AAP govt's ad on education: Why cutting Delhi private schools to size is not enough

We have shown private schools in Delhi their place — this, in short, is the message from the AAP government to the world at large. The full-page advertisements in newspapers on Sunday where it highlights how it tamed several private players in the school sector make it unequivocal. Come as they in the newspaper format with headlines in bold, boxes and bullet points the emphasis is hard to miss.

Here’s how the headlines go:

Four schools roll back fees in 15 days
Government’s tough stand emboldens parents against private schools
Govt prepares to take over two branches of Maxfort School
Special cell for complaint against private schools

The text below the headlines follows the same theme with small variations: the Arvind Kejriwal government has taken a tough position on private schools and the obstinate lot has yielded under pressure; and it’s a joint effort involving the parents of students and the government. While the first part is consistent with the government’s position on private schools, which it believes to be exploitative and extortionist in character, the second part has a thinly-veiled populist undertone.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

The government says in the ad that it has ‘set up a complaint cell wherein parents can complain about such schools [the ones involved in charging excessive fees].’ The response to it has been overwhelming. ‘The cell has received as many as 800 complaints within four days of becoming functional,’ the advertisement says. The government’s intention is obvious.

It wants to be seen responsive to the problems of the citizens, particularly the middle class in this case. It’s a voting segment that has been getting disenchanted with the Kejriwal government gradually. While the decisions on water and electricity fronts have helped the AAP retain its loyalty among the lower income segments, the middle class required some convincing visible action to be impressed. Rising school fees is a common problem for this class. No wonder the government has gone full steam about taking this up.

Punitive action against private schools, however, is no solution to the real problem in the school education sector. These have flourished in the yawning gap between gap the demand and supply of quality education. Government schools have declined to the point where they are not even considered a decent option for education of children. Starting from infrastructure to the nature of education provided to the quality of teachers there are just too many issues that have contributed to this sorry state of affairs. It has led to a situation of scarcity which some private players are exploiting to the hilt.

Painting them as villains and giving them a bad name won’t take the government too far. It’s rather unfair since they are providing a critical service to people too. If they put a high price tag on the service, this could be due to other reasons than greed. Ensuring quality also requires money and if they don’t appear exploitative not many parents would complain.

The real challenge is to make mass availability of quality education possible. Unless government schools come on a par with private schools in terms of quality and respectability nothing is going to change. This is a massive gap to cover because decades of negligence and indifference have gone into it.

It’s appreciable that the AAP government has made high budgetary allocation for the purpose and is thinking seriously about training teachers to ensure quality, but speed is important. It has to come with the proposed model schools besides the planned upgradation of regular schools to model ones fast.

The advertisement may have been intended to reassure parents that the government is on their side but it comes across as a self-serving one. Showing private schools their place is fine but it would be better if the government informed us at regular intervals where its own schools stand.

Updated Date: May 02, 2016 11:12 AM

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