Saturday, September 17, 2011

How to destroy a good private educational system

Everyone would agree that the secret to imparting good education is committed and qualified teachers who motivate children to learn well. Of the 120 million children attending schools in India, government schools have 73% of the total enrollment in 80% of all schools in the country. With much of the burden of the nation’s education on government schools, it is undoubtedly essential that these schools also have good teachers. But the question is how should the government attract, keep and motivate committed and qualified teachers.

Most rural schools currently have few teachers, often as low as two, for the five elementary classes, and many of them are periodically absent from school or are not motivated or qualified to teach. It is well-known that rural education is deplorable: only 15% of the children reach high school and barely 7% graduate. Even fewer children go on to study in colleges.

There are many reasons for the dismal performance of government schools, but lack of sufficient funding is not one of the main factors. In fact, governments have allotted considerable sums of money to infrastructure improvement, books and supplies, teachers and administrators. Much of that money is siphoned off by government officials and politicians for their personal enrichment. What is left is still a considerably large amount which can be put to good use.

Recognizing the need to attract teachers, governments have introduced several incentives: high salaries, benefits, retirement pensions, and job security. Even more attractive for teaching in government schools is the many holidays and long vacations that can be availed. Daily class sessions are fairly relaxed with little or no supervision, and frequent absence from school is tolerated. Government teachers usually conduct paid tuition classes during off-hours on most days, bringing in even further income for themselves.

With all these attractions, why should anyone want to teach in a private school? The answer is: there is no good reason unless the individual is motivated to work hard to benefit students. If one is looking for a good financial package and leisurely work environment, government school teaching is a far superior choice. Most private schools that charge reasonable fees which are affordable to middle and lower classes cannot compete with the tangibles and intangibles that go with government school teaching. Tax payers are generously taking care of government teachers while private schools that offer superior quality education are unable to afford similar packages for their teachers. Only elite international schools catering to the highly rich can offer superior compensation packages.

The result is a steady migration of good teachers from private schools to government schools. This transfer process will only accelerate in the years to come as state governments build and operate more government schools. Private schools are scrambling to hire teachers, mostly new graduates, and keep and train them for a few years until the government hires them away without advance notice in the middle of the academic year. Consequently, private schools depend greatly on inexperienced teachers and often do without sufficient number of teachers until the next recruitment period for new graduates starts.

I am reminded of the economic truism that says “taxation is one of the most efficient and accepted ways of transferring wealth from the most productive segment of the society (private individuals and entrepreneurs) to one of the least productive segments, namely government and its projects. Instead of training and recruiting large numbers of college graduates aspiring to enter the educational field, and offering them salaries and benefits comparable to the private sector, the government is currently embarked on destroying what has so far been the bright spot in education. In the longer run, there will be a lower proportion of good private schools – mostly those catering to the rich (and paying high compensation and benefits to teachers) -- and more government schools offering sub-standard education.

What a way to kill the goose that lays the golden egg!

Abraham M. George


Amber Light said...

I have seen this very phenomenon in the town of Hosur. I have tried fervently and passionately talking to anyone who would listen (or wouldn't). It is absolutely disgusting that teachers are happy to stagnate in easy government school jobs. Worse, teachers at private schools resort to the worst possible methods to ensure that their students score high marks - even coaching them on the actual question paper of the exams or marking them high even for bad or wrong answers. Thus instilling an acceptance to dishonesty in fresh, young minds.

But what is the solution to this? Surely the answer to everything is not money?

Abraham M. George, The George Foundation said...

The government should recruit and train large numbers of college graduates aspiring to enter the educational field, and offer them salaries and benefits comparable to the private sector. Increase the supply of trained teachers instead of grabbing from the private sector....