Death knell for good schools?

A good government is one that governs the least. Two recent developments in Karnataka negate this spirit of good governance. These may have taken place in other states also.

One is the reported move of the government to enforce tuition fees that can be charged by unaided schools in the state. A committee consisting of mostly retired officials has come up with a proposal fixing the fees. The recommendations are made without a thorough study of the working of different types of schools – urban, rural, CBSE, ICSE, state syllabus etc. Many of the assumptions shown in the report are fictitious and unrealistic. Obviously, the proposals based on such false assumptions become arbitrary, unscientific and retrograde. That’s exactly what it is.

Secondly, the state education authorities are constantly putting pressure on the legislators and ministers to bring the CBSE and ICSE schools under the Karnataka State Education Act. Nobody believes that they have the noblest of motives in doing this. All what they want is ‘control’ over these schools.

Any service has to be cost effective, and this applies to education as well. This cardinal principle is once again flouted by this ill-conceived move to fix the school fees in private schools. Innocuous in its first appearance, this move has far-reaching consequences.

The CBSE and ICSE affiliated schools are self-financing schools. The basic concept with regard to these schools is that they have to maintain high standards of education, provide excellent facilities, appoint well-qualified teachers, and generally function as premier educational institutions. The Boards to which they are affiliated permit them to charge fees commensurate with their facilities and expenses. They also constantly monitor these guidelines. State governments do not have to involve in this matter at all, except to score some brownie points.

These schools are expected to pay their teachers as per Central or state government scales of pay, and provide for Provident Fund, Gratuity, ESI etc in addition to providing the required physical facilities, like sufficient buildings, and equipments. A modern school has to have lots of facilities to impart quality education. Now, the department is insisting on CCTVs in every classroom and all around the school, and GPS in school buses. How can all these demands co-exist with a shoe-string budget proposed by this committee?
The fees suggested, based on arbitrary salaries for the teachers cannot be applied in the case of CBSE and ICSE Schools. These schools pay much higher salaries than suggested by this committee. Can this committee get the CBSE’s and ICSE’s approval for the salaries they have proposed? 

Quality education is bound to be expensive. Nowhere in the world has standardisation of school fees succeeded. The reason is not far to seek. No government can impose a single standard rate for the hotels in the country. The same logic holds good for schools as well.
There are educational institutions of international standards among the CBSE and ICSE schools in our country, and in Karnataka too. Uniform fees and departmental control together will definitely sound their death knell. They will stagnate, shrink, and disintegrate in course of time.

Value for money
Good schools require enormous funds for their survival and development. These are fee-charging institutions and parents admit their children in these schools on their own volition. If the schools do not justify the fees they charge, parents will not care to admit them in such schools. Parents always will look for value for money.

Will the government convince the judiciary about the inadvisability of bringing in unnecessary state control over these institutions? Also explain how impractical and unreasonable it would be to prescribe fees without a reference to the finances of every single school. 

If the Act is amended and the President gives his assent, (which is unlikely because once earlier it was returned for the same reason), the state education authorities will be given a free hand to interfere in the affairs of these schools. The notorious ‘inspection raj’ will come back with a vengeance and visit these schools too. The dual control of the Central Boards and the state government will surely result in total paralysis. The inevitable result will be the demoralisation and gradual decay and disintegration of good progressive schools. Parents who want their children to study in such quality schools may have to scout for seats in other states and pay larger amounts.    

If the government is really earnest in the matter, it must appoint a committee of impartial eminent educationists to study the working of these schools and suggest measures to streamline their financial arrangements in a way acceptable to all concerned. Will the government address these issues with sincerity and vision? Those who make decisions would do well to remember that good schools are the only answer to our country’s problems. The government should encourage good schools, and not stifle them.  

(The writer is Principal, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar, Udupi district, Karnataka)

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