The details are yet to be worked out but it seems three models are being considered:
- Fully-managed private schools.
- A joint venture where the state invests in infrastructure and frames the syllabus. The industry takes care of providing tuition to students and managing the welfare of teachers.
- Limited role for the industry under which it will provide and maintain school infrastructure.
Why private sector?: Government lacks resources to set up schools with adequate facilities. Government cannot run these schools well- witness, the high rates of teacher absenteeism and dropouts amongst students and also the low level of skills that many students display. The private sector can do a better job of running such schools.
There is a certain smugness about such arguments as though the problem and the solutions are self-evident. Public sector is bad, so let in the private sector. It is possible to disagree.
First, there could be other answers to teacher absenteeism, such as empowering parents or the local community. Secondly, high student dropout rates may have to do with socio-economic compulsions which won't go away even if the private sector steps in. (How many successful private schools exist in the remote rural areas, I would like to know).
Thirdly, the problem could the insistence of state governments on providing education in the local tongue when the clamour all round is for education in English. Parents and students don't see value in local language education provided by state schools. The preference for private schools in metros amongst the lower strata of scoeity could be just a preference for English education.
What value would the private sector add?: Krishna Kumar of NCERT has a critique of the PPP model in education in EPW (January 19-25, 2008). He says that if funding or facilities are the problem, the private sector could step in with financial support. Why can't telecom companies provide rural schools with free telephone facilities, for instance? The private sector could help not just with physical infrastructure but with 'software' such as teacher training on a big scale, given that there is hug gap in this area today.
But, no, these are not things that interest the private sector. Krishna Kumar also makes the point that PPP is something of a misnomer for what its advocates have in mind. They are not thinking of collaboration with government as the word 'partnership' suggests- meaning, the government provides the infrastructure and the private sector manages the school, so that government schools become more efficient.
What is meant by PPP more often than not is simply allowing the private sector into schools in a bigger way with generous government support. If this is intended, why make a big deal about it? We have had government-aided schools for decades now, so the idea itself is not novel. Calling it PPP is simply a way to give it greater acceptability.
The key issue in PPP is whether the private sector is willing to go with the second model mentioned above- the government provides the infrastructure and the private sector runs the school well. Also key is whether the private sector is willing to run it without wanting to make profit. Several snall-scale NGOs may be willing to do so but not necessarily corporate NGOs.
Arguments about private sector 'quality' can be easily overdone- as I keep asking all the time, how come, despite all the opportunities given to them, the private sector has not been able to produce quality in higher education comparable to what the IITs and IIMs have done? I would like to hear from readers about a quality schools run by the private sector in remote rural areas and that also offers education in the regional language.
State's role in education: Krishna Kumar points out that nowhere in the world has the state abdicated its responsibility for primary education. It should not happen that PPP here just becomes a euphemism for the state not living up to its duty to provide basic education to all. If there is any conclusion to be drawn from the proliferation of private institutions in higher education, it is that the profit orientation in the private sector tends to lead to escalating fees and under-hand payments that, in turn, lead to the exclusion of the economically disadvantaged.
We have a huge youth population that needs education. Any model of education that is non-inclusive can result in a social explosion.