Private school Education for poor in India is apparently under a crisis. While piecemeal reforms of public education have only repeatedly reinforced its inadequacies on access, enrollment, quality and retention parameters,  even private provisioning does not fair any better. With little or no differentiation, the value-addition of these private institutions to the economically backward is a glaring question mark.

Rationally speaking private schools will only mushroom in places where there is a sizeble catchment. Prior existence of a public school in a region is one market signal to an entrepreneur. So by design there would always remain areas, especially in far-flung tribal lands, where private schooling in the near vicinity will remain a distant possibility. As the numbers indicate, there are 9,50,000 government schools and an estimated 3,00,000 private schools in India (including the thousands of unrecognized private schools which are not recorded in any government registry).However 25% of our villages still have no access to public schools and only 28% of rural children have access to private schools in their own villages.

The quality aspects of private schools have not been as much scrutinized as that of public schools. It is largely been relegated to the market forces in which illiterate and ignorant customer can only make a price-quality inference. A recent survey from a prominent NGO shows that teacher attendance, teaching activity and student attendance, is far superior in private school vis-a-vis a public school, but  the effectiveness of private schools in imparting reading ability to the poorer strata is not significantly better than that of public schools.  It is unemployed youth from the local community, with mostly just secondary education, who join such schools as they cannot find an alternative employment and are unwilling to resort to agriculture.  Drawing a mere 1/5th of the salary of their counterparts in public schools, they are only motivated to take teaching as a short-term career. With the school management making no provision for better equipping teachers through periodic trainings, private schools tend to be worse than some "good" government schools.

It is futile to even discuss about, let alone formally assess, "value education" provided by private schools. Functioning at a subsistence level, entrepreneur has hardly any incentive to innovate. Instead, private schools tend to focus on mechanized education that is commissioned to churn out students who possibly can only fare better on "achievement" tests. Driven mainly by commercial motives, with few exceptions, these private institutions are run to benefit the "servers", rather than the "served".  This brings to question the purpose these privatized industrialized disseminators of information and instruction serve as compared to public schools. All they probably do best is mass produce seemingly intellectually worthwhile, but esthetically equally barren individuals.

If such is the sad state of fee-charging private provisioning of education then what is the role of private sector? What good can "voucher system" be in a world of Hobson's choice? Do we entrust the responsibility on the market to eventually rational out in the long term?  Is it not far too simplistic to believe that increased competition will eventually create exemplar institutions of educational delivery? If private education as a "substitute" of public education is farse mimicry, is it best designed as a "supplementary" channel?


Most of the recent developmental research and discussions on India's economic potential have centered around the "Demographic Dividend"- the booming youth of India and how India could leverage this working-age surplus (47 million working-age surplus by 2020) to emerge as an economic might. Many entrepreneurs and businesses, especially in the knowledge sector industry, have tactfully cashed in on this boom. However whether this surplus could form a potential  "good human capital", given the lackluster skills and resources required to participate in the economy, is questionable.

It is in the midst of the rather unduly focus of the country on the vibrant workforce, that a segment of 55+ age senior citizens as a potential source of skilled manpower, especially in sectors where experience is much sought after and valued,  is not paid as much attention as it deserves. It is estimated that there are 76.6 million people over the age of 60 in the country and this is projected to be no less than 160 million by 2025. As per the Department of Welfare of Disabled and Senior Citizens, 10% of Bangalore population, i.e. 0.5 million, are senior citizens. This is a sizable population and a qualified pool of skill and experience that potential employers could tap into.

One however wonders why this pool has been more or less formally untouched. Is it because of the lack of willingness and enthusiasm of senior citizens to engage in meaningful work, instead preferring to comfortably recline? The answer is that very few have a luxury to retire from the workforce. With the absence of a social security system and apparent trends of nuclear families, a fear of instability and vulnerability with the inherent lack of extended support system, lurks amongst the middle class (which will comprise as much as 41% of population by 2025). So if demand for work exists, albeit latent, why is there an apparent no ready availability of such opportunities? Is it because employers have access to better quality, younger and more dynamic workforce at a cheaper price? When one looks at the plethora of job openings demanding professionals with a minimum of 10-15 year experience, the answer is evident.

If there is demand and supply, then why is it that this market still remains unaddressed? There are only a countable instances-, and  - catering to this market. But why they have remained barely in existence evades my sense and demands attention. Is there an untapped opportunity beckoning an entrepreneur?
(To be continued)

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