It has been reported that the State Government, at the initiative of Education Minister Arvind Pandey, will ‘fix’ the fee structure of private schools in the state. The claim is that it will be based on a system that rates the facilities available in the school and the quality of the teachers. This is a bad idea because it reflects the spirit of the licence-permit raj, which is one of the legacies of the Congress. This eco-system is so strong that even the BJP abides by it, despite claiming to be following in the free market orientation being sought to be established by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Any such decision would, first of all, be discriminatory in nature, as is the Right to Education Act, which imposes the burden of ‘inclusive’ education solely on private day schools, excluding the boarding schools as well as those run by minorities. Any such legislation is by its nature flawed and the experience in this regard, thus far, has not been good.
There is a reason why there has been such a proliferation of private schools in the state. The demand from the parents is strong, which has provided ‘edu-preneurs’ the opportunity to meet it by opening new institutions. If, however, the best of these are forced to provide education at government determined rates, parents will try and obtain admissions for their children only in these schools, instead of selecting the ones that best suit their paying ability and in their neighbourhood. It will not only restrict the expansion of the sector, but also lead to heavy under the table payments in the preferred schools. It should be left to the market to determine how many schools there should be and what the fees are.
What the government should actually do is improve the condition of its own schools, which do not have the required number of students, the necessary facilities and a motivated staff. This is despite the availability of free midday meals. The irony is that government teachers are much better paid than in most private schools. It would help if government ensured that private schools – in a graded manner – were required to pay teachers a fair wage, provident fund and gratuity. This would to some extent justify the higher fees. The government should also establish an independent body that ranks the schools according to their overall quality – including the tendency to hike fees arbitrarily – so that parents can make informed choices, instead of just following a herd mentality.