Home purchasing

West Bengal bid to build schools through PPP will face purchasing power hurdle

The draft Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Policy in School Education is a welcome initiative by the Government of West Bengal. The government will provide unused school infrastructure. The private sector will make all operational decisions – including support, advice, etc. – and will provide quality education, of course for a fee.

While the state’s precarious financial situation may be the main inspiration behind this decision, the initiative comes at just the right time given the significantly low total fertility rate or TFR (1.6) in the state which requires consolidation and greater emphasis on quality. However, the successful implementation of the program will not be easy in the political-economic reality of West Bengal.

low ISF

The Total Fertility Index (ISF) is a measure of the average number of children a woman gives birth to in her lifetime. With a fertility rate of 2.1, the population is stagnant in the long term.

According to the 2011 census, West Bengal (and Tamil Nadu) had a TFR of 1.7, the lowest among large states. Urban fertility was as low as 1.3 and rural 1.7. The National Family Health Survey sets the TFR at 1.6 in 2019-20. The urban TFR is 1.4 and rural 1.7.

The trend is most prominent in Kolkata. The researchers point out that the city’s fertility was at replacement level at least 40 years ago and that the current TFR is close to 1.

Add the exodus of the working-age population, for better job opportunities, and Kolkata’s population shrunk in the 2011 census. The lavish satellite township of Salt Lake has become a colony of the elderly. The average age in any housing company is not less than 50 years.

The reduction in fertility and the aspiration for quality education have already led to the closure of many public schools, especially in urban areas. Ironically, a once reputable government-run school in the steel town of Durgapur has recently been turned into a retirement home. The transformation was possible because the land and infrastructure belonged to a public sector company (PSU).

According to a media report, of the 980 government-subsidized high schools (grades V-VIII) in West Bengal, most were operating at one-fifth of student capacity before the Covid-19 pandemic and 64 had no students. Stories continue to come in snatches about the lack of students in public schools.

National trend

The failure of public schools to attract enough students is a national phenomenon. The TFR is down across the country and is now just below the replacement rate. With smaller families and rising incomes, parents prefer private schools for better education.

According to the Indian Ministry of Education, in 2012-2013, 57.3% of the 26.22 million students were enrolled (from kindergarten to grade XII) in public schools, 11% in public schools, 28 .1% in private schools and 3.6% in public schools. others (charitable trusts, etc.).

In 2019-20, the total number of enrollments only increased by 0.9% to 26.45 crores, but the share of the private sector reached 37.1%. The share of public schools had fallen to 49.5%.

Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, professor of education and international development at the Institute of Education in London, pointed out that student enrollment in public schools in 20 major states fell by 13 million between 2010-11 and 2015-16 . During the period, private schools welcomed 17.5 million new students.

Kingdon’s findings, which were reported by India Spend, point out that 80% of India’s education budget is used for teacher salaries, training and learning materials. Relative to gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Indian public school teachers earn multiples of many rich countries and four times China.

By this yardstick, teachers in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are not only the best paid in India, but earn salaries a few times higher than the average for Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. No one can guess how much pay translates to the quality of public school education in these states that are mushrooming with cheap private schools.

The flip side is that states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu, which do not spend as much on teacher salaries (relative to GDP and SDP per capita), have elite public schools and private schools. more efficient.

Overall, the high salaries of government teachers have questionable results. “The performance of Indian teachers, judged by the level of learning of their students, was poor in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test in 2009, with India ranking 73rd and China ranked 2nd, out of 74 countries,” reports IndiaSpend.

West Bengal

Theories aside, the political-economic reality of India is this: people have low trust in government services, but high admiration for government jobs that come with the perceived assurance of low responsibility.

Add to this abundance of paper degrees and you see thousands of people, including PhDs, lining up for the most insignificant government posts. Due to the relatively high volume of recruitment and the associated social prestige, the demand for teaching jobs is extraordinarily high.

The phenomenon is greatest in states that suffer from low levels of economic development, entrepreneurship, etc. West Bengal is one of them. Poor job opportunities in the state and the prevailing fantasy for white-collar jobs have made the situation worse. Traffic goes haywire for Teacher Eligibility Tests (TETs) as hundreds of thousands take to the streets.

A disproportionate gap between supply and demand breeds corruption. Naturally, controversy is common in government recruitments in West Bengal. A former MP for Trinamool is said to have secured teaching jobs for a dozen and a half of his family members. He then joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Switching to PPP mode will help the Mamata Banerjee government avoid many problems. However, it is debatable whether the prevailing political economy will allow this. Should local policy allow for the effective operation of such schools?

This is only the beginning of the problem. Banerjee’s government seized on the recruitment of teachers and the opening of new schools during its first term (2011-2016). To bring common sense back into school education, the state would now have to do an about face and shut down many schools. Will it be politically possible?

Low purchasing power

The biggest problem is elsewhere. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are widely appreciated for the quality of public school education. However, the share of the private sector in these two countries is 30% and 46% respectively.

By comparison, the share of private schools in total enrollment is 13.8% in West Bengal, comparable to 12% in Bihar. Assuming that the aspirations of parents remain the same throughout the country, the difference apparently lies in purchasing power.

Ideally, TFR and income are inversely proportional. Fewer children are born in rich countries. Tamil Nadu and Kerala buck this trend. But West Bengal is an aberration of this theory.

Out of the 33 states and union territories, West Bengal is ranked 20th (just above Tripura) in terms of net domestic product per capita (nominal). Tamil Nadu sixth, Kerala ninth and Bihar last.

Tamil Nadu has become one of the leading industrialized states in the country in 30 years of reform. Kerala is one of the major states that generate remittances abroad. It also has a thriving, high-value hotel sector. West Bengal is a graveyard of industries and has failed to create a high value added service sector.

Add to this strong inequality between Kolkata and the rest of the state.

This has also been reflected in the gap between rural and urban ISF in the past. According to the 2011 census, the TFR in West Bengal was highly unequal compared to Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The error is somewhat corrected in NFHS 2019-20. The benefits will take time to accrue.

In short, West Bengal has remained an outlier in the national trend of increasing share of private schools due to low purchasing power. Bihar also suffers from the same problem and 70-80% of private schools there charge Rs 500 or less (IndiaSpend).

Quality education has a cost. The average payment per student in any higher public school in Kolkata is around Rs 10,000 per month. Too much compromise with cost will lead to the recruitment of substandard teachers, which is the antithesis of the stated goals of PPP schools.