Privatisation and Education for Disadvantaged Groups in India

The expanding role of the private sector in education in India in recent years has drawn attention from academicians and policy makers alike. Previous policy recommendations (e.g the Kothari Commission, NPE, 1986) had recommended the expansion of access to different social, cultural and linguistic groups, as well as to the disadvantaged sections by adopting a common school system. This vision has been recently strengthened by the Right to Education Act, 2009, which has made it obligatory for the state to provide free elementary education to all.

The RTE Act, 2009 however, also takes into account the role of the private sector in providing schooling facilities. One of the provisions in the Act is that private schools provide at least 25 % of their seats to the weaker and disadvantaged sections [Chp. IV, Art. 12 (c)]. The Eleventh Five Year Plan also proposes that corporate bodies run 2500 model schools. This brings the issue of the role of private schools in providing education to the excluded/disadvantaged sections to the forefront.

In this context this research aims to study and analyse:
  • How the role of the private sector in the schooling of disadvantaged groups is conceptualized by current educational policy.
  • How private schools perceive and respond to these policy changes.
  • How disadvantaged groups are experiencing schooling under the current system both in government and in private schools.

The broader aim is to gain a nuanced understanding of the ways in which the current Indian education policy-scape structures and constrains educational access for less advantaged groups, and whether, or in what ways (if any), it provides a space for greater equity, or reproduces and reconfigures inequities.

On the ground, the study will try to uncover the conceptualizations or ‘mental models’ of key actors in the schooling process whether principals, officials or households. This will offer insights into how they ‘understand the environment and solve the problems they confront’ (North, 1990:20)

Research Design and Methodology

The study is designed as an instrumental case study to gain insight into the process of institutional mediation and policy implementation and the social implications of delivering basic education to disadvantaged groups in privatised contexts.

The study will be based on fieldwork in Delhi. Given the centrality of the institutional dimension to the study, Delhi was selected as the field site because: (1) as the national capital, it is politically charged and the seat of policy decisions in India, (2) it has seen a proliferation of private schools catering to the disadvantaged, and (3) there has been an explicit attempt by the state to institute the 2009 Act and the 25% free seats provision in private schools in Delhi. In addition, it has a sizeable slum population, 22% of which lives below the poverty line (Tsujita, 2009). Thus, the choice of Delhi will allow for the generation of insights most relevant to the research questions.

The study will be largely qualitative. It will cover a small number of government officials and educational planners, a sample of local state run municipal schools and private schools and around forty households in the site chosen for the research. A preliminary household census in the chosen site will enable us to understand school participation and select the school and household samples.

Semi structured interviews will be the main research tool.

The report is scheduled to be completed by the first quarter of 2012.

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