The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Poor want kids in private schools

New Delhi, Dec. 17: Poorer parents are willing to pay more to get their children into private schools rather than send them to a free but substandard government school, a survey in Delhi shows.

The AC Nielsen survey may vindicate a Planning Commission idea that was vetoed by the Union human resource development ministry: to give parents government money to enable them to send their children to private schools.

States now spend Rs 1,000-1,700 a month on every child attending a government school. Under the suggested “voucher system”, this money would be given to the parents if they want a switch to a private school.

The survey, sponsored by the Centre for Civil Society, a voluntary organisation, interviewed teachers at government and private schools and parents with a household monthly income below Rs 5,000.

“Nearly 90 per cent of the parents liked the concept of a voucher system,” it says.

Educators had joined the HRD ministry in criticising the voucher system, which the Planning Commission wanted to include in its 11th Five-Year Plan.

The critics said the system would phase out government schools, and alleged it was a government ploy to get rid of its responsibility to improve its schools.

There was no guarantee, they added, that private schools would offer better education.

A random sample survey by the Poverty Action Lab of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown that teacher attendance is higher in government schools than in private schools.

The AC Nielsen survey revives the debate. “Nearly all parents interviewed liked the voucher concept. Three-fourths of the teachers and nearly 86 per cent of the private schools liked the concept… it gives parents the opportunity to select a school of their choice,” it says

Backers of the new concept say it would not phase out government schools. Rather, it would force them to compete and raise their standards.

“The HRD ministry was unwilling to test the feasibility of the voucher concept even as a pilot project because it would direct public money to private schools,” the Centre for Civil Society says.

A decade-old study by Nobel winner Amartya Sen showed that the old perception that poor parents didn’t want to send their children to school no longer held good. Parents were keen to break out of the vicious cycle of illiteracy and give their children the best education they could.

The quality of education at state-run schools continues to be dismal. Dropout rates are 40 per cent in Delhi’s primary schools.

The AC Nielsen survey says parents spend an average of Rs 2,200 on private tuition. “Families spending the least on tuition in government schools are spending the most on private tuition.”

Teachers working at government schools are not sending their children to them, it adds.

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