NYTimes.com Article: India’s Poor Bet Precious Sums on Private Schools

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Dear Everyone;

The recent battles in San Francisco over forced school busing to achieve some bureacrats idea of racial diversity highlights a problem which severely reflects on the quality of public schools. It also reflects on a school board who over the 20 years the federal edict has been in place still has not found the money to fix the poorly performing schools with property and instructor upgrades so forced busing would not be an issue.

In India the government schools are such a shambles that private schools have started popping up like mushrooms after a rainfall. And these are supported by people who have to really sacrifice and scrape by to get their children the best possible education.

So why haven't private schools started popping up all over San Francisco? If the parents do not like the quality of education or their children being forced to bus all over San Francisco why aren't they forming private schools? Are bureaucratic standards set so high by the state and federal bureaucracies that new schools couldn't be opening in local neighborhoods?

Ron Getty
SF Libertarian


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India’s Poor Bet Precious Sums on Private Schools

November 15, 2003

MANUA, India - In this democracy of more than one billion
people, an educational revolution is under way, its
telltale signs the small children everywhere in uniforms
and ties. From slums to villages, the march to private
education, once reserved for the elite, is on.

On the four-mile stretch of road between this village in
Bihar State, in the north, and the district capital,
Hajipur, there are 17 private schools (called here "public"

They range from the Moonlight Public School where, for 40
rupees a month, less than a dollar, 200 children learn in
one long room that looks like an educational sweatshop, to
the DAV School, which sits backed up to a banana grove and
charges up to 150 rupees a month, or more than $3. Eleven
months after opening, it already has 600 students from 27

There are at least 100 more private schools in Hajipur, a
city of 300,000; hundreds more in Patna, the state capital;
and tens of thousands more across India.

The schools, founded by former teachers, landowners,
entrepreneurs and others, and often of uneven quality, have
capitalized on parental dismay over the even poorer quality
of government schools. Parents say private education,
particularly when English is the language of instruction,
is their children's only hope for upward mobility.

Such hopes reflect a larger social change in India: a new
certainty among many poor parents that if they provide the
right education, neither caste nor class will be a barrier
to their children's rise.

Even those with little cash to spare seek out these
schools. Ram Babu Rai, who farms less than an acre and
earns about 1,000 rupees a month ($22), working part time,
sends one of his three sons to a private school here. Just
sending one boy is a struggle, costing him 2,200 rupees a
year ($49), including the 10-year-old's orange and navy
blue uniform.

"With my little means, I have to manage my family," Mr. Rai
said. "But still, I thought to spare some extra money for
the boy, so he will do well in life." A member of the
cowherders' caste, Mr. Rai dreams that his son will become
a "big officer."

"Since ages, we are doing manual work," said Rehaman Sheik,
35, an illiterate plumber in the Dharavi slum of Bombay.
"Why should they?" he said of his sons. "They should have a
good profession."

To that end, he spends 400 rupees a month, just under $9,
on school tuition and extras like uniforms, out of monthly
earnings of 3,000 rupees. He also spends 200 rupees monthly
on tutoring, a phenomenon common among parents of
government and private school students alike.

To some, such expenditures by the poor represent a
disgraceful abdication by the state, one that creates a
class system segregating those with private,
English-language education from those without.

"If anything should be free, it is primary education," said
Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist. No
developed country, whether France or Japan, had educated
itself using private schools, he noted.

A recent census in the slums of Hyderabad, in Andhra
Pradesh, found that of 1,000 schools identified, two-thirds
were private, according to James Tooley, a professor at the
University of Newcastle in England who oversaw the

"In big cities, it's more or less over," an economist, Jean
Dr�ze, who helped write a national assessment of education
in 1999, said of government primary education, although
rural students depend heavily on government schooling.
"Within 10 to 15 years, government schools will be almost
wiped out."

India's government has long devoted more attention and
proportionally more resources to higher education, which
has helped it soar in so-called knowledge industries.

But it has neglected elementary education. India spends
only about 1.7 percent of gross domestic product on primary
education, and 3.4 percent for education overall (compared
with about 5 percent for Brazil). Up to 40 million children
are out of school, something the government hopes will be
remedied by a law passed in 2002 that made free and
compulsory education a fundamental right for children up to

But the law did not address the quality of government
schools, and that, parents say, is the problem. At the
Astipur government school near here, the smallest children
sit on a dirt floor in a room with no blackboards, while
others sit in a dirt passageway.

The school has no power, no working latrines and little
teaching. Teachers - well paid, by Indian standards, thanks
to effective unions - say they know how to "manage" the
inspectors who come to check on their attendance. Anyway,
they are often called away for weeks at a time to perform
other duties for the state, such as updating electoral
rolls, conducting censuses, helping with antipolio
campaigns or overseeing the spraying of insecticide.

On a recent day, only about one-third of the students were
present but the classrooms were packed. If all of the 1,700
students enrolled actually showed up, teachers said, the
school could not accommodate them.

These conditions are not unique to Bihar, often derided as
a basket case for its poor governance. The 1999 Public
Report on Basic Education in India found teaching activity
under way in only about half the schools visited in four
northern states, including Bihar. Sixty-three percent of
the schools' roofs needed repair, only 11 percent had
working toilets and only 41 percent had drinking water.

So parents have come to believe that the only worthwhile
education is the one they pay for.

Another explanation for the private school craze lies in
the ever-growing number of English coaching institutes -
with names like The British Lingua and BBC English - in
small towns and cities alike. In a globalizing India, said
Vivek Razdan, 26, who runs one such institute in Hajipur,
teaching the difference between "what" and "which" to
candidates for the civil service, the military, graduate
business schools and more, everybody wants to learn

Yet Bihar's schools teach in Hindi, as do almost all
government schools in the north. Elsewhere, the teaching is
usually in one of India's regional languages. So private
schools have learned that the best way to lure parents
inside is a sign saying "English medium," ideally with a
name out front like Cambridge or St. Paul's for an added

In Bombay, government schools that teach in Marathi, the
regional language, have lost 30,000 students in the past
three years, mostly to private schools, according to city
officials. The city has converted about 40 schools to
English medium in an attempt to retain students.

Bihar recently lowered to third grade, from sixth, the
stage at which it begins teaching English, and many states
have similar accommodations.

Bihar's minister for primary education, Ram Chandra Poorve,
defended taking teachers from schools to perform duties
like updating electoral rolls, calling elections "the
greatest festival of a democracy." He attributed the rush
to private schools to a "mad race" reflecting parents'
desire for status.

"Our schools might not be sophisticated, but they are very
rooted with village culture," he said.

Many parents seem to want more for their children. "We have
no love for the government school, but we have no money,"
said Phul Kumar Devi, an illiterate mother of four. "What
do we do?"

Sometimes her children complained that their teachers were
not teaching. They begged her for private tutoring, which
she could not afford.

The Manua Primary School, which her sons attend, sits right
next to the private Saraswati Shishu Vidya Mandey.

In the government school, only two of the three teachers
assigned for 273 students were present on a recent day.
Around 50 children sat on the floor in a gloomy classroom,
while 40 more sat on the grass outside, as their classroom
had been under repair since August. One teacher did
paperwork, while the other floated between the two groups,
not actually teaching either.

At the private school next door, where the teacher-student
ratio is 1 to 25, a group of smartly uniformed children
stood outside counting loudly in English under their
teacher's watchful eye. They then marched in orderly single
file into a classroom with blackboard and benches.

The children next door wrestled, and watched.