PARUL Mishra is 16, and rides her bicycle for 5 km every day to reach Gayatri Vidya Mandir, to attend Class 10 at her “new private school”. Until two years ago, Parul’s government school was just a short walk from home at Lala Pandey Purva village in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.
But no one’s complaining. Not Parul, or her younger brother Prince who has shifted to the private school, too. And least of all their parents Jagprasad Mishra, a marginal paddy farmer, and his wife Saroja Devi.
“Ab yeh angrezi mein acchi padhai karenge (Now they will study well in English),” says Jagprasad. “Parul wants to become a doctor and Prince wants to join the police. We don’t know whether that will happen or not but at least, we can give them a better education,” says Saroja.
Parul and Prince are among the couple’s five children. Jagprasad and Saroja “could not provide this education” to their two elder daughters who are married. But they now hope to shift their youngest daughter, who is studying Class 1 at the local government school, to a private school when she gets older.
Jagprasad and Saroja are not alone, if the statistics compiled by the HRD Ministry’s Unified District Information System for School Education (UDISE) is an indicator. They show that only Uttar Pradesh has recorded a spurt in the number of unaided higher secondary schools run by private managements over the last five years among states (see box) with significant school numbers — a minimum of 7,000.
Sandeep Pandey, social activist and former advisor to Central Advisory Board for Education (CABE), attributes this rise to the aspirations of parents in smaller towns and gaps in the government system.
“Parents across UP aspire to send their children to private schools. They are more aware today. I know a large number of daily-wage labourers in the Dubagga area on the outskirts of Lucknow, who send their children to private schools by saving money from their daily earnings to pay the fees,” says Pandey, a Magsaysay Award winner. “But along with the aspirations of parents, this is also the result of the gaps in the government system in ensuring quality and universal education for all,” he says.
At the ground level, this means that couples like Jagprasad and Saroja are determined to send their children to private schools, even if it means that they will have to scrape the bottom of the barrel every month.
“The government school offered free education, now we have to pay Rs 100 per month. Now we want to send them to another new private school that has opened 10 km away in Kumarganj. That school provides better education because the teachers come from Faizabad city, which is over 35 km away, to teach,” says Jagprasad. “But for that, we have to have pay Rs 900 per child. We are waiting for Parul to clear Class 12, then we will send the other two to that school,” he says.
Saroja says her husband had to “beg the teachers” at Gayatri Vidya Mandir to get Parul and Prince admitted. “They feared that they might not be able to cope up with other children but my husband convinced them by saying that he did not mind even if his children failed for one or two years. Bacchon ke liye sab kuch karat hain… Hamar sabse behtar jindagi pa jayein (We will do anything for them… We want a better life),” says Saroja, standing outside her thatched mud and brick home.
Sahil Singh, manager of Bloom Buds, a newly opened private school in Kumarganj, says they make an “extra effort” to ensure that they get “good teachers, well-versed in English” from Faizabad. “We have purchased an AC van, which brings the teachers from their homes in Faizabad every morning to our school. Finding good teachers, especially in the English language, is a problem in small places. The teachers agree only on the condition of special pick-and-drop facilities,” says Singh.
“Students come here from as far as 20 km away as it is the only school in the area that provides education in proper English. We also provide bus services like in any school in city areas but for an additional fee,” he says. Bloom Buds charges between Rs 900 and Rs 1,000 per month as fee. “But still, there is so much demand that we are in the process of establishing another branch a few kilometres away,” says Singh.
Teachers on hire
In UP, this “demand” has also led to the rise of a new trend: coaching centres that provide a “teachers’ pool” from which a teacher can be hired on an hourly basis. Says a teacher, who is part of such a “pool in Gorakhpur”, “A lot of private schools have come up but finding good teachers is a challenge. A few years ago, a trend started of creating a pool of teachers. The same set of expert teachers teach in more than one school and charge on an hourly, daily or fortnightly basis.”
According to this teacher, these services are not advertised because they are “not legal”. “Some schools contact coaching institutions for teachers who are experts in their subjects and can enhance the results of the school. Some teachers have formed their own pool through social media groups,” says the teacher.
What ails govt schools
But there are many who also warn against this “craze” for private schools. “It is the pomp and show of private schools and their promise of ensuring better marks by using all means, which attracts students. Not all private schools provide a better education, most do not even have qualified teachers. For instance, I am sure that no private school teacher can compete with the lecturer-grade teachers of this school,” says Dhirendra Tiwari, principal, Hindu Inter College, an aided school in Rudauli.
“But yes, there is a problem in government institutions of a miserable student-teacher ratio. For the 1,700 students enrolled in this school, there are just 14 teachers with posts in key subjects, such as English, Maths, Physics, etc., lying vacant. There are not enough teachers and on most days, I have to club two classes,” says Tiwari.
UP district education officials admit that government schools face a number of limitations, mainly a “perception” among parents that studying in private schools will get their children “good jobs”.
Says Dr Rajesh Kumar Arya, District Inspector of Schools, Faizabad, “A major reason for the growth in private schools is the increasing population of students, which the limited number of government and aided schools cannot cater to. Also, with the increase in standard of living and exposure of parents through TV and social media, there is a growing perception that only private schools can provide more practical knowledge to children, which will get them good jobs. For them, private schools mean better education, be it in English or other subjects, extracurricular activities, and more exposure, when compared to government or aided schools.”
According to Arya, teachers in government institutions are far more qualified than their counterparts in private schools. “But non-academic work and the pressure of the number of students in government schools lowers their efficiency,” he says.
In many ways, the tale of Faizabad is the story of UP in a nutshell, says Arya. “There are 74 government and aided schools in the district — and 310 private schools. Many private schools have opened over the last few years and more are coming up,” he says.
In Lala Pandey Purva village, Parul has a new hero — her English teacher Dinesh Chandra Mishra, or simply “DCM sir”. “All of us want to be like him and speak fluent English. But it is not easy for me because I studied in a government school,” she says.