Free education in government schools: Does it really matter

Representational Photo

Over the years a debate is going on that why parents prefer private schools over government schools. Some believe that government schools lag behind in terms of infrastructure and some are of the opinion that infrastructure is not the only criteria to get the education.

These people link their argument with the functioning of government schools in early 70s and 80s when government schools used to be abuzz with students and also were the first preference for the parents to enroll their kids.

While the debate still goes on over the negatives and positives in government schools, the private education sector has taken a lead in terms of raising good infrastructure in schools besides increasing enrollment of students. The government sector is still clueless on whether good infrastructure matters or not.

The only thing the government sector has to sell is the slogan of “free education for all”. The slogan gained momentum after the Government of India implemented the RTE Act in J&K from last year. Under the Act, the student in a government school is entitled for free education. From text books to uniforms and from MDM to stationery, everything is given free to students in government schools.

But it is again a serious question, whether the government has been able to do it in a positive way or not. Was the slogan well received by the parents, nobody knows. From the teachers’ point of view, the slogan has its own demerits as well.

The government sells this slogan of “free education” to parents amid the complaints against private schools of fleecing parents by charging a whopping amount of tuition fee and other charges for the facilities provided in the schools. But it is also a matter of the fact that the private schools also provide a genuine concession to the children from weaker sections enrolled in these institutions.

The way the slogan of free education is given hype by the government, it apparently seems that the education in government schools is meant for poor students. Basically, education should not be free for all. It should not be free for those who can pay for it. It should be free for those who cannot.

I remember, some two years ago I sought suggestions from a parent about enroling kids in a private school. His priority was not the education, but the exposure available in the school. The parent was himself a government school teacher but was making a choice among the best private schools in Baramulla. He even did not talk about enrolling his kid in a government school because his priority was the exposure and the facilities. He was of the opinion that academics can be taken care of at home but a school must provide something beyond academics.

Even the teachers at times, depict the students of government schools as children of lesser God. Why should a student in a government school be treated as inferior to the ones studying in a private school?

Why should the government portray such a negative picture of students of government schools? Rather the government should compete with private schools in terms of infrastructure and other facilities which children enjoy in private educational institutes.

Even the teachers are not satisfied that the government is moving to sell the slogan of free education to increase the enrolment of students. The teachers believe that the education in government schools should not be free at all as it loses its value, and parents do not participate wholeheartedly in it. Rather a parent whose kid is enrolled in a private school gets completely involved in the education of his kid.

I believe that the paid education ensures that a better quality education is imparted as compared to the free education in government schools. The way the government is handling the affairs, it seems that the free education only provides the poor children a chance to get the education and get in the competition. It gives an impression that only poor are meant to be enrolled in government schools.

The school education department in December last started a comprehensive village level survey to identify the out of school children and also offer admission to other students in different classes.

Though the enrollment drive yielded positive results with fresh admissions of over one lakh students across the Valley, much needs to be done to make the government education sector a first preference. For me, it is not an achievement that a school will approach the student but rather a student should move towards the government school. Imagine the situation when parents are seen waiting in long queues outside the private schools during predawn hours to get admission for their kid in private school. While on the other hand, authorities go door to door to convince parents to enroll kids in the government schools. And at the end of the day, the government has nothing to sell anything other than the slogan of free education.

It is also a fact that over the years the government education sector has failed to develop good infrastructure in schools due to which it has become the least preference for the parents.

Mere concrete walls cannot have all the features like that of a school; a school should look like an educational institution. No doubt the education department has constructed hundreds and thousands of school buildings under various centrally sponsored schemes, but in majority of the cases it has been done haphazardly which has resulted only in wastage of resources.

At various places, I have come across government primary or middle schools located at prime locations which could have been established as centre of excellence as well as attraction for the children, but unfortunately the a bland horizontal construction of school buildings makes it all dull and unattractive. The land which could have been utilized as play fields have been consumed under flawed constructions.

At this juncture it is not possible for the government to undo the wrong that has been done in the past. But let there be a positive campaign from the government to make government schools the first choice for the children. It is right time for the government to focus on infrastructure upgradation. Why sell only free education, why not the other facilities the schools offer. The policies in government sector should not revolve around free education, but standards should be improved. That is where the key to success lies.