free and of equitable quality

In a country where the constitution guarantees that the State shall ensure provision of free education of equitable quality for all children (Artice 21A), the Government of Delhi has approved a fee hike in what is known as private schools.

Do not think that private schools are only for the privileged and well endowed. In today's Delhi such schools cater to a wide cross section of society. The reason being that the so called free education to be guaranteed by the state is in a state of total despair and not fit for consumption. Parents today, even the humbler ones look for other options, and these come with a price tag. But parents are willing to walk that extra mile and give their children a better start in life. And as the demand grew, in keeping with markets forces, private schools grew at an exponential rate. It was the boom of teaching shops that mushroomed at each street corner and event though they flaunted all rules in the book they nevertheless catered to the needs of the day.

Private schools big or small became laws in themselves and helpless parents had no option but abide by all the rules they imposed. Regular fee increases, development and building funds and even donations had to be paid. And as the power of such schools grew, the option of the free school dwindled by the day as state run schools went from bad to worse. We at pwhy have first hand experience of the state of such schools as most of our kids frequent such schools. We watched with dismay the booming school business thrive.

What was truly infuriating was the fact that with a little help kids from government schools were able to perform well. The question that needed to be asked was why nothing was being done to improve the state of government run schools and make them a sound and viable option. The answer was written on the wall: the private school lobby was too strong. The common school system that India so needs and that would finally ensure free and equitable education to all of India's children has had a very troubled history and is nowhere near becoming a reality. Quite the contrary is happening as the government seems to be turning into the best advocate for private schools. Even the 25% reservations of seats in private schools for economically weaker students was quietly dropped by the government. One would have thought that governments were meant to protect rights but the rapidity with which the latst increase in fees was accepted shows what the reality is.

In a recent debate on this very issue, a rather pompous private school manager brushed aside a question asked by a parent by declaring that if parents were not happy with the increase they could take their children out and send them to a state run school. Well Sir, I wish this was a viable option as many would just do that.

Parents will cut corners, tighten their belts and meet this increase and maybe the next one too, but there will be a day when this will not be possible. I wonder what will happen to the children then as nothing is being done to improve the institutions that are supposed to be providing the free education of equitable quality that is the Constitutional right of every single child born in this land.