Our Private Schools

Private schools are not something apart from our own society; they are part of us

MEHMOOD UR RASHID
Srinagar, Publish Date: Nov 18 2017 11:29PM | Updated Date: Nov 18 2017 11:29PM
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Private schools often adorn news headlines. Most of the times for wrong reasons. They loot, they fleece, they trouble parents, they burden kids, they dictate even to the government; they are empires unto themselves. This discussion turns shrill when the season of admissions arrives. This season of admissions is now over, and with that the discussion on private schools is expected to take a long break, though intermittently it raises its head. 

As a parent I too have felt, like all others, that private schools have a lot to work on. But most of the times the discussion is one-sided. Some odd schools, some odd practices, and some odd occasions do merit serious criticism, and severe oppositions, but it cannot be generalised.  Some private schools loot, not all. Some practices are inexcusable, not the entire private schooling. Some instances call for severe disapproval, but it cannot be stretched to a permanent grudge against private schooling. For example, the practice of making the admission fee non-refundable, non-transferable. This is sheer theft. 

Let's expand on this and try to widen the discussion. The top notch schools, and some that have good number of applicants every year but are very mediocre in reality, publicise the list of admitted kids and set deadlines for completing the formalities. That is OK. But they ask to deposit all the admission fee, and other charges, by that deadline line.  It means if you have a preference for some other school, and its admission results are still awaited, you have two options. Either take the risk of losing the deposited fee in the first school, or take the risk of losing admission in both the schools. If you deposit the fee in the first school, and later your kid is in the admission list of your preferred school, your admission fee is down the drain. And this is no small an amount. It is almost a lac in most of the cases.  

A simple question that one can ask all the private school managements. Why can't there be a uniform deadline for completing the formalities, and depositing the fee. In any case all the school get their numbers. So what is the point of making it difficult for parents. For the concerned departments in the government, one can only take pity. A simple order by the concerned can put a stop to this practice. Is it a total negligence on their part, or it smacks of a scandal!  The responsibility for this is shared by both.  

 Here people genuinely need to mount pressure on the government, and also the management of the private schools. But it should be against the schools that do it, and not private schools per se. That way it becomes a diffused act losing impact. Some activists can take the legal route, and file some litigation in public interest. The concerned government officials can also be shamed publicly by not acting against such a brazen way of robbing people of their money. 

Beyond this an informed debate on private schooling should take off. Private schools are not something apart from our own society. They are part of us. Some people among us set up these institutions. They are as honest, as efficient, as hard working, as intelligent as our society generally is. So expecting an institution far superior in terms of quality and efficiency than a society that is ours, would be barking a wrong tree.

This debate on private schooling is crucial to us for the simple fact that our societal preferences are processed through these schools. None of us escapes this process. The condition of government schools is known to us. In most of the cases it is the poverty in our society that  makes them run. If a fair assessment is done, government schools suck in more resource than private schools, and the out put is meagre in comparison. That way we must be thankful to the education providers in the private sector. In this situation even if someone does it for the sole purpose of earning profit, all we can ask him is to be honest in his dealings. We need better schools. In absence of such schools our well to do section of the society will move out, and the left out will compulsively compromise on the quality of education. The point here is not to discredit private schools by levelling a generalised, and unqualified criticism. We must point out the rot, and help them in becoming efficient, and honest. 

The most important area in this entire debate is to make these schools Teacher-Centric and not Management-Centric, least of all the Investor-Centric. Right now, teachers in the private schools are the most marginalised component. They have no job securities, and their salaries are less than peanuts. Unless that changes, nothing can help our private schools from not being exploitative.