Unrecognised Schools: Are they really a problem?

By Siddhant Sharma, Amity Law School, Jaipur.

A school is deemed to be unrecognised when it does not fulfill the unrealistic infrastructure requirements and teacher salary scales that the government demands as a prerequisite for recognition. Such schools are unaided by the government but might get donations from private donors or organisations.[i]

These low cost private schools have serious implications on the right to education of low income families or poor families. And these schools have increased significantly especially at the elementary level in the last two decades. According to the All India Education Survey (AISES) conducted by NCERT, which indicated trends from 2002 to 2009 showed that there were 2,532 private unaided primary schools. The Analytical Report for 2011-12, released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), showed that there are now 10,960 private unaided primary schools showing nearly a four time growth in private primary schools in the national capital in just four years. To the contrary government schools at primary level during the same time have just increased two times from 23,253 to 45,200.[ii]

The most significant increase is however in Bangalore where the DPI’s Analytical Report of 2011-2012 shows a more than tenfold increase in the number of primary unaided schools in comparison to the NCERT survey of 2009, whereas the government schools have just doubled for the same period.

Growth of Unrecognized Schools

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From the above stated figures it is pretty clear that private unrecognised schools are growing unprecedentedly. Contributing to their growth are some of the following reasons-

  • The penetration of public primary schools is very limited resulting in proliferation of private unrecognized schools.
  • These schools are not required to report anything to the educational authorities. The government has no control on the functioning of such schools in India.
  • The unrecognized schools function independently and the grant in aid rules does not apply to them.
  • Unrecognized schools are usually smaller in size but have a lower pupil teacher ratio and also lower per unit institutional cost as compared to the government schools.

Though there are several factors for the mushrooming of large unrecognized schools in India, the root cause remains the failure of governments in expanding the network of schools to serve all the areas adequately. Further, the private schools are perceived to be offering a better quality education compared to government run/ aided schools. By expanding horizontally, unrecognized private schools have covered even small habitations and through vertical expansion covered the upper primary and secondary stages of school education.[iii]

Also the demand for primary education has increased due to change in aspirations of parents. Studies show that the social rate of return on primary schooling is higher than other levels of education. The environment for learning process in government schools are hugely different to the one that prevails in private schools, including the unrecognized units. In government schools, it is common to see factors like lack of competition, low standards of learning, lack of adequate level of commitment by teachers/principals, high prevalence of teacher absenteeism, lack of accountability to parents, high opportunity cost in learning soft skills like English etc. In contrast, in private schools it is easy to see increased competition, increased affordability of private schools, and better quality of teaching and learning, better infrastructure like toilets and drinking water etc. Further, the private sector takes advantage of the development of information and communication technologies in right direction which leads to positive impact on children learning outcomes. The unrecognized schools are more accountable to the parents; results oriented and have high level of teacher and children attendance rates.[iv]

Impact of RTE on unrecognised schools

The Right to Education Act, a fundamental right provides for free and compulsory education for every child between the age group of 6-14 years. While the Act has made the State responsible for educating each and every child, it has restricted the agencies that can provide education. Section 19 of the Act states ‘that both the recognised and unrecognised schools will have to meet the new norms for recognition under the RTE Act’. The implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE) has deemed these unrecognized private schools illegal and has been shutting them down in thousands. As on date, 2962 schools have been forcibly shut down. Another 17,871 schools have been issued notices for closure. These 20,833 schools together have been catering to 12,82,118 children who are now out of fee-charging schools that their parents preferred for them over the nearest state run no-fee school.

In a recent case, the Delhi High Court issued notice to civic bodies in Delhi and DDA asking the state governments response on a PIL filed against unauthorised and unrecognised play schools in the capital. This notice came on a plea filed by an NGO Social Jurist, which alleged that despite the court’s 2008 decision that no unrecognised school be allowed to run in Delhi, the city government’s Directorate of Education (DoE) had done nothing to ensure this, resulting in “continuous existence and mushrooming of hundreds of unauthorised, unsafe and unrecognised play schools and pre-primary schools in Delhi.”[v]

In another case, the Madras High Court said the nursery schools also need recognition. The court passed an order on a writ petition by Achariya Educational Public Trust challenging an order of the Director of Elementary Education of June 10, directing the trust to close its nursery schools in Coimbatore. The court was of the opinion that ‘If a plea that no recognition is required for nursery schools is accepted, there would be several such schools without any kind of control.’[vi]

What has the government missed?

A large number of unrecognized schools remain invisible in all official statistics in India. India’s unrecognized schools have been greatly underestimated in literature too. For example, the Common School System commission of Bihar estimated the number of unrecognized secondary schools in the state at 700. The seventh All India School Education Survey by the NCERT in 2002 estimated 3922 unrecognized schools at the primary level and 2193 unrecognized schools at the primary level in the state, aggregating to 8.81% and 18.09% of the total schools in the respective categories.

The government’s data banker for the school education sector, the District Information System on Education (DISE) does not provide data on unrecognized schools. For instance, its data on recognized schools in Bihar suggest gross underestimation. In 2008-2009, DISE estimated a total of 93 private schools in Bihar. The 2009-10 provisional data from DISE estimated only 14 private schools in the entire state. However 80 new schools came up in Patna urban alone between 2009 and 2010. These 80 schools cater to 6190 students totally and 3900 students in grades 1 to 8.

However, the 64th round of national sample survey (Education in India: Participation and Expenditure) by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2007-08 pegged the extent of unrecognized schooling at a much closer level to reality. The NSSO calculates that 43.8% of the primary school children in urban Bihar go to unrecognized schools. At the upper primary level, unrecognized schools cater to 25.5% of the students.

Is shutting such schools the only option?

Shutting down unrecognised schools is gross injustice with a parent’s right to choose a school for their children when one considers the fact that year after year studies show that learning levels in these schools are better than the learning levels in state run schools. In terms of infrastructure too, they are not far behind all government schools. About 50% of the government schools do not even have functional separate toilets for girls, but they are recognized schools by virtue of being state-run. For a small fee per month, unrecognized schools offer teachers who are present and teaching- unlike in state schools where one-third does not show up and another one-third does not teach- and basic amenities such as drinking water and separate toilets for girls.

Unrecognised schools are often low-cost and cater to the aspirations of the weaker sections of society. As such there is no official or universally accepted criteria based on which to determine whether a school falls into the low cost or medium cost or higher cost category. License and cost category are not officially linked i.e., the government does not fix a minimum fee that schools can charge after they get recognition (license), but there is generally the correlation that if a school is recognized then it would charge a little more than a quality wise comparable but unrecognized school in the same locality.[vii]

Some of the alternatives that can be adopted by the government are-

  • To bring low-cost private schools into the legal ambit by devising criteria that focuses on learning output rather than inputs alone. This could include student performance, teacher attendance and a small range of essential safety and comfort features.
  • The RTE Act should not be implemented in haste and should be reconsidered, especially in case of shutting down unrecognized schools without taking into consideration the vast majority of students enrolled therein.
  • Imaginative solutions to institute quality ratings mechanisms could be adopted to ensure improvement in the standards of education being imparted in the country.[viii]

Conclusion

A good education system should include all types of schools, but in the correct proportion and cooperation.  Any policy aimed at providing universal school education would not be truly successful, if it neglects the efforts taken by unrecognized schools from the private sector. There is a need for demystifying the fear factors in unrecognized schools in India. These schools generally feel that information collected will be used in taking action against them. To maintain free and compulsory education in the country the government should mainstream and revamp unrecognised schools, in joint association with unrecognized school managements and civil society organizations.

[i] ‘Unrecognized Schools- The story of the Daily Wrong’, India Institute [online] available from- http://indiai.org/unrecognized-schools/

[ii] ‘Number of private primary schools goes up four times in four years’, The Hindu, last updated  January 23, 2013 [online] available from- http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/number-of-private-primary-schools-goes-up-four-times-in-four-years/article4333050.ece

[iii]  Chandrasekaran B. ‘The Unrecognized Schools under RTE Regime’, Centre Right India [online] available from- http://centreright.in/2014/06/the-unrecognized-schools-under-rte-regime/#.VLk5Cyt9J5Z

[iv] Ibid 3

[v] Unrecognised play schools: HC seeks Delhi govt’s reply on PIL, Business Standard, last updated- Friday, January 16, 2015, [online] available from- http://www.business-standard.com/article/pti-stories/unrecognised-play-schools-hc-seeks-delhi-govt-s-reply-on-pil-114122400825_1.html

[vi] Nursery schools need recognition too: HC, The Hindu, last updated-  June 21, 2013, [online] available from- http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/nursery-schools-need-recognition-too-hc/article4834498.ece

[vii] [vii] ‘Unrecognized Schools- The story of the Daily Wrong’, India Institute [online] available from- http://indiai.org/unrecognized-schools/

[viii] Singh S. (2010) ‘Right to Education and Right to Educate: A Study of the Impact of Right to Education Act on unrecognized Schools in Delhi’ Centre for Civil Society [online] available from- http://ccs.in/internship_papers/2010/sonjuhi-singh_right-to-education-vs-the-right-to-educate.pdf

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