People Want Choice, Not Charity

Publication Name: 
Business World
Publication Date: 
21 March 2014

Opening more government schools is not a solution that parents are asking for, says Prashant Narang, an advocate with iJustice

There seems to be a general perception that children residing in District South Delhi are the most fortunate ones, since they reside in the vicinity of most of the top schools in the whole of Delhi. A lot of people may be considering shifting to South Delhi to score ‘neighbourhood points’, as per the new guidelines issued with respect to school admissions.

Guess What? They Are Wrong

It is ironical that although almost half of the top rated schools in Delhi are located in the South Delhi, yet it has the least number of nursery seats and an even lesser number of private nursery seats in proportion to its population, i.e. less than 3 per 1000 people. It is most difficult to get a child admitted in a school in South Delhi than anywhere else in the state. The situation in District North Delhi is no better either, with an average of 3.2 private nursery seats per 1000 people. On the other hand, District New Delhi has a much better ratio - around 51 nursery seats per 1000 people and 17 private nursery seats per 1000 people. District East Delhi and District North East Delhi are little above 5 private nursery seats per 1000 people. Clearly, private schools are not uniformly distributed across the city. Therefore, the distance criterion does not help the parents of the children seeking admission in these private schools.

Secondly, as per an estimate, there are one lakh private nursery seats and four lakh eligible children. There is an acute demand-supply gap. Number of seats will further go down this year onwards as private schools have to admit 25 per cent children from economically weaker and disadvantaged sections of the society. The government may set up help lines to make this process smooth and efficient but it is impossible to monitor all schools and each and every admission taking place. It will only add to litigation and complaints.

Opening more government schools is not a solution that parents are asking for. Those who advocate for opening more government schools including government school teachers and policy makers send their kids to private schools.

The solution is: address supply gap, get rid of license-permit Raaj. Let there be more choice and competition, i.e. there should be many more private schools. This cannot happen with education being a not-for-profit sector. Which NGO can and will like to invest 50 crores to open a primary school in South Delhi and who will fund such an NGO? First and foremost, the Government must allow for-profit schools so that Corporate India can formally invest in education. Secondly, teacher salary norms should be relaxed so that the operational costs can be lowered. This will make them affordable to majority.

Critics contend that this choice and competition will leave low-income children behind. Unfortunately, government schools have already left them behind. Good news is that having many more private schools will also add to 25 per cent RTE quota seats for low income children. Additionally, the government can give vouchers to low-income children to join private schools. Most people in Delhi need no subsidies or charity; they need quality education which they don’t mind paying for.

Author is an advocate with iJustice – a public interest law initiative of Centre for Civil Society