Free V/S Fee A Very Thin Line

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Education is a must for the better future of students but at the same time private schools’ high fee in the name of academics and other activities seems unjustifiable sometimes. What major factors drive the high cost of getting education observes Vinesh Menon, CEO – Education & Consulting, VIBGYOR Group of Schools, for Elets News Network (ENN).

Vinesh Menon, CEO - Education & Consulting, VIBGYOR Group of Schools

Vinesh Menon, CEO – Education & Consulting, VIBGYOR Group of Schools

It took a while for me to agree to pen my thoughts on this subject that is being much talked about in the k12 school space these days. The subject as most of you reading this will agree is sensitive, delicate and can be interpreted in multiple ways without leading to any conclusive outcome in a hurry.

So the big question that is doing the rounds is – “Are the private schools justified in their pricing of education fees for students and should the government be allowed to regulate the same?” While many theories fly around as responses, the simplistic two extremes in responses are:

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YES – as the expectation for quality education with enhanced amenities is on the rise amongst parents who want the best for their child and there is a cost that goes into delivering those expectations.

NO – Education is a child’s right and should not be subject to commercialization like a commodity product and is being exploited. The arguments will never end if approached emotionally and without putting a rational touch to it. Let us first absorb the following five key facts:

  1. The enrolment rate in 20% private schools far exceed that of the government schools
  2. Terminologies like SMART CLASS, digital learning, experiential learning gadgets & tablets were nowhere in the radar until 7 – 10 years ago
  3. Children of Age 3 are far more adept using their parents smart phone than the parent – Exposure levels to the young minds are far greater than what was witnessed in the yesteryear generation (which includes me by the way)
  4. Parents are increasingly keen to have their children become global citizens and well rounded holistically than just be a bookworm.
  5. The government has recognised fact number 1, in the Union Budget 2018 and has started giving impetus to digital boards and teacher training through well programmed PPP models with private players.

From the above it is obvious that the k-12 ecosystem is changing and one cannot expect the same methodology as was prevalent even 10 years back inside schools. Enhancement & Upgrades of any kind in any industry entail increase in input costs. Is it not but obvious that over time, this will translate into a certain output cost or fees commensurate with the value given to the student? How hence can one rank a fee structure in schools then? The Indian parent is as diverse as any other Indian and will thus have diverse views on what should be the family’s budget to educate their child. Affordability of school education fees can range from zero to sub 10,000 Rs annually to the other end of even lakhs of rupees in any given academic year – Irrespective of this diversity, one common thread flows and that is that the student in question should receive basic quality education; strong enough to bring confidence and set a foundation to make him or her into a confident youth ready to take on Life’s challenges that lay ahead. The tools required for this may vary and so will the price.

There may be those who have hit upon the idea of starting a school not with the purpose of eradicating illiteracy and providing education but purely to ring in cash registers by taking advantage of one of the most sought after requirement of the Indian population but this should not blind the perception.

To therefore presume that schools are overstating their expenditure, taking advantage of a system and charging “exorbitantly high” fees and reacting whimsically through a clampdown with regulated fee structure on private schools and yet expecting no change in their delivery is unfair. On a lighter note, this is akin to the government regulating the price of private passenger automobiles to bring it to par with say Hindustan Motor’s Ambassador just to ensure that everyone gets right to a four wheeler at regulated affordability. Schools in India have its diversity too – the land area, the constructed area, the architectural design, the infrastructure, the location, the facilities around transport, sports, culture, performing arts, international exposure, field trips within and outside the country…the list can go on – This diversity will lead to a diversity in fees and I can say with confidence that the Indian parent will be the first to question the value delivery for the price paid and will have no hesitation in shifting the child’s school to another one if the services are found wanting. In other words a free Fee pricing will only improve the school’s delivery system and the beneficiary will be the parent & the child.

Having stated this, the government’s fears are not misplaced either. There may be those who have hit upon the idea of starting a school not with the purpose of eradicating illiteracy and providing education but purely to ring in cash
registers by taking advantage of one of the most sought after requirement of the Indian population but this should not blind the perception. Schools started under this culture and ethos purely with a sole purpose of calculating IRRs mathematically are bound to not sustain and over a period of time the chinks will appear. However, one rotten apple cannot be allowed to spoil the basket and exception cannot be made the rule. The government must allow a free pricing policy and while schools compete amongst themselves to push themselves to constantly uplift the education process and in parallel:

  1. Ensure that there is a robust School Audit & Assessment system which should be followed diligently across all schools
  2. Ensure more efforts and initiatives towards improving their own government schools through value adding Public Private Partnerships

Use Point (1) to weed out the selfish school operators who have ONLY economics on their mind & Unleash Point (2) to simultaneously promote the government schools in the country. One and a half Million schools are not enough to cater to early development of a nation that is witness to more than 75,000 new births every day and all efforts should be taken to encourage as many private players as possible to scale and open as many schools as possible across the length and breadth of India or participate with the government initiative to revamp their schools.

Our focus should thus not be on the FEE but the future that we need our children to SEE! (Views expressed above are personal)

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