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01/21/2005: "Private vs. Government Schools in India"

The pictures shown are of my visit with Barun Mitra, President of the Liberty Institute, to a private school outside of New Delhi, the rural village of Kesroli in the state of Rajasthan. The story forms a beautiful statement about the dedication of students, teachers, and parents to a better life in a country that is in rapid transformation.

From a hilltop fort we saw classes being held on the rooftop of a nearby building. When I started waving to the students, the kids noticed and started waving back. That's when we got the idea of really giving the teachers trouble by stopping in for a visit.

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We were warmly received by this private school teacher and her class of students.

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This man owned the school and taught the younger kids. He hired the woman to teach the older kids.

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There were about 50 students total in the two sections being taught, each student paying about a dollar (US) a month for a full schedule of classes that included social studies, mathematics, science, English, Hindi, and Sanskrit. So the total income shared by these two teachers amounted to about $50 US/month.

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These vibrant students were planning all sorts of careers as doctors, businessmen, teachers, scientists, cricketeers, etc. The teachers strongly encourage them to higher education and professional careers.

Our visit to the government school is in the next picture. Barun and I were met at the government school by the Head Master (in dark suit), under the watchful eyes of his ultimate Head Masters, Nehru and Gandhi.

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The picture below is of the government school. The students are in well-ordered lines, stamping in unison and saluting to our visit. There are about 400 enrolled, though a large number are out in the fields this day, helping with the harvest. The students are offered facilities, free tuition, and a free meal for lunch. There are 10 teachers, sometimes with classes as large as 150 students.

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Teachers are civil service employees, each paid about $200 US per month. So the pay for 10 teachers is $2000 US per month. Thus, each teacher is paid four times the total income of the private school in the previous pictures. Teachers in the government schools are rotated to a new school every two or three years and often required to take on ballot and census counting duties throughout the countryside.

When asked what these students' plans were for higher education, we were told by the teachers that none of them would go on for any education beyond elementary school. And class enrollment drops dramatically after the first couple years of schooling.

Why would parents in a very poor community pay money for their kids to go to private schools when the government schools were free? In a paper published by the Liberty Institute of New Delhi, James Tooley gave an interesting insight: "When researchers called unannounced...only in 53 per cent of the schools was there any 'teaching activity' going on....In fully 33%, the head teacher was absent." Tooley says the same was true of private schools that operated on government grants.

But the unaided private schools were a sharp contrast in vitality and learning. Indeed, Tooley found that these private school students, when unaided by any government funding, showed test scores in reading and math that were twice the levels of students in the government schools or in the government aided private schools. He concluded that the significant difference was in the accountability of owners and teachers to paying customers.

Barun Mitra commented to me, "The teacher in the private school was more keen on ensuring that his students went to high school, and further...Another interesting point about the private school was that for grade 7 and 8, the school fee was $2 US. But with around $50 US, net income, the owner was still willing to offer free or discounts to students who could not really pay. Because the owner felt that these children were his neighbours." Tooley observed that virtually anyone could afford the tuition, from rickshaw pullers to fruit sellers, yet up to 20% of the school spaces were held for those who couldn't pay even that much.

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My heart went out to these dedicated private school teachers, students, and parents. I've got their address and plan to make contact again. What they might do with a laptop! In the meantime, they taught me a lot about the future of India, a country that is in rapid transformation and growing rapidly BECAUSE of private initiative.

Aloha, Ken

PS: Panoramic view of Kesroli village, Rajasthan.

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