims of education, and implied official notion of quality.

The NCF 2005 aims at development of democratic values of justice, freedom, equality and secularism; independence of mind, action and learning; capability to contribute to economic-political life of the society and development of aesthetic appreciation. The idea of quality, therefore, would be the progress made in the school towards these aims. Obviously, the thin market-friendly idea of quality mentioned above falls far short of this officially accepted idea of quality.

The Right to Education Act spells out the necessary requirements for a school which can make reasonable attempts to work towards quality of education as indicated in this latter idea. The most economical school as per RtE norms of infrastructure and teachers would be an integrated primary and upper primary school. For a small school, as most of PSPs are small, it is reasonable to assume total 300 children; 200 in primary and 100 in upper primary.

That would require one headmaster, five primary level teachers, three upper primary teachers and three part-time teachers for arts, physical education and work experience. Infrastructure requirements for such a school will cost about Rs 1.15 crore. This is the initial investment to start an RtE compliant upper primary school.

A conservative estimate of per child per year expenditure including 10 per cent return on the investment on infrastructure would be about Rs 31,000. Then only the school will be able to make profit. What percentage of poor families in our country can afford that kind of per annum expenditure per child?

Cutting corners

How come, then, the PSPs are mushrooming and making profit? The answer is not difficult to fathom. The PSPs cut corners. They do not have required infrastructure and are run by poorly paid teachers. The real issue for them is not quality but profit. A perception of quality in the parents mind is good enough. Creating such a perception is not difficult when majority of government schools function indifferently.

This situation has three very serious implications. One, the majority teaching force is being reduced to puppets in the hands of the owners without much capability and spine. Already, a downward spiral is initiated where each successive generation of teachers becomes less and less capable; and less and less independent-minded. It is because no capable person wants to be part of such an exploitative system.

Two, it is common knowledge among the children in PSPs that the school does not have trained teachers, that the school monopolises in uniform to make money, that it prefers textbooks that give the maximum cut etc. This, in the child’s mind becomes the normal way of life. Self-interest and corruption become values that lead to success. This becomes the unseen part of the education just by being in such a school.

Three, the PSRs run in excessively opulent environment which is far removed from the conditions in which poor Indians live. This creates a distance from the common masses and as a result, reduces concern for their wellbeing. The society is thus getting divided into the struggling masses and powerful elites; where the latter are determined to keep their advantageous position.

Neither is concerned with the quality that helps in developing a harmonious authentic self or a concerned citizen with critical rationality. Profit motive, therefore, creates its own saleable illusion of quality and thrives on it; and, in the process, turning humans into self-seekers and deepening the chasm between haves and have nots.