Policy Changes Warranted to Ease Opening Private Schools

Private Schools in India are non-proprietary enterprises. Procedures to open a school in India must be eased to the highest possible degree to excel in the global developmental race, given that school promoters are committing their resources to educate children of India and contributing to the most important criteria for social and economic development. All of these for no profit.



Now, it would be impractical to think that all schools would run charitably. A school as an enterprise, needs continuous funding for its sustenance. Let us look at the specific procedural aspects or the problematic steps that appear in the algorithm of opening a school in India. Thanks to the laundry list of permissions, NOCs, Inspections, etc - The scenario becomes bleak and the aspiring school promoters cynical. In our career as school consultants, we have seen several promising school promoters losing heart while coming face to face with daunting “procedures”.

The state policies and procedures that warrant rather urgent attention to ease process of opening private schools in India include -

    1. Size of the Land: The land requirements fix a minimum acreage to start a private school, which is quite a hassle for the one uninitiated in the real estate, not to mention the financial concerns.
    2. Type of Land: must be non-agricultural as a matter of policy. A change in the use of land to ‘non-agriculture for education purpose’ invites an official procedure and considerable sum of money.
    3. Infrastructure Development Fee: The development fee payable to the municipal or equivalent authority to permit development of land and buildings for school use.
    4. Essentiality Certificate: Document confirming state’s approval for opening the school in the location.
    5. No Objection Certificate (NOC): Document confirming state government’s approval for switching over from state to CBSE or ICSE boards.
    6. Right to Education Act: Awareness and Implementation, the RTE is not considered amenable for private schools. Though it is due to surrounding misconceptions, it anyways does not.
    7. CSR: Political will, civil society and corporate activism are now seen as a game changer in the scenario. Clearly documented procedures to partner with corporates and NPOs is required.
    8. One Nation One Education Board: Incoherence within boards run by individual states and boards run by central government.
    9. Governance: Revamp Governance Mechanisms to propel 21st century teaching learning, teacher recruitment, skill development and leadership.

Though opening a school requires rather exceptional perseverance, it is not a futile exercise, on the contrary, we would never fail to stress that it is the most rewarding social enterprise and everything needful must be done by the competent organizations to make the task simpler and resource-efficient.

We have in our earlier posts reported and suggested the activities that the corporates’ CSR wings are undertaking and strategies they can plan to improve the education sector. The initiatives like PPP schools and revamping of Aanganwadis are the dynamic moves to rewrite the script of school and early education in India.

It will be remiss of us not to mention the efforts--though some may call it too little and too late—that the educational boards like CBSE are taking to simplify the affiliation process. There are several modernization plans in the pipeline that are being seen through by the HRD Ministry and the boards of school education.

In several posts we talked about that how many schools will be needed if we plan to educate every child attaining schooling age by 2022. The number is in millions and there is no way that could be achieved without the reforms in the school establishment procedure. It has to be made qualitative, swift and expertise driven.

Our time is seeing the development of international schools and international programmes and the pace is indicating higher prospects. The ease of doing business is a key indicator of potential a market economy has. If we cover all enterprises having socio-economic and cultural impact, schools need not contest to secure their place as enterprise of exceptional criticality. So why will our complicated procedure that underlay school establishment not affect the growth of international programmes and schools. We have quantitative data to prove that the development of programmes like IB and Cambridge International have been swifter and consistent in the countries of South East Asia including the ones which have lower economic growth rate. One may argue that we must look at the HDI and then decide if there is an anomaly, yet it is undeniable that we have a problem which is systemic and that calls for a concerted action.

The easing of the norms and un-complicating the procedure is dubbed by some as liberalization of the school establishment in India. Though there is an urgency to incentivize or at least remove disincentives for private, unaided schools to ensure their sustainability, it is not exactly ‘liberalization’ unless the procedure is ‘license raj’. We are wary of using these terms as we have ourselves helped establish schools and have seen the cooperation that some states have offered us. The issue is the subjectivity of the policy makers. Instilling of objective parameters will automatically reform the process, quality and most importantly, the sentiment making it optimistic.

It has been said that landmark acts such as RTE has rendered the private school promoters’ situation even more vulnerable or precarious. The question is that why such an ironical situation poses itself? Where a law that is meant to make education an inviolable right turns out to be an impediment for the school promoters? The problem again lies with the quality divide in private and public education and the culture of imposing rules on people who dare to take initiatives.

The implementation timeline of RTE for private schools at the initial days spelled disaster for many private schools, which finally amounted to the loss of students in the form of interrupted studies. The silent shapers of our nation’s future that would be dubbed “dumb” by one or the other assessment tests.

The constant refrain that one hears while one questions the issue of state’s overlordship in the case of school education is that it restricts commercialization of education. Very well, we accept the fact that there is a need for that, but are these measures doing what they were meant to do? Are they doing more harm than good? At how many levels does system needs to be immunized against commercialization and is it also getting immune to quality upgradation measures, incidentally? We need answers and we have found very reliable conclusions in a decade of engaging with schools across India. We keep sharing our experiences but we have limits as a professional organization.

The procedure for opening a school has been elaborately dealt with in our previous post which clearly makes the fact more pronounced that the state definitively calls the shots. The time it takes is just indefinite. One should not be too naïve to confuse or connect delay with thoroughness. There is no indication that the vision or mission of the school is even being appreciated by the state. The state observes little but insists on seeing it all.

The situation gives the autonomy which is minimal to the societies that run the schools and arbitrary use of authority is not unheard of. It’s high time to realize that regressive policies and bureaucratic inertia cannot be made to sustain at the expense of the children’s future and every competent body, authority and organization must come forward to fundamentally change the culture that tolerates sub-par schools and education for children.

Vinod Kakumanu

Vinod Kakumanu

Founder & Consultant - School Serv

Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.

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