NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Private Schools For The Poor in India

August 18, 2000

Government schools in India are failing its poorest students. In recent unannounced inspections of state schools in poor urban and rural areas:

  • Only half of the teachers were doing their jobs, that is, teaching.
  • The school's headmaster was present at only 40 percent of the schools.
  • And when the teachers were in the classroom, many would extort money from the students for the "favor" of teaching.

While only half of the population has access to free secondary schools, even those who do have access choose one of the new private schools that are popping up instead. In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh alone there are an estimated 5,000 private primary and secondary schools, 40 percent of which are legally unrecognized by the government.

Parents forgo the free government education, free lunches and free uniforms to pay a fee of 40-80 rupees per month ($10 to $20 per year), which is significant by Indian standards, to send their children to private schools. The private schools teach in English, which parents think will better prepare their children for national and international opportunities than state schools taught in the vernacular.

These schools are hampered by government regulations, and many are unrecognized by the government. For example,

  • To be recognized a school must deposit 50,000 rupees into a government account, an impossibility for most small schools.
  • Teachers must be qualified in the local vernacular, and there are no state-offered qualifications for English language teachers.
  • Only state-recognized schools can register with the government examination boards, and only such examinations are recognized by colleges universities and government.

However, the private schools have proved to be ingenious. Students at unrecognized schools sit for their exams at another friendly recognized school as private candidates.

Source: James Tooley, "Private Schools for the Poor in India," Economic Affairs, June 2000, Institute of Economic Affairs.


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