Trends in Private and Public Schooling
Private fee-charging schools are a visibly ubiquitous phenomenon in both urban and rural Uttar Pradesh. Despite their preponderance and growth, and the public expectation of inclusivity from them, relatively little is known about the nature of private schools in the country, and much of the media and public discussion about them happens in a vacuum of hard facts. This review unravels the enigma by presenting evidence on several important facets of private schools and benchmarks these. It examines the size, growth, salaries, per-pupil costs, pupil achievement levels and cost-effectiveness of private schools in Uttar Pradesh and compares these with the government school sector. Official data presented here show a steep growth of private schooling and a corresponding rapid shrinkage in public schooling in UP, suggesting parental abandonment of government schools. Fee data from the National Sample Survey 2014–15 shows that, contrary to popular perception, a very high proportion of private schools in UP caters to the poor, where 32% of private school students pay fee less than Rs. 100 pm, and 84% pay fee less than Rs. 500 pm. Only 8% of private school-going children in UP pay fees of more than Rs. 1000 pm, and only 1.5% pay more than 2500 pm. In other words, the elite high-fee private schools visible in urban centres are a tiny proportion of the totality of private schools and are unrepresentative of private schooling in the state as a whole. A striking finding is that the median fee of private schools in UP is only 6.5% of the government schools’ per-pupil expenditure. The evidence on fee levels thus suggests that affordability is an important factor behind the growth of private schools in UP. The main reasons for the low fee levels in private schools are firstly the competition they face from other private schools and, secondly, their low teacher salaries, which the data show to be a small fraction of the salaries paid in government schools. Low salaries are possible because private schools pay the market-clearing wage, which is depressed by a large supply of unemployed graduates, whereas government schools pay bureaucratically determined high minimum wages. Private schools’ substantially lower per-student costs combined with their students’ modestly higher learning achievement levels mean that they are significantly more cost-effective than government schools. The realisation that the bulk of private schooling in Uttar Pradesh is ‘low fee’ is significant because perceptions about the nature of private schools affect how they are judged in the media, in courts, and within government, e.g., with hostility or sympathy; as elitist or inclusive; as extractive/profiteering or as contributors to the educational effort; as lawbreakers (due to their inability to comply with all the stipulated infrastructure norms); or as budget schools that give poor people access to learning. The paper presents data that permits evidence-based judgments to be made about private schools, and it showcases how education policies can be flawed when made without seeking the evidence.
KeywordsGovernment schools Migration to private schools Benchmarking of fee levels Learning outcomes Value of money from schools
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