Working Paper: Low-Fee Private Schools in India

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Working Paper: Low-Fee Private Schools in India

Across the developing world over the past two decades, low-fee private schools have opened their doors and generated controversy. Advocates argue that these schools fill a void created by state failure; deliver better education by making operators dependent on parental satisfaction; and catalyze government-run schools to improve through competition. Opponents contend such schools typically cannot accommodate children with learning disabilities; charge more than many poor families can afford, even though fees may seem nominal; and lack the accountability necessary to curb venal conduct. In “Low-Fee Private Schools in India: The Emerging Fault Lines,” Tamo Chattopadhay and Maya Roy illuminate this controversy by focusing on central challenges. 

By Tamo Chattopadhay and Maya Roy
Working Paper No. 233
National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education

Across the developing world over the past two decades, low-fee private schools have opened their doors and generated controversy. Advocates argue that these schools fill a void created by state failure; deliver better education by making operators dependent on parental satisfaction; and catalyze government-run schools to improve through competition. Opponents contend such schools typically cannot accommodate children with learning disabilities; charge more than many poor families can afford, even though fees may seem nominal; and lack the accountability necessary to curb venal conduct.

In “Low-Fee Private Schools in India: The Emerging Fault Lines,” Tamo Chattopadhay and Maya Roy illuminate this controversy by complementing broad examinations of this topic--such as Francine Menashy’s analysis of the World Bank’s role in this sector, published by the NCSPE in 2015--with a tight focus on one country. In concentrating on India, Chattopadhay and Roy distinguish aided private schools, for which the government hires teachers and pays their salaries, from unaided private schools, which subdivide into high- and low-fee institutions.  According to government reports, unaided private schools in total account for 28 percent of student enrollment in grades one through eight, the authors write, while aided private schools account for 6 percent. However, the authors assert, the portion of students attending unaided private schools may be substantially higher, as a large proportion of low-fee private schools are not registered with government authorities.

To Chattopadhay and Roy, the challenges before low-fee private schools in India are threefold:  because of higher standards for school infrastructure, services, and teacher capacity mandated by the country’s Right to Education Act of 2009, low-fee private schools are hard pressed to meet government metrics and keep tuition affordable; in keeping with private school tradition, low-fee private schools hold instruction in English, though the command of the language by many teachers is weak; and while India bars for-profit operation of schools, teachers across the country boost their income by getting parents to enroll their children in after-school tutoring, a practice, the authors posit, that is more widespread at low-fee private schools than elsewhere because of the lower pay of teachers at these schools.

With excellent historical context, careful attention to government reports, and evidence from classroom visits in Kolkata and interviews with teachers in West Bengal, Chattopadhay and Roy provide a concise, textured case study of an issue central to debate about educational governance in the developing world.

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Published Tuesday, May. 16, 2017

Working Paper: Low-Fee Private Schools in India

By Tamo Chattopadhay and Maya Roy
Working Paper No. 233
National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education

Across the developing world over the past two decades, low-fee private schools have opened their doors and generated controversy. Advocates argue that these schools fill a void created by state failure; deliver better education by making operators dependent on parental satisfaction; and catalyze government-run schools to improve through competition. Opponents contend such schools typically cannot accommodate children with learning disabilities; charge more than many poor families can afford, even though fees may seem nominal; and lack the accountability necessary to curb venal conduct.

In “Low-Fee Private Schools in India: The Emerging Fault Lines,” Tamo Chattopadhay and Maya Roy illuminate this controversy by complementing broad examinations of this topic--such as Francine Menashy’s analysis of the World Bank’s role in this sector, published by the NCSPE in 2015--with a tight focus on one country. In concentrating on India, Chattopadhay and Roy distinguish aided private schools, for which the government hires teachers and pays their salaries, from unaided private schools, which subdivide into high- and low-fee institutions.  According to government reports, unaided private schools in total account for 28 percent of student enrollment in grades one through eight, the authors write, while aided private schools account for 6 percent. However, the authors assert, the portion of students attending unaided private schools may be substantially higher, as a large proportion of low-fee private schools are not registered with government authorities.

To Chattopadhay and Roy, the challenges before low-fee private schools in India are threefold:  because of higher standards for school infrastructure, services, and teacher capacity mandated by the country’s Right to Education Act of 2009, low-fee private schools are hard pressed to meet government metrics and keep tuition affordable; in keeping with private school tradition, low-fee private schools hold instruction in English, though the command of the language by many teachers is weak; and while India bars for-profit operation of schools, teachers across the country boost their income by getting parents to enroll their children in after-school tutoring, a practice, the authors posit, that is more widespread at low-fee private schools than elsewhere because of the lower pay of teachers at these schools.

With excellent historical context, careful attention to government reports, and evidence from classroom visits in Kolkata and interviews with teachers in West Bengal, Chattopadhay and Roy provide a concise, textured case study of an issue central to debate about educational governance in the developing world.

View paper 

 

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