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PPP mode for upgrading government schools…

I record my appreciation of TN Minister of Education K A Sengottayan and Education Secretary Udayachandran introducing a number of reforms in school education. For several years the quality of school education has been deteriorating and the administration mired in corruption. The school syllabus was not updated for years resulting in poor quality and one noticed poor performance of Tamil Nadu students in competitive examinations. 

The minister recently expressed confidence over the demand for enrolment in government schools would increase by next year. I suggest one facile way for ensuring this.

Government and corporation-run schools account for over 80 per cent of primary and secondary schools. Their falling standards have been contributing to a huge demand for enrolment in private schools which often adopt unsavoury practices like huge capitation fees apart from charging hefty tuition fees. We experience the oddity:  the cost of education in a private school exceeding that in a college! The solution lies in upgrading the quality of education in government-run schools. 

Right from the 1950s Tamil Nadu has been spending humungous amounts on education. In the current year’s budget the provision for education is Rs. 30,612 crore.

Yet the state has not been turning out students with poor quality. The deterioration is palpable in the schools run by the Corporation of Chennai. There were around 300 such schools which used to impart quality education right up to the 1970s. Celebrities like management guru C K Prahalad, educationist Dr P V Indiresan and General Sunderji were products of corporation schools in Chennai. Crass political interferences in administering the schools and in the recruitment of teachers have contributed to their decay. Today, for want of students, a few of these schools have been closed. 

These schools are endowed with good infrastructure in terms of land and buildings and handsome expenditure by the government that provides education free along with free uniforms, books, shoes,  midday meals ... 

A couple of years ago, IE took the initiative of submitting a proposal to then Mayor Saidai Duraisamy to upgrade the quality of these schools through the public private participation mode. IE discussed the prospects with several business leaders including Shriram Group’s R Thyagarajan, Murugappa’s A Vellayan, TCS’s S Ramadurai and S Mahalingam and senior advocate C Ramakrishnan. These evinced interest on the PPP mode and offered to join hands with us. The Mayor was impressed and even offered a school that remained closed in his constituency of West CIT Nagar. Unfortunately, the bureaucracy was not impressed. 

The proposal was simple: the business leaders I discussed were agreeable to take charge of managing these schools as part of their CSR initiatives. They assured that they did not want to derive any publicity. Only they requested for full autonomy for management including recruitment of staff. 

Look at the advantage: there are corporation schools in the metro within a radius of 1 km endowed with the infrastructure of land and buildings. A business leader can do a detailed mapping of the catchment area of the school to a radius of 1 - 2 km and ensure full enrolment right from the nursery stage. He could impart education according to the state syllabus, including in English medium. He will invest in introducing computer- aided teaching, using his considerable knowledge on global practices. He could draw on the experience of other private schools and even access their facilities. I suggested the franchise could be given for  5 years and then the results could be evaluated. 

The Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation has switched to this PPP mode and the scheme has been working well.  If this is implemented TN  Minister Sengottaiyan need not compel civil servants to enrol their students in government schools. 

At the same breadth, Tamil Nadu government should also rethink its opposition to Navodaya schools on which the Central government would fund one school in each district with residential facilities and high quality infrastructure amounting to around Rs. 300 crore a year. Tamil Nadu would do well to end its anti-Hindi stance and permit such schools to teach Hindi.

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