Equity and Access to Quality  Education for All Our Children

Setting the big picture in place

Delhi has a population of 13.78 million. The total number of literate people above 6 years of age is 9.7 million. In 2001, the literacy rate for Delhi was 81.82% and the male female rates were 87.4% and 75% respectively. Delhi being the capital city of India needs to set the benchmark for the rest of the country by making quality school education accessible to all our children to achieve 100% literacy.

It is with this aim in mind that Delhi govt. has launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and is also trying to create equitable standards of learning for all children by asking all private schools to reserve 20% of their seats for economically marginalized section. And it is with the same aim that the central govt. is introducing the bill on the Right to Education. Providing quality education for all children between the 6 years to 14 years is therefore an important agenda for both the State and Central Governments.

At the very outset, we would like to re-affirm our concern as citizens of Delhi to address the educational needs of all children in our city. We all understand that it is our city, our children and therefore our responsibility and commitment to provide quality education to all our children. When we say 'Our' we mean it is the responsibility of both the Government sector and the private sector to ensure that the educational needs of children in Delhi are addressed.

Presently, there are about 2335 government schools in Delhi , providing education opportunities to 10,89,500 children. In the private sector there are 1988 schools which provide education to approximately 9,00,000 children. These figures tell us that any effort to improve the quality of learning for the children of Delhi will be incomplete if the effort targets only the private schools which cater to less than 50% of the school going children of the city.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and quality education for all children can only become a reality if all schools - both government and private together participate in this push to take not only the SSA forward but also to improve standards in all schools. Currently, the spotlight is on Private schools but the Government schools also should be involved in our effort to provide quality education to all the children of Delhi . For this both the Government schools and Private schools have to work in partnership with each other to plan delivery, monitor delivery and act to improve opportunities for all children. Therefore keeping the big picture in mind, there should not be an 'us versus them' situation which has been currently created by the Delhi Government by focusing only on private schools to bear the responsibility of providing quality education to the children of Delhi . Unless all schools of Delhi , both Government and Private, are required to reach the same minimum standards of quality, we cannot take the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan forward.

Currently, there seems to be lack of clarity about the direction that we as a city want to take about education. There are so many things pending in court. Some of these cases are contradicting the other cases. The order by the Department of Education to reserve seats for children from the underprivileged section of society is being currently challenged in court by the private schools. The reservation of 25% seats would cause a huge financial strain on the schools budget and there is no option but to meet these expenses from the fee of the remaining 75% children. But there is a directive by the DE about a ceiling on the fee hike allowed on the basis of the Duggal Committee report. The schools are left with no means to meet this extra financial requirement. The other issue at hand is the admission policy into schools by draw of lots. We feel that all schools, government and private should have a transparent admission policy and definitely not by draw of lots.

Another jolt for the schools is the new property tax system – the unit area method of calculating property tax. Unlike other institutions and hospitals, schools are not getting benefited under the public utility category and are required to pay higher taxes. The concessions/rebate to recognized unaided schools has also been withdrawn and the benefit to societies as charitable institutions is no longer available due to the amendment in Municipal laws. Private schools should be treated at par with government schools and hence exempted from property tax. If schools are not considered to be a public utility then how can you force your directives on us? The other point that we would like to make is that all schools, government and private, should have the same slab for property tax. It is further contended that the charge for water and electricity for schools should be on a residential basis and not on a commercial basis as it is now.

The private schools are at the receiving end of diktats from the Department of Education which is asking us to reserve free seats for marginalized children, from the MCD for higher taxes and from concerned parent bodies which are preventing us from increasing fees to circumvent the earlier problem. The parents of private schools also feel victimized because, along with having to pay high income taxes, an additional 2% educational cess has also to be paid for their own children plus they also have to pay for children who will be given free education under the 20% reservation . This multiple taxation is adding to the parents' woes.

The per child per month expenditure by government schools is Rs.1400 and the average per child per month expenditure of private schools is Rs. 1100. While there are so many regulations controlling the private schools in Delhi , there seems to be no control measures to ensure that Govt. schools despite higher per child per month expenditure, are functioning the way they should be both in terms of quality and numbers that it provides education to. Eighty percent of the class 5 pass outs from MCD schools do not know how to read and write their names. Only 14% of the students who enter a govt. school in class I make it to the class 10 and just 4% manage to pass class 10. In Delhi, no detention policy is operative at the Primary state. An automatic policy of promoting the children to the next class on the basis of satisfactory attendance is followed. Despite this the dropout rate for Delhi continues to be high.

Presently the DSER is the framework of regulation for schools but it does not apply to government schools at all. It attempts to regulate aided and unaided schools. Regulating and ensuring quality for the millions of our children in government schools does not apply. Without this regulatory framework addressing the needs of children in government schools we cannot expect improvements. Once the Govt. schools start functioning the way they are supposed to , it will result in a rejuvenation of the Government schools in such a way that the need for private schools will fail to exist.

This will successfully lay down common standards of performance. All sectors need to be accountable to the people they serve. We need to create a partnership between the Govt. sector and the Private sector to formulate policy, to plan provisions and to regulate delivery and quality.

- Zonally look at the distribution of private and govt. provision
- Re-structuring the management committees of government schools to include representation from private schools, parent and teacher representatives in all matters is another step forward in this direction. This "ownership" of education has proved to be very successful across the world.
- Private school infrastructure and resources to be opened up to NGO's and non formal/formal education initiatives during and after school hours.
- Those govt. schools that are giving poor or average performance – explore the management by private institutions as not for profit ventures.
- Large private schools be encouraged to support one or more govt. schools in the area, become nodal centres for teacher training; creation of education resources.
- Look at infrastructure in private/govt. schools to run skill based education and training programmes which are a public private partnership on the lines of Dr. Reddy's "LABS" experiment which has been so successful.
- If the govt. actually believes in the equitable distribution of education then it should remove the hierarchy that exists in its own system, such as the Pratibha Vikas Vidyalayas.
- The creation of an autonomous regulatory body is also required to oversee the running of all schools. The purpose of this body would be to improve the quality of education and make it relevant to the needs of industry, economy and society. The same autonomous body could create a model public private partnership, a twining programme of some kind.

It is the fundamental responsibility of the Govt. to provide education to all children. Unfortunately it appears as if the govt. is trying to circumvent this responsibility and push it on to just a few private schools by way of reservations and restrictions. The need to provide quality and equitable education to all children is a mammoth task and focusing on just private schools is taking a very myopic view of the bigger issue at hand. It is important for the Govt. to look at this issue in totality make this dream of providing equitable and quality education to all children of Delhi come true.

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