The Sinking Ship

I just read a wonderful piece on the state of education in Tamil Nadu. A retired bureaucrat, Mr. T.K Chandrashekaran, filed an RTI application to find out whether government school teachers send their kids to government schools or private schools. The results are shocking, if predictable:

Out of a reported total of 47,030 primary and middle school teachers in Government schools, 36,322 teachers (77%) were reported to have school going children of their own. Of these 36,322 teachers,

  • 27% (9,757 teachers) sent their children to Government Schools and
  • 73% (26,565 teachers) sent their children to Private Schools.

The statistics for high school teachers are even worse:

Out of a reported total of 50,782 high school and higher secondary school teachers in Government schools, 32,595 teachers (64%) were reported to have school going children of their own. Of these 32,595 teachers,

  • 13% (4,281 teachers) sent their children to Government schools and
  • 87% (28,314 teachers) sent their children to Private Schools.

In other words, government teachers, who are in the best position to assess the quality of their own educational facilities, are voting with their feet. Public education in India is sinking and like the proverbial rats, school teachers are deserting in droves. My own feeling is that the situation is even worse than you might think.

First consider that Tamil Nadu is one of the best educated states in India where the govt schools are surely better than govt schools in poorer states and also provide a free mid-day meal to their students. Then ask why high school teachers are even more likely to send their kids to private school than their middle school counterparts. My guesses: the rate of private school enrollment will be higher for TN teachers than teachers in poorer states and is higher for high school teachers than middle school teachers for the same reason: educational choice is about aspirations and the more capabilities you have to fulfill their aspirations for their children (as TN people do vis-a-vis poorer states and high school teachers do vis-a-vis middle school teachers) the more likely you are to send your child to private school. In other words, private schools are clearly seen as being better tied to aspirations than govt schools.

Perhaps it is the education in English, teacher attendance rates or smart uniforms, but unless we can make govt schools aspirational destination the public education system is doomed.

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