Quality has a tag, even in education

Prof. Mathew C Ninan,  Director of Little Rock, Brahmavar, Udupi
Published in the Deccan Herald dated February 15, 2023

Private schools are always under scanner. Both parents and the government view them with circumspection, if not outright suspicion. This is not entirely without basis. It is a fact that there are schools that have a commercial motive. However, it is not right to paint everybody with the same brush, bracketing all the schools together.

There are schools with differing standards and quality, ranging from the below-average to the outstanding ones. We need to distinguish. The government must have the professional competence to separate the grain from the chaff and then to throw away the chaff. This is not happening. As a result, the grain also gets a raw deal.

The reality remains that many parents, for their own reasons, opt for private schools. They want the best teachers, the best facilities, and the best of everything. That’s a legitimate expectation, but they forget that these things cost money. Quality comes with a price, and that’s sometimes not factored in by some parents. The school fee thus becomes a bone of contention. They complain about the fees charged by the school. It appears that they do not fully comprehend the financial obligations of a self-financed school with no support from the government.

Parents send their children to private schools in the hope that they will receive a better education. Whether they actually get it is arguable. There are also government schools that do a good job. It all depends on the teachers, the facilities provided, and the systems that operate. In fact, a government school can do far better than private schools if there is committed leadership at both macro and micro levels.

The government also talks about school fees and tries to regulate them. This gives the parents the impression that private schools are exploiting them. To be fair to all concerned, the issue has to be seen in perspective. If that’s done, we will get a clearer picture.

Mercifully, the Karnataka High Court passed an order recently to the effect that the government has no right to regulate the fees fixed by private schools. In this context, private school administrators are debating the percentage of fee increases they can justify. “Reasonableness” will hopefully be their guiding principle.

What should be a good school’s response to this situation? A good school faces an eternal dilemma here. A good school has to be defined as one with the objective of providing quality education at a reasonable cost. The welfare of its teachers and staff is also a high priority.

We cannot expect poorly paid teachers to be conscientious about their duties. It’s only natural that teachers compare their salaries and other terms and conditions of service with their counterparts in government schools. Thus, a good private school has to match the salaries and benefits of its staff with those in government.

The lion’s share of a school’s financial commitment goes towards salaries and statutory benefits like EPF, ESI, and gratuity. Then comes infrastructure and all the maintenance costs. To run a school on modern lines with good buildings, science and computer labs, libraries, etc., it requires substantial investments and involves recurring costs to maintain and sustain. If a school does not cut corners and does all its transactions honestly, it has to account for all the costs involved and arrive at a fee structure that covers the costs. This is where transparency is needed.

All stakeholders, including parents, must be convinced that the school is not motivated by profit and that its fee is commensurate with the infrastructure and facilities that are required to impart quality education. This involves attracting the best teachers available, retaining them with attractive remuneration, providing them opportunities for professional growth, and giving them incentives like promotion and recognition in varied forms. The importance of providing an ambience conducive to intellectual nourishment for both students and teachers cannot be overemphasised.

The calibre and commitment of teachers have a direct bearing on the learning outcomes and achievements of students. A school with a culture of excellence will have a strong, perennial influence on its students. The quality of a school, therefore, is the most decisive factor that shapes the destiny of its students.

There is a need to identify and promote enlightened managements who embrace a noble vision and constantly travel towards excellence. They will be just and fair in their dealings and have absolutely no eye on profit. Such an unblemished track record is the benchmark of an outstanding school.