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Dear HRD Ministry, Stop Strangling Entrepreneurship In Education

Regressive policies will put an end to innovation.

17/04/2017 4:14 PM IST | Updated 24/04/2017 9:27 AM IST
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Education has seen a major shift in the last 15 years. Generally back then, parents sent their children to aided schools, where the fees were minimal and girls received free education. The teacher-child ratio was 1:50 (or even more) and the curriculum was developed by government-appointed universities, but rarely if ever updated. With so many children in each class, schools could only follow a rote method of learning where the child did not necessarily understand the concept taught but was able to regurgitate it orally and on paper.

Parents, meanwhile, begged for schools seats, and were willing to pay hefty "donations" under the table for the sake of their child's education. Most schools that came up then got land from the government at subsidised rates and these rates haven't been revised till date. Another aspect that needs to be highlighted is that many politicians run educational institutes. Since these educational trusts have charitable objectives, they receive numerous government concessions and benefits, financial grants and tax waivers. The biggest of these are large tracts of land at throwaway prices on practically indefinite leases.

The government needs to realise that creating archaic and unreasonable blanket rules to control independent schools will only hamper the smooth functioning of these institutes.

As aided schools were very few in number and the demand was ever-rising, a few enterprising edupreneurs (educationist entrepreneurs) like Pavan Podar, Pinky Dalal, Vicky Oberoi, Jesus Lall and I stepped in to reinvent the educational space. In our hearts we knew that education is not only about memorising information but rather a tool to define your success and hence we took the responsibility of bringing about a change. We introduced experiential learning for the holistic development of the child; we made sure that children got individual attention (which means our teacher child ratios are 1:12 in some schools to 1:30 in others). We focused on the creation of spaces and activities that were inclusive and open across the range of a child's capability.

We generated learning capsules that concentrate on education pedagogy, psychology, curriculum expertise, assessment and evaluation based on neuroscience. Education leadership is a process that requires great quality resources such as curriculum experts, teaching faculty, infrastructure and facilities. All of this comes at a huge financial investment.

Today, there is no longer a lack of schools thanks to entrepreneurs like us. Now parents have a choice of schools with different price points, infrastructure, pedagogy and philosophy. However, parents and the government are missing the forest for the trees! They are choking schools with continuous interference. On one hand you want to dictate to us reservation of seats and provision of books etc that we have to find funding to pay for. You want to enforce teacher pay commissions and you want to control our fees! Without taking into consideration that we pay commercial bank interest rates, commercial rentals for the schools we operate in, commercial electricity etc etc!

There are loads of examples that I can quote—recently, the "Gujarat Self-Financed Schools Bill 2017" was announced. According to this bill the fees for primary, secondary and higher secondary education would be ₹15,000, ₹25000 and ₹27000 per annum respectively. These rates won't even cover my rental cost in Vadodara!

What choice will we have other than to go back on our framework and place 50+ students in a class?

A private school wanting to charge a higher fee would need to submit a report to the committee justifying the reason—this will just increase the scope of corruption. With the kind of facilities a private school provides this kind of fee structure will not even cover one-fourth the cost of running the school. What choice will we have other than to go back on our framework and place 50+ students in a class?

Other possible effects:

  1. Schools will become stagnant and will have no motivation to improve, resulting in drop of school standards across the board.
  2. Schools will incur losses and will not look at expanding. They might consider shutting down their schools due to lack of good income.
  3. As a result, in the next four to five years we will go back 15 years ago where there will be no seats available and parents will be desperate and will also have to pay "under the table" donations.
  4. The government has no back-up plan for when entrepreneurs stop growing schools.
  5. Children in the state of Gujarat will not have access to quality education even though parents can afford it.
  6. Schools will hire low-quality teachers and will also reduce most extra co-curricular activities. Thereby depriving children of all round-development.

Another example is the Right to Education Act of 2009. It requires all private schools (except the minority institutions) to reserve 25% of seats for the poor and other categories of children (to be reimbursed by the state as part of the public-private partnership plan).

How is a private school to bear the complete cost of the education of these children?

We value the goal of the government to ensure that all the children of our country have a right to education; however the implementation at the cost of social adjustments for the children has not been taken into account.

The government needs to realise that creating archaic and unreasonable blanket rules to control independent schools will only hamper the smooth functioning of these institutes.

Only by encouraging investments and entrepreneurship in education does this country have a hope of increasing schools that focus on creativity and innovation.

Wake up media. Wake up parents. Wake up government.

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