The world is going through what can be considered as one of the biggest pandemics of the century due to the COVID-19 virus. Its spread was rapid, something no one could fathom. Keeping the available health infrastructure of India in mind, the country had to go through a rigorous lockdown, which started on March 25 and has still not completely been removed. One of the major victims of the lockdown happened to be the education system and more specifically, the school education.
India has a pragmatic education system which has evolved with the changing needs of society. India has approximately a total of 25 crore children in the school-going age group of 6 to 14 years who are enrolled in 15 Lakh schools. Roughly, 50% of them are enrolled in approx 4 lakh private schools and another 50% are enrolled in 11 lakh government schools. The country has witnessed a trend indicating the migration of children from government schools to private schools. According to the official District Information System for Education (DISE) data, student enrolment has fallen by 2.38 crore in public elementary schools and has risen by 2.11 crore in recognized private elementary schools in the last 7 years, between 2010-11 and 2017-18. The reason for this trend can possibly be attributed to two important factors.
One, the quality of education has been a real concern. According to ASER report of 2008, 56% of the students in grade V in government schools are not able to read a grade II level text. Parents with their increasing purchasing power post-1991 reforms have been choosing private schools over the government ones. Two, the Right to Education Act of 2009, which guarantees free and compulsory education to all the children in the age group of 6-14, provisions for children from economically weaker sections and disadvantaged groups (EWS) to study in a private school. Under the provision, private schools are to reserve 25% seats for such children with the government paying for their tuition fee. This provision has opened one small window for the poor to access education of better quality.
The long-prevailing school shut-down since March 25 created problems of different varieties and multitudes. The one unseen trouble that it has caused is the opportunity of the mobility from comparatively poor quality of education to the better one. The 4 lakh private schools with the capacity of crores of seats under the RTE provision are unable to do so as the entire admission process is halted. The majority of private schools across the country begin the session in April. This is the time when the new admissions at the entry-level happen. Since the schools were closed and there was uncertainty around the possibility of the academic session to begin anytime soon. The admission at the entry-level has been reported negligible. The lockdown also made many schools to discontinue the current academic session for entry-level classes. A number of low-cost private schools are being reported to be shut-down permanently reducing the scope of the provision. The schools, which are taking up admissions, have low admission under unreserved seats (75%) and therefore reducing the number of reserved seats (25%). A section of parents, too, has ill-interpreted the situation and withdrawn students from the current academic year.
It is also important to note that while long closure of schools and uncertainty around the same has potentially caused learning deficit among children, most of the private schools were quick to transform to some of the other kind of digital platform ensuring the continuation of the teaching-learning process. Private schools have found an alternate way of delivering education, train the teachers to deliver and redesign the system around this new model compared to their government counterparts.
About the author: Dr Kulbhushan Sharma, National President at NISA, India's Affordable Private Schools Association