There is a huge learning deficit in private schools, contrary to the perception that these schools, catering to around 120 million children, offer the best education in India.
Basic learning levels are low in private schools in rural India with 60% class V students failing to solve a simple division, and 35% not being able to read a Class II-level paragraph, said a status report released jointly by education-focused Central Square Foundation (CSF), and impact investment firm Omidyar Network.
“Consequently, learning in later years suffer…the average score for grade 10 students in private schools was below 50% in four out of five subjects,” it said.
According to the report, the learning crisis is the worst among the poorest children. Still, only 56% of eight- to-11-year-olds belonging to the 20% richest households in rural areas can read a basic grade two-level paragraph. “We need to bring reforms using access, equity and quality as guiding factors. More importantly, we need to shift the focus from monitoring of inputs to monitoring outcomes,” Niti Aayog chief executive Amitabh Kant said while releasing the report.
The primary barrier to improving learning outcomes is that most parents were unable to judge the progress of their children, or the quality of the schools, despite caring about the quality of learning. “This is particularly true in early grades, and about 60% of all private schools do not extend to a board exam grade at all, making it particularly hard for parents to judge the quality of schools.”
The study collated data from various central ministries, including the ministry of statistics and the ministry of human resource development, besides the Annual Status of Education Report for rural India.
The second barrier is the existing regulatory structure, which focusses more on input standards, such as land, infrastructure and salaries while paying less attention to outcomes. “Today, despite parents’ perception of quality, learning outcomes in private schools are not where they should be. They do better than the government system, but 35% of grade 5 students in private schools still cannot read a basic paragraph. After accounting for the advantages of a child’s home environment, the private school learning advantage over government schools reduces further,” CSF founder Ashish Dhawan said.
Rupa Kudva, managing director, Omidyar Network, said while 50% students attend private schools, around 70% pay monthly fees of less than ₹1,000. “Fuelling this dramatic growth of India’s private school sector are the aspirations of millions of middle- and low-income families. However, learning outcomes in private schools are not materially different from those in government schools.”
It said to improve private schools, there is a need to create a universal learning indicator to help parents compare learning performances across schools and make informed decisions.
It also suggested a “pragmatic accreditation framework that factors in constraints of low fee schools”, the creation of “an independent regulatory agency for the private school sector” and timely fee reimbursements by governments for the 25% reservations mandated in the Right to Education Act.
The report also advised a review of the “non-profit mandate for the education sector and existing fee regulations to attract investment”.