Wednesday, 6 November 2013

PPP Model School Scheme and its reality

                                                                                                                                 Firoz Ahmad

The government document which details the PPP scheme for setting up 2500 model schools is titled 'Model School Scheme, Model School Under PPP Mode' and is available on the Department of School Education and Literacy, MHRD, GOI website Apart from these 2500 PPP schools which would be set up in the non-educationally backward blocks, another 3500 Model schools are to be opened by the government in the Educationally Backward Blocks. We are reproducing below the first paragraph of the document:
“ A model school will have infrastructure and facilities atleast of the same standard as in a Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) and with stipulations on pupil-teacher ratio, ICT usage, holistic educational environment, appropriate curriculum and emphasis on output and outcome. The standards of a model school will be at par with KVS and the target for performance in Board examinations should also be at par with the average performance of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS).” 

These schools would have an upper intake of 2500 students each. Out of these, 980 students would be sponsored by the government. Since these schools are to begin from 6th grade, this means that 140 students would be sponsored in each grade. Clearly, with each grade having nearly ten sections these schools are going to be modelled on large, impersonal manufacturing firms/factories and not on personalised spaces shared by democratic communities. While nearly 40% students, being supported by the government, would be admitted through tests, the rest would be admitted by the management and charged appropriate fees ‘in the interest of viability of the schools’. The state governments are expected ‘to assist the private entity in securing the required land’.
In light of the fact that the government would be disbursing, apart from the agreed amount for the sponsored students, another 25% of the sponsored students’ support amount in the name of ‘infrastructure support’, phasing out its sponsorship after 10 years and allowing the management to charge unregulated fees from 60% of the students, it is difficult to understand the ‘no-profit’ label and claims of the PPP schools. It is evident that the scheme envisages these schools to be special category ones to which admission would not be gained as a matter of right. This exceptionalism gives weight to that criticism of the RTE Act which implies that the Act was never intended to address the educational needs and rights of the most marginalised. That the most ambitious and large-scale scheme the central government brings in after the passage of the RTE Act entails building another exclusive layer which would by-pass those very provisions of the Act which are held to be more generous, not only provides ample evidence of the state’s commitment towards maintaining inequality but also allows us to place the much touted Act in perspective.
The scheme lists some conditions which would have to be fulfilled by the private operator in order to receive its due financial support from the government. This list includes ‘Test on spoken English used by the children’. On the other hand, elsewhere (section 10) the document says that the ‘medium of instruction will be as per the norms of the affiliating National Board.’ Both these details, taken together, provide us another evidence of the hollowness of the RTE Act’s provision that the medium of education will be, as far as possible, the child’s mother tongue. It is clear that the real objective behind the setting up of such schools is not to educate the children on the basis of sound pedagogic and political principles. It should be clearer, on the other hand, that nor is the objective to expose the students to the richness of languages other than their mother tongues, including English. The motive seems to be, on the lines of the cultural-economy of a growing private school sector, to train and prepare an English-speaking work force for the private and multi-national global market employers.
Under the section ‘Eligibility for selection’ (section 22), it is stated that a ‘corporate entity would be eligible for one school for every Rupees 25 crore net worth…’.In case an ‘entity’ does not already have a CBSE school running under it, it may qualify if it has a track record of running an educational institution for at least 5 years by making an interest-bearing deposit of Rs. 25 lakh for each school. Both these conditions are an open invitation to the capitalists and the money-launderers to see education as an area of profitable economic investment, if they are not already doing so. It is certain that once the official and policy-level encouragement to the corporate bodies to invest in education picks steam it will distort the social-transformatory responsibility and the character of schools; nice-sounding perfunctory statements in the document notwithstanding. Indeed, these minimalist provisions are in the order of mere lip-service and may be seen as unavoidable legal-political requirements.
It is said that monitoring of these schools will be carried out ‘through extensive use of IT and UID systems besides tests, inspections and surveys’. Given the facts that the scheme virtually bypasses the state governments ( except for pressuring them to aid the private entity gain land ) and is another example of the centre usurping the state governments’ politically and pedagogically legitimate and more urgent claims on school education, this proposed monitoring will entail at least one of the following two outcomes. Either the state governments will be called upon to direct their education departments and officials to give the on-ground feedback. This, in the context of already depleting and over-tasked staff, will only result in a further diversion of the states’ bureaucratic, administrative and financial resources away from the regular government schools, thereby probably worsening their conditions through the signalling of reduced commitment and priority. Or, in case the centre decides to monitor these schools on its own it will necessarily rely on the distance-mode which its faith in technology has encouraged it to clearly pronounce in the document itself. Any new structure it builds to monitor the scheme will have contractual employees, given the fact that the scheme promises ten years of government funding and involvement. Moreover, its employees will be beset by a conflict of interest as they would not be able to afford negative reports about these schools since the closure/defunding of the PPP schools will mean the shutting down of the parallel supervisory structure itself thereby throwing them out of jobs.
Similarly, state governments are expected to provide, apart from ‘help’ for land for the schools, financial support beyond the 10 years for which the centre would do so. Not only is the provision of uniforms, textbooks and mid-day meals also expected to take place from the state governments’ coffers, but it is also hoped that they would ‘consider providing transport subsidy or free transport for students to come from different part of the blocks to the school and back’ (section 24). It is not difficult to visualise the school environment where some (980 out of 2500) students are provided meals from public funds and others are not. And if the other (fee paying/management) students are also provided these meals then who would bear the additional costs? We must also remind ourselves that nowhere are the state governments providing free transport to the crores of regular government school students. It is only when such exclusionary and diversionary pet schemes are proposed that a financial commitment which should rightfully have been made in favour of the common state run schools is instead unjustly prioritised for the special layer schools, thereby increasing the already existing gross inequality in the school system.The ‘other’ school system is bound to be left inferiorised in such circumstances, thereby paving way for its further defamation and disinvestment.
Section 25.2 (Special teaching for weaker students) says that ‘intensive coaching in English language will be made available by such school for [government sponsored]students in classes 6 and 7 so that they can fully integrate’. It could not have been more clearly spelled that these schools will be English-medium ones, the RTE Act’s relevant clause.and the scheme’s own inane section 10 (Medium of instruction) notwithstanding.
The irony of the scheme and its completely superficial commitment to education and pedagogic principles is betrayed when we juxtapose this promise of a generous provision for ‘weaker students’ – who are, clearly and of course, the government sponsored ones having come through screening tests and studied previously in government schools – with section 15 of the same document where the private partner is prohibited to carry out any ‘coaching’ activity in the premises.The conflation of ‘weak students’ with those requiring English language ‘coaching’ exhibits a similarly bogus and bankrupt understanding.

For 10 years, that is during the government-funded phase, the schools would be called Rashtriya Adarsh Vidyalayas with two additional words being chosen by the private entity to be pre-fixed with each school. That is, the state is going to provide all financial and other support to help the private entities set up profit-making schools and help them get on with their business. This is a phenomenon we are witnessing on a wide scale in various sectors. Public funds are used to establish and bolster institutions and win the trust of the people by serving them and thereafter the management and ownership of these institutions is transferred to the private-profiteers for them to make easy and avaricious use of the mechanisms, infrastructure and reputation built over the years by these institutions. The proposal of third party evaluation (section 29) also conveys the ideological underpinnings of the scheme. Clearly, the state is either a promoting party or an adversarial one which cannot be trusted by the other party to carry out the assessment of schools and students funded by public money. Thus, education is to be firmly placed in the private sector with its attendant dimensions of contracts, risks, insurance, profit etc. The whole idea is then sought to be transfigured, assuming a humiliating political and intellectual incapacity of the people of this country, into the CSR commitments of the same private firms (section 30). CSR or no CSR, the scheme can only be outrightly condemned and rejected by all those who are committed to the constitutional values of liberty, equality, fraternity and justice and oppose any and all commercialisation of education.

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