Private School Regulatory Framework: Beyond Hype
By Anurag Kundu
Government of Delhi passed two bills titled as ‘Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015’ and ‘Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 in November, 2015. The bills had been hotly debated, received mixed reactions and now have been lying pending with the Lieutenant Governor for more than 8 months.
In first of the two part essays, let me explain the context, rationale and the key features of 'Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015’ and ‘Delhi School (Verification of Accounts and Refund of Excess Fee) Bill, 2015 and then spell out the importance of the bills. This essay deals with the former only.
Let me first start by explaining how important private schools have become for the city in the last few years:
With nearly 35 percent of our elementary students studying in private schools, there needs to be some regulation for a variety of reasons.
There has been complete opacity and arbitrariness in the nursery admission process. The Department receives several complaints of favouritism, request for bribes in the form of donations or capitation fee and complaints where the education levels of parents determine the odds of admissions of their children. Though, these issues have been addressed in the Right to Education Act but the regulations are limited to Standards I to VIII and do not cover pre-primary sections. Nearly two-thirds of Delhi private schools have pre-primary sections. It, therefore, becomes necessary that government amends the Delhi School Education Act to ensure no such practice continues even in the pre-primary sections where bulk of admissions take place in private schools. It is in this context that Government of Delhi has brought ‘Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015’
Salient Features and Rationale of Provisions:
Delhi School Education (Amendment) Bill, 2015 makes following amendments:
i. Ban on Screening Methods for Admissions in Pre-Primary: Insertion of new Section 16(A) has prohibited subjecting either the child or the parents to any screening method. It will be a travesty if the education levels of the parents or the knowledge and skills of a 3-year child were to determine his/her odds for admission in Nursery class. However, the screening of the child can be done for admissions to higher classes.
ii. Ban On Capitation Fee: The bill defines capitation fee as any kind of donation or contribution or payment, directly or indirectly, other than the fee notified by the school.
iii. Amendment of Norms to Determine Teacher Salaries: The Section 10(1) of the act which earlier prescribed that the salary and allowances of the teachers in private schools should not be less than government school teachers has now been amended to allow government to prescribe norms to determine salaries and allowances of private school teachers. This amendment has attracted lot of attention and there has been mixed reactions with private schools welcoming it while the teacher fraternity severely criticizing it. Let me articulate two reasons why the amendment is a necessity.
a. Existing Law Institutionalized Corruption: Most private schools in Delhi are low-income schools i.e. they charge anywhere between 300 rupees per month to 1,000 rupees per month. Assuming one such school has 500 students and thereby collecting 5,00,000 rupees monthly (assuming fee to be 1,000 rupees). In order to maintain Pupil-Teacher Ratio of 30:1 as prescribed by Right to Education Act, the school needs at least 17 teachers. According the government school teacher salary norms, the starting salary could be around 30,000 rupees per month. Therefore, the total salary expenditure per month shall be 510,000 rupees.
With revenue of 5,00,000 rupees, how can any school incur expenditures worth 510,000 rupees? This is assuming that electricity tariffs, house tax, rents, water bills, non-clerical staff salaries, Principal salary, expenses on computer & technology and repair works to be ZERO!
If this cannot hold true for a school charging 1,000 rupees per month, how can it hold true for schools charging less?
How were schools, thus far, complying?
The State had institutionalized corruption by means of force of a thoughtless law leaving no choice for any school management but to either shut down or be corrupt.
Turning a blind eye was the only response of the State thus far. With VII pay commission soon to be enforced, the proposed amendment will save anywhere close to 1, 500 schools from the threat of being shut.
The proposed amendment limits itself to allow the government to prescribe norms to determine salaries of the private school teachers. These norms must be sensible, progressive and thought through. The rules shall be notified once the Lieutenant Governor gives his assent to the bill.
b. Proposed Amendment Will Increase Teachers’ Salaries: The modus operandi, thus far, for these low-income schools has been to hand out the cheques to their teachers of legally allowed salaries only to collect money back. The actual monthly salaries of teachers in low income schools range from 1,500 to 10,000 rupees only. Since the schools were anyway in violation, it mattered little to them if they paid 5,000 or 10,000. But the proposed amendment seeks to allow government to prescribe fresh norms that factor into the schools’ financial health as well as ensuring the highest possible salary to the teacher. Now, engaging in corruption shall be a matter of choice not choicelessness. The schools may record truthfully the actual salaries being disbursed to teachers. If anything, the proposed amendment will not lead to any reduction in actual salaries of the teachers in private schools rather may increase it by 4 to 5 times.
iv. Addition of More Penal Provisions: Presently, Delhi School Education Act, 1973 has two penal provisions, namely withdrawal of recognition and taking over of management. Withdrawal of recognition means the students will be suffering because of the misdeeds of the management and hence must be resisted unless as last recourse and that too with alternative mechanisms put in place for the children studying in that school. Taking over of school management is also an extreme penal action. As a result of this, nearly all schools get away with any misdeeds since government exercises tremendous restraints before taking over management or derecognizing schools and thus hampering any compliance. The proposed amendment now includes written warning, heavy fine, stoppage of aid, suspension of new admission and even the imprisonment apart from the existing provisions of taking over management and derecognition for any violations of the law. This will lead to greater enforcement since now the repeated offenders cannot shield themselves under the guise of the threat of children suffering on account of school derecognized.
Laws are an instrument to improve governance, discourage corrupt or criminal practices and act as shields for the possible victims against the oppressor, however powerful. Laws, therefore, must reflect the needs, social values and the aspirations of the society. They too need to evolve with time. The Delhi Education Act was conceived and drafted at a time when private schools hardly existed. 40 winters have passed and lot of water has flown through our rivers since then. Now, half of our children go to private schools. It was time the law was amended to suit today’s needs and the proposed amendments are a step forward in that direction.
I rest my case.
(The author is a member of Education Task Force, Delhi Dialogue Commission, Government of NCT of Delhi and was involved in formulation of the bills. Views expressed are personal)