John Samuel Raja
Shankar Ram, an auto-rickshaw driver living in a poor neighbourhood in north Delhi, is proud of his son’s etiquette and English language skills. His 10-year-old son Amit has been studying in a private school for the last one year after a non-government organisation introduced the school voucher programme.
“His behaviour at home has changed a lot and he is now able to read in English,” says Ram, who is now sending his son to Roop Krishna Public School with the financial assistance of Rs 3,600 he receives every year.
The school voucher programme, which gives poor parents a certificate they can use to send their children to a school of their choice instead of a government school, has gained acceptance and is now being implemented in three states — Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Many more states like Tamil Nadu and Orissa are witnessing grassroots mobilisation to press the respective local governments to implement the programme.
State governments are opting for this scheme not just for the quality of education but also for its cost-effectiveness. For example, the Uttarakhand government has estimated that it spends Rs 10,537 per year for every child in a government school. In comparison, the government will spend only Rs 3,000 per year in a modified version of the voucher scheme.
The programme, which is called the PAHAL scheme, is being implemented in three districts of Uttarakhand and has 651 students. The programme, in its second year of operations, has targeted rag-pickers, scavengers and beggars in the age group of 6-14 years.
Evaluations have revealed that children enrolled under the scheme have performed on a par or excelled others in Mathematics along with English and Hindi language skills.
If it’s cost effective for the state government, for Amit and 400-odd students like him who live in unauthorised or resettlement colonies in the national capital, it’s a chance to get better education in schools which their parents could not have afforded.
When the Centre for Civil Society (CCS), a Delhi-based NGO, advertised its school-choice programme, the response was overwhelming. The centre received more than 100,000 applications for 400 sponsorships. The selection was made through a lottery. Children already attending private schools were not included.
“The fact that we received so many applications is a proof that poor parents want a choice in deciding where to send their kids,” says Parth J Shah, president, CCS.
The scheme has gained popularity across the world mainly because it gives parents the freedom to choose the school where they want to send their children. Because of this, the government funding is based on per pupil funding (PPF), which the supporters of the programme claim is equitable.
“Despite varied outcomes around the world, there has rarely been a case where the vouchers have lowered the learning achievements of students,” said Shah, who has compared these programmes in 11 countries, including the US, the UK and Chile.
In India, even without this scheme, the poor in many states are now sending their children to private schools that are popularly called ‘budget schools’ as they charge between Rs 50 and Rs 200 per month as tuition fees.
The parents who send their children to these ‘budget’ schools not only pay a nominal fees but also have to forego the noon-meal scheme and the free books/uniform given to the students of government schools. Thus, the real cost of sending children to these ‘budget’ schools is quite high.
The government of Rajasthan, which has many ‘budget’ schools, has decided to launch an education voucher programme in the current financial year. It has two schemes — Gyanodya and Shikshak Ka Apna Vidyalaya — under which it helps NGOs and individuals build and run schools.
Earlier this year, Uttar Pradesh also announced its school voucher scheme, which it plans to launch in areas where at least 300 people live and there are no schools within a one-kilometre radius. The government would then invite the private sector to open schools in these areas.
At another level, proponents of the programme are mobilising people’s support in states like Tamil Nadu and Orissa by demanding that the respective state governments launch such a scheme.
Even as the support for the scheme is growing, evaluation of the current programme has made Uttarakhand tweak the scheme. It found that parents misused vouchers given to them directly. Therefore, the government now gives vouchers to schools where the children are studying, in three instalments.
Shankar Ram, the auto-driver, is hoping that the school voucher programme continues for a long time, much more than the planned period of three years, as he sees it as a hope for his son to rise above his current economic background.
6 months ago