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Primary Education in India: Costs, Statistics, Problems

Primary Education in India: Statistics, Problems

There are two particular things that young Indian parents fear more than the devil – getting their child admitted to school and waiting for the year end to show how much more they might have to squeeze their pockets to keep them there.

Education is a basic essential for a progressive society. Anybody can tell us that. But the reality is that it has now become a luxury afforded only by the rich and the semi-rich. Why? As we explore the situation prompting such heavy expenses, let us begin with a few statistics on what is going on.

  • The cost of general education rose nearly three times from 2007-08 to 2014, according to India’s NSS (2007-08) and NSS (2014) reports on Education.
  • The cost jumped a monumental 226% for primary and 157% for upper primary education.
  • There is a disparity in the numbers in the rural and urban areas. The average private expenditure per student in urban areas is over INR 10k while it is one third that in rural areas.

In this article, we will explore the conditions that are prompting the insurmountable cost rise in elementary education, in private schools, in the whole country. What are the causes and why is there no easy cure.

High Cost of Primary Education in Private Schools in India


If Private Schools cost more, why don’t parents choose Government Schools?

A million dollar question, almost quite literally. The government of India, both Central and State, are responsible for allocating financial resources to be used as public expenditure in basic education.

Currently, it is in the neighbourhood of a mere 2.6 (ish)% of the GDP. The individual State earnings also play a role, and if a whole lot of complexities in the calculations are taken care of, as has been done in this study, it still shows that a lot of states have a long way to achieve an ideal state of effective education.

In comparison, China spends over 4% of its GDP on the little learners (Source).

What does government spending imply? This public expenditure goes into resources for students studying in government schools. Teacher salaries, creation and maintenance of resources, textbooks, creation and implementation of curriculums, scholarships, teacher’s training, and what have you.

Unfortunately, however, the reality of educational outcomes is far less than desirable. Here are some sad realities that have been observed in various studies.

  • According to the Annual Status of Education Report (2014), surveyed in over 15k rural government schools with primary sections, less than 50% of the schools complied with pupil to teacher ratio norms, although on a positive trend as compared to previous years.
  • The same report suggested that less than 60% schools even have a boundary wall, only about 65% have a playground, while the more promising numbers appear in compliance with classroom to teacher ratio (~73%) and offers of midday meals to primary students in about 85% schools. Only 19.6% schools have computers and some improvements have shown up in quality of drinking water and usable toilets.
  • Despite the spending, the desired outcome of education is still lacking. The percentage of students in various grades who can read in Standard II level are quite disheartening. Nearly half of all students in Standard V can’t even read as well as Standard II level. Over 30% of Standard II students can’t recognize letters, while nearly 20% can’t tell numbers between 1-9. Even subsequent levels suffer from a lack of basic math skills like number recognition, subtraction, division, etc.
  • Teachers, in some states, have been found to be completely inept in English and Math skills. Some even have dubious qualifications. Even with the majority of qualified staff, it is more common for the government to hire para (temp) teachers with lower pay rather than the already underpaid permanent teachers. Low pay is probably a good reason to keep quality and consistency at bay, for some cases.

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States in India who spend more on education see a somewhat direct correlation with education outcome. That is, more money allocated for education can be put to good use in improving student learning. However, more spending means diddly-squat if there is no accounting for how the outcomes are.

Studies have shown that in every state, learning outcomes in private schools are better than government schools, everywhere. Thus, despite the government spending, if there is no audit, checks and balances integrated into the system, government schools tend to stay behind the learning curve.

How does the cost of Private Schools add up?

The natural turn, for most households, especially urban, then, is to rely on private education for their children. The lack of consistency in performance in government schools makes this decision quite straightforward for parents albeit with a hefty price. Here are some pocket crunchers.

  • According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), in their 2015 study, private school expenses, of a single child, have risen from INR 55k, in 2005, to INR 1,25k in 2015. This is about a 150% steep rise. These expenses include – tuition fees, activity fees, development fees, uniforms, and more.
  • There is a big difference in average expenditure incurred by students attending government and private schools. In the primary sections themselves, it is about INR 1,100, in government schools, while nearly 10,600 in private unaided institutions.
  • The obvious demand, and the limited supply of schools, is skyrocketing even the admission process. Parents, on top of the tuition costs, have to pay through their nose on “donation fees”. In Delhi, donations range from INR 3 lakhs to 8 lakhs. Some of the fees, in nursery and kindergarten, are even pricier than graduate level education.
  • Private coaching is a reality in many States, especially in the urban areas. It accounts for 15% of the total private expenditure on education. All over India, nearly 25% students take private tuition classes.
  • On top of these, parents are also subject to various “commercialization” aspects of private schooling. Many schools require parents to purchase items like books, uniforms, and other accessories from only certain commercial retailers. This kind of forced monopoly can increase the cost of these otherwise cheaply available items.


Why can’t the rising cost of Private Schools be checked?

It is not that there have not been attempts at capping such high cost of education that are making parents choose to have a single child household to just break even.

Such regulations, however, are in conflict with the spirit of the free enterprise of unaided private institutions. Whereas a need for affordable education is clearly a desirable policy for the general public.

Question is – how to balance the two? Many States have tried to enforce legislations that can provide some measure of check. Some have attempted to cap the yearly fee hikes, arbitrary accounting attempts, financial mismanagement, and more.

However, steep resistance from private school associations and a general incapacity to implement such regulations have become a bane that parents are ultimately paying for.

If there is any hope, it completely relies on smarter regulations that require private schools to clearly define the breakdown of tuition fees, make accounting transparent for governing bodies, expect regular audits of their finances and educational outcomes, and provide goals for improvement that parents can weigh against their donations and surplus deposits, each year.
But hey, talk is cheap and we can rant about this kharcha and that mehengai till the cows come home. The reality, however, is far more foundational and the rising costs and lowering quality of the Indian basic education system is only the symptom. The problem is much deeper and lies at the heart of taking primary education and children, seriously.

The importance of making education a priority, increasing its access, providing capable teachers, investing in their proper training, improving resources, and really finding ways to make institutions accountable for their actions, not just to the governing bodies but ultimately to the children, needs to be realized.

Whether it is government, private aided, or the private unaided institutes, the question to ask is how can learning be made effective without throwing money at the problem and trying to find a temporary, albeit ineffective, fix.

Keeping fingers crossed till the next scholastic year.
Some related topics on education.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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Rakhi Acharyya
About Rakhi Acharyya
Rakhi is a freelance writer, a Physics PhD from Michigan State University, an ex-teacher and a former employee of Corporate America. Follow her on Twitter.

1 thought on “Primary Education in India: Costs, Statistics, Problems”

  1. Can you please help me,

    I have some ex staff based in india and I am looking to support their children with school fees in an effort to help their children obtain a better education. Can you please advise on the costs of the primary and secondary education.

    I am not looking for total private education, but to support them going to better schools as it seems the state schools are failing them


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