I attended the School Choice National Conference 2009 in Delhi on December 16th. Here is a summary based on my notes.
Private Schools and the Poor: Implementing the 25% in Section 12 of RTE (Right to Education Act 2009) was the focus of the first session. Provided below is a (paraphrased) summary of what each speaker had to say.
Amit Kaushik, a former Director in MHRD who was instrumental in drafting the RTE Bill and the development and implementation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and currently CEO of Shri Educare Limited (part of the SRF group), spoke on the RTE Bill and its challenges. A copy of Amit Kaushik's presentation is available at the conference web site.
- The RTE Bill was passed by Parliament in August 2009, but has not yet been published in the Gazette. It will come into effect only after being published in the Gazette. The RTE Act Rules are being drafted and only after they are ready can it be published. The target date for that seems to be a rolling 3-4 months at any time, whenever you talk to anyone in the Ministry.
- The RTE Bill is the first legislation in the world that puts the responsibility of providing elementary education and ensuring enrollment, attendance and completion on the Government. It is the parents' responsibility to send the children to schools in tje U.S. ad other countries. More importantly, this is a justiciable legislation, which means the Government can be taken to court if it does not ensure education is provided to all children.
- If the RTE ACT is fully implemented (a big IF), it will be the largest education sector Public Private Partnership (PPP) in the world.
- Private Unaided schools will have to admit in Class I, a minimum of 25% of their capacity, students from disadvantaged sections with the Government compensating the schools for the 25%. It remains to be seen how the leading private unaided schools will deal with providing the 25% seats to disadvantaged children.
- The implementation of the RTE bill will result in a huge operational research opportunity in terms of the process for selecting the children who will be admitted in each school under the 25% quota, through a randomised lottery.
- Interestingly, the responsibility of monitoring the implementation of the RTE Act is not with the Government, but has been assigned to the National Council for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) - an autonomous body set up in March 2007. The NCPCR doesn't have much experience in monitoring something on the scale of the implementation of the RTE Act and they will need to learn as they go along.
- There are a lot of regulations imposed on schools by the RTE Act. Schools will have to adhere to specified student-teacher ratios, provide a minimum level of infrastructure, a minimum number of working hours per week and working days per year and so on. All unrecognised private schools must obtain recognition once the Act comes into effect to continue to function after the Act comes into force. If schools don't obtain recognition, they will have to pay a fine of Rs. 1 lakh plus Rs. 10,000 per day. But at the end of it all, one can't legislate teacher effort!
- The RTE legislation is very progressive, but the devil is in the details and we need to wait for the rules for implementation that are being drafted.
- The private sector has a crucial role to play. Public Private Parternships can leverage the incentive-based drive of the private sector to further public policy objectives (educational outcomes in the case of the RTE).
- In the context of the RTE, there are PPP opportunities in a wide range of areas:
- School Facility Services - building and operating schools
- Non-educational support services - catering, technology etc.
- Educational services - curricular, content, teaching/learning aids etc.
- Teacher training
- Management contracts for Government schools
- Educational services for the state-funded students (25% under RTE) in private schools
- The World Bank has allocated US$ 300,000 for monitoring and evaluation of the RTE Act and to help the NCPCR and MHRD in implementing the RTE Act.
- At the time of the Constituent Assembly debates, there was opposition to universal adult franchise since most people were illiterate. Article 45 was introduced as a compromise: "The State shall endeavour to provide, within a period of ten years from the commencement of this Constitution, for free and compulsory education for all children until they complete the age of fourteen years." It was the only Directive Principle of State Policy that had a specified time frame for implementation.
- The RTE Bill was passed in 2009. Within three years from the date of publishing of the RTE bill in the Gazette, the government will have to ensure that enough schools are established in each neighbourhood to provide education to all. There are various responsibilities for the Central Government, the local governments (maintain records of children upto the age of 14 years, ensure admission of children with migrant families, monitor functioning of schools within their jurisdiction) and the schools (at least 25% of seats).
- Likely challenges
- Definition of neighbourhood and identification of "disadvantaged groups" and "weaker sections".
- Monitoring utilisation of the 25% quota in private schools
- Integrating disadvantaged children in upper-end private schools
- Expenses over and above tuition fees
- Preparing teachers to deal with diverse children
- Status of unrecognised private schools
- Ensuring quality and learning outcomes
- It is unclear if the Private Schools can do a better job than State-run Schools. To quote a study by Educational Initiatives comparing Private and State-run schools,"...I did find that any lead that private schools show in their learning outcomes over government schools can be completely explained away by...: (1) students socio-economic background, (2) students initial levels, (3) rote/procedural nature of learning tested. In other words, if you control for factor 1, look for improvements between say grade 3 and grade 7 (to nullify any initial advantage) and the test is not rote/testing procedural knowledge only, I do not believe private schools show any advantage over government schools."ASER 2009 also points to the same thing.
- About 7%-9% of schools in the country (around 75,000 schools) are private unaided schools, but they account for 20%-30% of enrollment in the country.
- Everywhere else in the world, universal elementary education has been achived only through government schools. So the Government needs to improve its schools rather than letting private schools do more.
- PPP in education is possible, but it must be done under the overall supervision of the Government.
- The evidence on the effectiveness of the voucher mode is mixed.
Amit Kaushik mentioned that he and Parth Shah of the Centre for Civil Society (had differed publicly in the past on the role of public and private schools in ensuring education for all) and was happy that Parth Shah (the organiser of the conference) had invited him to the conference despite their disagreements.
I later asked Sridhar Rajagopalan, the CEO of Educational Initiatives (who was also present at the conference) about his studies on comparing the quality effect of private and public schools that Amit Kaushik referred to during his talk. Sridhar said that the studies were still going on and are not yet as conclusive as it seemed from Amit's presentation and we should wait before arriving at any conclusion.
Karthik Muralidharan, Assistant Professor in the economics department at the University of California, San Diego, spoke on the issue of the State vs the Market in the delivery of education and its implications for the RTE Bill. A copy of Karthik Muralidharan's presentation is available at the conference web site.
- The returns to education come from the quality of education and not the quantity or the number of years of schooling.
- Teacher accountability is a key issue. About 90% of spending goes to teachers' salaries and studies have shown that more spending has least effectiveness in the poorest places. The salary levels have nothing to do with reducing teacher absenteeism. In fact teachers are more likely to be absent with higher salaries. Accountability is a big issue, especially when teachers can't be fired for absenteeism.
- 50% of children in urban India go to private schools. There are more children in private schools in India than in Chile which has a national state-funded voucher program. These private schools are low fee "budget" private schools and not the fancy exclusive private schools. While Teacher salaries in these schools are low, the pupil teacher ratio is higher since these schools hire more teachers and are more responsive and accountable to parents. Students from these schools do better than students from state schools.
- The jury is out on the value added by a private school when compared to a government school. Children in private schools are better at the Class III-IV level, since they have usually had two extra years in Kindergarten, when compared to children in government schools who join directly in Class I.
- But one should look not just at the difference in quality between private and public schools, but also at the cost-effectivness. whether the same or better results have been achieved at lower costs in private schools or in government schools.
- The salary levels of teachers in rural public schools can be as high as 5-10 times that of the salaries of teachers in rural private schools. The highest salaries in rural private schools are less than the lowest salaries in the rural public schools.
- The demand for private schools is driven by the failure of public schools and not by the the demand by the elite.
- The reason for this lies in the Exit vs Voice dilemma. The market are held accountable by Exit whereas the State can be held accountable only by Voice. Schools combine elements of Exit (can move from state-run schools to private schools) and Voice (community control and collective action).
- The credibility of the Exit option impacts the Voice option. Improving the Exit option strengthens the Voice option. The question before us is - should we strengthen Exit, or Voice, or both?
- Currently, the richer parents have the option of Exit to a better school, but the poorer parents don't have that option. Poorer parents are also the ones with the least political Voice and so they are doubly handicapped in terms of both Exit as well as Voice to improve the quality of public schools. The Parent Teacher Associations (PTA) don't seem to have an effect on reducing teacher absence in public schools. This could also be a collective action problem. Voice is further weakened in the face of the Exit of the Elite from public schools.
- This issue of the poor not having Voice or Exit options can be solved by putting purchasing power behind the poor and then letting the markets respond to the demand. This would provide the poor with both Exit and Voice options. This can be implemented through Vouchers given to parents.
- Reservations of 25% or more of seats in schools (through the RTE) could be prone to capture by certain sections of society, whereas vouchers for all will benefit the entire community.
- There are concerns about vouchers, which need to be discussed and addressed. Will private schools self-select and continue to remain elite by excluding disadvantaged children even if they have vouchers? Can illiterate parents make informed choices on which schools to go to? Could there be a balkanisation along religious/ethnic lines? Will we in effect be giving up on the public system and letting the government abdicate its responsibility of educating all children?
- The case for vouchers shouldn't be looked at as a choice of public vs private, but as a means of increasing competition to improve both public and private schools and ensuring equity and social justice by providing the disadvantaged with choices that today are available only to the well-off.
- Many studies are required on the efficacy of voucher programs, the response of private schools etc.. and the 25% provision in the RTE Act will provide an opportunity for many such studies. A study is currently being conducted in collaboration with the Azim Premji Foundation in Andhra Pradesh.
Here's a link to Karthik Muralidharan's publications describing his studies on education in the Indian context.
Anders Hultin was a former political adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Schools from 1991-1994. In 1999, he co-founded the private school chain, Kunskapsskolan and was Chief Executive of this company for eight years during which time the company became the largest provider of secondary education in Scandinavia operating thirty-two schools with more than 10,000 students. He is currently CEO of GEMS Education UK. He spoke on the Swedish experience with vouchers. A copy of Anders Hultin's presentation is available at the conference web site.
Prof. R. Govinda, Vice Chancellor of NUEPA, representing the Government point of view chaired the session. He spoke at the end and summed up the first session and responding to some of the comments of the other speakers
- Sweden is today a country with a population of 9 million and 4000 schools. There were three milestones in education in Sweden
- The first was in the mid 1800s - compulsory state-funded elementary education was provided for all
- The next was in the mid 1900s - compulsory state-funded education was extended to the secondary level.
- The last was in 1992 - the introduction of the voucher model
- The introduction of the voucher model was part of the manifesto of the winning political party and was largely regarded as symbolic. But the government was surprised by the very high number of applications to start new private schools, at a time when 99% of all schools were State schools. Anyone who met certain criteria was given the license to run private schools.
- The State agreed to pay the same money to private schools that they were paying to the State schools. This amounted to about US$ 7,500 per year. No voucher top-up was allowed - (i.e) private schools were not allowed to collect any more money from the students directly. The private schools had to compete with State schools with equal resources.
- From 80 private schools in 1992, there are over 1,100 private schools in Sweden today.
- This provides parents a choice forces school operators to respond to the competition and perform better and serve the needs of the parents and society.
- There is freedom for private school operators, but with regulation. Information on school operator performance should go to parents. Access to good information can solve the problem of information asymmetry.
- While a lot is said about Sweden's voucher model, there is one important point - 75% of all private schools in Sweden are for-profit schools. Without the profit-element there would not have been so many private schools. Most of them would have remained small and largely been religiously oriented. The voucher model would not have existed without the acceptance of for-profit schools.
- Take the Carlsson School in Stockholm, fore example. It is a very good private school run by a non-profit charitable trust for over a 100 years. They have a seven year waiting list to get in to the school - you even need to time the birth date of your child correctly and apply on the date of birth! The longer the waiting list, the more reputed the school. Since the school is run by a non-profit trust, there is no incentive for them to set up any more schools. If they had a profit incentive, they would have certainly been striving for growth and would have set up many more schools.
- What makes Carlsson School such a good school? It is not the buildings, but the deep understanding of what it takes to run a good school and how to transfer this culture and knowledge from one generation of teachers to another. This is the Intellecutal Property of the School. Had it been a for-profit school, there would have been an incentive and motivation for it to replicate the success of its one school to serve the huge waiting list of children needing education. This would be hugely valuable to society in two ways. One by expanding the supply of high quality schooling. The other by forcing poor quality school operators (both state-run and private schools) who are currently doing an injustice to the lives of so many children, to drastically improve their quality or wind up.
- The bottom line for any succesful voucher system is the presence of the for-profit motive. Without that the number of good quality private schools will be limited and will cater only to a small elite.
The second session was on Graded Recognition System: Positive Regulation and the third session was on Strengthening Government Schools. I will summarise these session too in future posts.
- We need public spaces in our society and schools are one such public space. We should not let schools become private spaces.
- The Government is working on the the draft rules for the RTE Act and is taking its time to ensure that it is well thought through and covers all the various aspects and anticipates all the potential pitfalls. The rules should be published soon.
- Unrecognised schools will not be closed down suddenly. They will all be given time and and the opportunity to improve their infrastructure and rise up to meet the requirements of recognition. So there is no need to fear that all the recognised schools will vanish one day leaving a large number of students in the lurch. The Government would not want that to happen.
- The RTE Bill is a contract between the State and the School and not the State and the Individual, like in the voucher model. The Government is only agreeing to meet the cost of educating a child if it goes to a State School. If the child goes to a private school, it will not be reimbursed any amount.