An important feature of the very high rate of growth of higher education in India, particularly since the beginning of the 1990s, is an alarming growth of the private higher education sector. The size of the private education sector is about twice that of the public sector in terms of the number of institutions and student enrolments.
The growth of student enrolment in private education in India has been more than the growth in government education or government aided education. According to a study, between 2010-11 and 2015-16, student enrolment in government schools across 20 Indian states fell by 13 million while private schools got 17.5 million new students.
Another research paper is relevant in this context. Geeta Kingdon Gandhi, Professor, Education and International Development at the Institute of Education, London, in her paper published in March 2017 pointed out that the average enrolment in government schools declined from 122 to 108 students per school over five years, while it rose from 202 to 208 in private schools. It is reported that according to the District Information System for Education (DISE) and from ministry data, almost 65% of all school-going children in 20 Indian states (roughly around 113 million) continue to get their education from government schools.
It is also reported that less than one in five elementary school teachers in India are trained. Employment of contractual teachers in schools is rising and that hampers the teaching atmosphere in schools. According a report, in Delhi, half of all government-school teachers are hired on temporary contracts. These teachers are likely to be less motivated and accountable than teachers with full-time jobs.
Will private schools provide better learning environment?
It is also reported that at the primary level, 58.7% of Indians cite “better environment for learning” as a major factor for opting for private schools. The preference for private school education and its effectiveness differs between states. For instance, in 2015-16, in Uttar Pradesh, over 50% of children studied in private schools, while in Bihar, it is less than 4%. In 2016, in Kerala, the proportion of children (aged 11-14) enrolled in government schools increased from 40.6% in 2014 to 49.9%. In Gujarat too, it increased, from 79.2% in 2014 to 86%, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016 data. In Punjab, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, government schools outperformed private schools in reading skills in local languages, according to a state-wise analysis in ASER 2014. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, where government schools were better than private schools to start with, learning outcomes improved between 2011 and 2014, once other factors were accounted for.
In a study by Priyanka Pandey and Sangeeta Goyal (The Economic and Political Weekly/EPW, June 2, 2012) it was found that although private schools had higher raw mean scores than government schools, the private school’s advantage in test scores were not robust. The source of the advantages of private school advantage lay in the types of students choosing these schools, lower pupil teacher ratios and much lower teacher salaries. Private schools had seven to eight times lower teacher salaries ratios. In spite of that, it did not differ systematically in infrastructure and teacher effort from government schools. Given the large salary differential, private schools were more cost effective although quality of education was low in both types of schools.
Private sector in higher education
In Europe and the US there have been a lot of private universities and institutions which are world class and leading in their own fields. Most of them are born of the best wishes of civil societies where wealthy persons had valuable and considerable contributions. But the character of Indian private universities and other higher education institutes are not similar. In many cases, the entrepreneurial activity of these institutes comes from those who have nothing to do with education.
An important feature of private education in India is an alarming rate of growth in private higher education. This is experienced more in India, particularly since the beginning of the 1990s. It is known that the size of the private education sector is about twice that of the public sector in terms of number of institutions and student enrolments. But a study by Jandhyala B.G. Tilak (EPW, October 4, 2014) points out that the high growth of private higher education centres had several consequences, some of which are already being felt. Apart from refuting several claimed advantages of private higher education, he drew attention to the dangers involved in a high degree of dependence on the private sector for the development of higher education in a country like India. At the same time, some of the new private universities are known to be doing well in India.
It is reported that the quality of education of a large number of private professional, medical and engineering colleges is so low that only a small section of their pass outs are actually employable. As a result, a lot of these institutes had to close down after a few years.
The necessity of having a private education system along with a government managed education system is the need of the hour. This has been experienced around the world. But the main focus should be on the quality of education. This in turn will improve the productivity of the economy and improve other areas of life.