Held towards the end of January, the National School Choice Week saw a series of events and activities across the US held by parents, teachers, educationists and other individuals who are active supporters of choice in education. The public celebration of school choice was an attempt to bring to the fore the need for increased parental involvement in choosing schools for their children and the options that are available to them, something that is currently lacking in the Indian context.
What is school choice? It means that parents (and thereby students) have more choices in the number and variety of schooling options. It means not just having many private schools but schools catering to a spectrum of expectations the parents might have from the education system. In fact, students are the primary stakeholders in education—and as with any other service, it makes sense that the consumer is able to choose a service provider best suited to meet her needs and expectations.
In India, parental choice in education is limited, especially for our poorest citizens. Education is directly funded by the government and, as such, schools are accountable to the government and not the parents for their performance. Based on the yearly Annual Status of Education Report 2013 findings, performance of schools in terms of student learning outcomes has been steadily declining across both public and private schools, though the rate of decline in public schools is steeper.
Bringing the element of choice and competition into education has the important consequence of making schools accountable to parents, and leads to a more efficient schooling system, where poor performing schools are weeded out due to lack of patronage. Unfortunately, the cost of running a school in compliance with current regulations decreases the scope of innovation and competition, such as lack of autonomy in curriculum, teacher-hiring criteria, etc.
Another finding of ASER 2013 was an increase in private participation in education, as well as in enrolment in private schools for both rural and urban areas. The increase in enrolment in private schools from 2012 to 2013 has been very small (from 28.3% to 29%); however, since 2006, this increase has been steady. This shows that poor parents are voting with their feet, moving away from free government education towards fee-charging private schooling.
Currently, the RTE Act requires private schools to fulfil a number of conditions in order to receive government recognition. These conditions are primarily focused on inputs