Jan. 15: Private schools are not popular in rural eastern India but private tuition is becoming almost indispensable, according to an extensive survey whose findings suggest teaching methods are struggling to keep pace with rising aspirations.
Bengal has one of the highest percentages of rural students opting for private tuition, although only 7 per cent of such pupils enrol themselves in private schools in the state. Over 81 per cent of Class VIII students in rural Bengal have private tuition. (See chart)
The phenomenon of private tuition is high in Tripura (65.8), Bihar (52.2) and Odisha (50.2), too, according to the Annual Status of Education Report 2013. The report is based on a survey facilitated by the NGO Pratham and carried out among 5.69 lakh students from 3.27 lakh households in 15,941 villages in the country.
In contrast to the 7 per cent in Bengal, as many as 70 per cent of those surveyed in Kerala attend private schools even though the southern state boasts good public infrastructure.
“There are not enough good private schools (in Bengal) and it is not a level playing field. The number of government or government-aided schools are far more compared to private institutions especially in the rural areas. How many private schools are there in the vernacular medium? That also explains the inclination towards government schools,” said Reeta Chatterjee, principal, Apeejay Schools.
Parents’ craving for better education for their children in rural Bengal is evident from the money they are willing to spend on private tuition — something that has been measured for the first time by Pratham. The parents are willing to spend between Rs 100 and Rs 300 a month on such tuition. The average tuition expenditure per month per student in Bengal is Rs 178.
“Parents feel that if they are to invest in education, investing in tuition is part of it and it cuts across all groups. Some would say that schools do not do a good job, some say that there are too many students in one class and some feel it’s better to keep their kids engaged in tuition while they are at work,” said Devi Kar, director, Modern High School for Girls.
However, a sizeable number of students in the country is struggling to pick up reading and basic arithmetic skills — a finding with far-reaching implications for a country where the young rural populace struggle to find white-collar jobs. Although Bengal has done better than some other states in reading, it scores low in basic arithmetic.
Nationally, the gap between children in government and private schools has widened over time. In 2013, 18.19 per cent of children in government schools were able to do basic subtraction as against 44.6 per cent in private schools.
“The real problem is with the mechanical teaching in government schools. In their effort to cover syllabus, the teachers go on imparting lessons without evaluating whether the child is learning,” said Rukmini Banerjee, director, ASER Centre.
The Right to Education Act prescribes the amount of syllabus to be covered in classes, which forces teachers to be mechanical, she said.
“Some private schools evaluate the child to know the level of competency. The teaching starts from that level. The private tutor does the same,” Banerjee said.
Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia, who released the report, said one argument was there was a lack of accountability and training in public institutions. He said Pratham should hold similar surveys in urban schools to know how the pupils there are performing.
A silver lining has been the improvement in facilities in government schools since the Right to Education law came into being.