Public-private partnerships (PPP) are collaborations between public and private sector entities with a focus on system efficiency, innovation and accountability. In education, they bring together the scale of the government system with the innovation of the private sector to improve the quality of the system as a whole. This is a cooperative venture between the two sectors. It is built on the expertise of each partner to meet clearly defined public needs.
Today, basic education in India faces the twin challenges of enrolment in schools and learning outcomes. Education is a fundamental sector, but governments have limited resources for it. This has resulted in greater involvement of the private sector and business corporations in the financing and management of services in education.
Government brings advantages like large geographic access, regulatory power and a wide pool of resources. The private entity brings technical expertise, efficient operational style and a result-oriented methodology. The PPP is a model in education that has gained popularity in the country over the past few years. The model has benefitted the state and, more importantly, children.
The 12th five-year plan period coincided with the period of implementation of the Right to Education Act. The 86th Amendment made free education a fundamental right of children aged 6-14. The RTE Act 2009 represented the 'last piece of the puzzle' that was missing in Indian education policy. India currently has 8.1 million children who are still out of school despite the various initiatives undertaken by the government.
Educational outcomes in India are dismally low. The 2017 ASER results show that nationally, 53% of students enrolled in Class 5 are unable to read a Class 2 text. In numeracy, 74% of students enrolled in Class 5 could not complete a Class 3 division problem.
The Indian education sector is at the cusp of historic reforms. To fund the introduction of 21st century learning techniques and skill the Indian youth to be market-ready there is a need for huge investments in the education space.
The use of technology in modern teaching calls for robust training centres for teachers. Teachers play an important role in helping students balance their academic and non-academic performance. A mass training programme for teachers across the country should be an important agenda of PPP in education. The modern teacher needs to be armed with behavioural skills, technology skills and subject matter skills, too.
Public-private partnership has become the new development strategy, particularly over the last couple of years. It is more forcefully advocated when public resources are inadequate to meet the needs.
The Indian government school system is seeing declining enrolment due to the low quality of education. PPPs can serve to increase access, provide choice to under-served communities and improve quality of education. Due to RTE, India's education system reaches close to universal access at the elementary school level, the focus now should turn to improving quality. Basic primary education is generally perceived as the public sector's responsibility.
Absence of clearly defined government policies for public-private partnership is a major challenge faced by the private partners. For a successful public-private partnership, the government should develop clear policies and guidelines to encourage private sector involvement in education.
It is estimated that the government will have to reimburse Rs 10,500 crore annually. It is a massive transfer of resources from the exchequer to private schools. The schools have freedom in all aspects of governance, including specifically the fees to be charged from the paying category students.
The model thus allows the so-called non-profit institutions to work for and actually make profits and the students from the deprived sections be admitted and be charged a certain fee.
School vouchers, an idea first suggested by the economist Milton Friedman, has shown promise in the US as well as in Sweden, Ireland and countries in Latin America. The idea of a school voucher is to fund the student, not the school. This gives poor families options when it comes to their child's education.
Schooling becomes not about ideological battles but about quality and effectiveness. Private operators should have autonomy to introduce innovation. Government should reimburse private operators the full cost per child in a timely manner to ensure financial viability. There should be full transparency in the selection process of operators. The government should ensure high accountability standards with well-defined evaluation and assessment methods. It should also notify intervention policies and termination procedures for non-performing operators.
PPP could concentrate in the following portfolios: creating an enabling and sustainable innovation model; enhancing the quality of education; improving the study environment; the service delivered - Management Services; the type of service given - Whole School Management; product development; support services, including staffing and faculty; coordination and services delivery; teacher training and retraining; performance indicators.
Some of the types of PPP are: turnkey operation - the government provides financing, the private partner designs, constructs and operates facility for a specified time period, while the public partner retains ownership of facility; lease-purchase - the private partner leases a facility to the government for a specified time period, after which ownership is vested with government; lease or own-develop-operate - the private partner leases or buys a facility from the government and develops and operates the facility under contract to the government for a specified time period.
Have PPPs been successful in the basic education sector? They hold promise! PPPs can be an important part of the overall strategy to achieve quality at scale, but not a panacea.
(The writer is former Vice Chancellor, Bangalore University, and former Director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiology, Bengaluru)