It is estimated that 55% of children in urban areas go to private schools, making India the most privatized country for education. Given this reality, the time may have come for the Government to have a fresh look at its education policy, especially the framework relating to private schools.
The prominent role of private sector has made it inevitable that the State Governments view these schools as important partners in promoting primary and secondary education in cities. It is therefore important to have an enabling policy framework that facilitates the establishment of larger numbers of such schools. However, this easing of licensing and other regulatory requirements have to be done with great care, keeping in mind the importance of maintaining education quality.
As part of these reforms it is also important that governments recognize the utility of options like the school voucher system, which give the parents and children the freedom to choose their schools. Under this, the government gives vouchers for a fixed amount which the parents have an option of topping up and choosing the private school which suits their requirement. Given the large numbers of private schools in our cities, it is logical to expect that such school voucher system would promote competition and improve education standards.
The Center for Civil Society (CCS) launched India's first School Voucher Project in March 2007 in Delhi whereby 408 students in 68 wards of Delhi were awarded vouchers worth up to Rs 3,600 per year per student. The scheme has been an unqualified success in terms of parents demand for vouchers, though it is too early to evaluate the outcome impact.
However, school vouchers have been tried out in many Latin American countries, and the results have been mixed, with little conclusive evidence either way. The evaluation of school voucher programs in Chile and Colombia are available here and here.