The Indian education system has a large number of schools, colleges, deemed to be universities, and universities for educating the children. Presently, the country meets its educational aspirations through educational institutions in the public and private sectors. With the presence of education offerings in the public sector as well as the private sector, it becomes pertinent to assess the preferences of the education seekers. Let us scrutinize the statistics by segregating education up to class 12 under school education and beyond class 12 as higher education.
As per the Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) dashboard 2019-20, there are total 15.1 lakh schools with 26.4 crore students, 96.8 lakh teachers, and 10.3 lakh government schools i.e. in the public sector for catering school education. It is reported that the share of the private sector in school education has grown significantly to nearly 47.5% student enrolments in private schools while the enrolments in public sector schools are declining.
At the same time, higher education is catered through 42343 colleges & 1043 universities as reported by the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) in 2019-20. Out of these, 31,390 colleges, 388 private universities, and 88 private deemed to be universities are in the private sector. In higher education, the majority of colleges are affiliated with public universities, so the share of student enrolment in the public sector is quite large as compared to that in the private sector.
A close observation of the choices of students and parents for seeking education in an institution shows that these are distinctively dichotomous in school education and higher education for the educational institutions in the public sector vis-à-vis the private sector. School education is conspicuously preferred in private sector schools as compared to the schools in the public sector. Whilst, when it comes to seeking higher education, the preference of the institutions in the public sector over the private sector is evident. Unquestionably, the higher education institutions in the private sector are fast emerging as chosen destinations for students in many instances. Even the NIRF ranking of higher education institutions in 2020 shows around 20 per cent of private-sector institutions securing their places in the top 100 ranks slab.
Reasoning Student Choices
In general, the education institutions are perceived from their teachers, teaching-learning processes, student accomplishments, curriculum, cost of education, overall ambience, and infrastructure. Be it school education or higher education, the factors affecting student choices for them remain by and large similar.
Introspection of school education points to the fact that public schools are not preferred over private schools on account of insufficiency of teachers, weak teaching-learning processes, weak governance, poor overall ambience, and infrastructure. Thus, despite the available teachers being of good competence, the public sector schools are unable to roll out exemplary student accomplishments. The weaknesses in public sector schools and the growing population are constantly pushing for more schools in the private sector.
A look at the cost of school education in institutions of public and private sectors shows that it is, exorbitantly high in private sector institutions as compared to those in the public sector. Notwithstanding the high cost of education in private sector institutions, the parents yearn for getting their wards admitted to such costly education solely to secure their future. For quite some time the public sector schools are unable to captivate the students from affluent families and are limited to educating the kids from the poor sections of the society that cannot afford it in private schools. Unequivocally, the quality of school education being better in private schools as compared to public schools has created a vicious trap of poor quality in and poor quality out in public schools, however, exceptions are always there. Over some time, this has created a public perception about the better quality of education in private schools and the same is further weakening public school education. But, to educate nearly half of the country’s population effectively, the overall education system in public schools needs amelioration.
The public schools outperforming private schools in Delhi offers a cue that public school education can be made comparable to private schools, provided there is a commitment to improving it like that of the Delhi Government.
Interestingly, the large number of higher education institutions (HEIs) in the public sector are perceived to be much better than the private sector HEIs. Obviously, it is the better teaching human resource, teaching-learning processes, enabling learning environment, and infrastructure of public sector HIEs that makes them preferred over private sector HEIs. This preference is also attributed to the glorious accomplishments of students from public sector HEIs along with their low cost of education as compared to the private sector HEIs. The age of public sector HEIs being more than that of private-sector HIEs in the majority of cases also puts them in an advantageous position as the stronger alumni base helps in creating theirpositive perception. Nonetheless, there are few sought-after private sector HIEs too that have been offering good quality education with all requisite enablers for it.
Given the gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education of the country being not comparable to the many developed nations, the NEP 2020 has targeted the attainment of 50 GER by 2035. Undoubtedly, the efforts for increasing GER over since last few decades are responsible for the setting up of new HEIs in the public as well as the private sector. Realising the need of students seeking higher education, the new HEIs in the private sector are establishing themselves as worthy destinations. Now, there are many new private sector HEIs that are performing better than new public sector HEIs and this trend is likely to continue. Primarily, the insufficiency of teachers, inept institutional governance, and inadequate funding & infrastructure of HEIs in the public sector are affecting the quality of education from them. Simultaneously, the focussed and aggressive pace of private-sector HEIs is trying to evolve them as worthwhile education centers, nevertheless, the high cost of education due to their self-financed operation acts as a deterrent for many aspirants with poor socio-economic backgrounds.
It is high time for the educational institutions of the public sector whether in school education or higher education to equip themselves with adequate number of teachers of good quality, efficient education deliveries, required infrastructure, and enabling environment while retaining their characteristics of offering cheap and accessible education with equity. Although, the NEP 2020 has prescribed for good quality and affordable education with access and equity to all education seekers, but much depends upon the honesty and commitment with which specific initiatives are taken by the education providers.
(The views expressed are personal)