Public Education System in India

Education is one of the vital services that a modern state is expected to provide to its people. It is a service that every welfare democracy is obliged to give in the most accessible form. In simple terms, privatization of education refers to the state’s policy of allowing educational institutions, both higher and lower, to be run by non-state or private parties for monetary benefits. In contemporary times, many liberal democratic countries across the world are increasingly trying to privatize this basic service.

The public education system is the primary option for millions of students in India. These institutions have become more important as the pandemic takes a toll on the economy, putting fee-charging schools beyond the reach of many and forcing thousands to move to government schools.

However, education as a public good benefits spread across society in terms of employment, economic prosperity, health and social cohesion.

The education system has been commercialized where the buyers purchase the ‘education’ at prices. Economist Prabhat Patnaik termed the process as ‘commoditization of education’. According to him, “the privatization of education which means handing the education sector to profit making entities. It is a desire to attract direct foreign investment. Likewise, in India, policy makers in education sector often talk about ‘the striving for excellence, which is nothing other than making ‘education’ as a commodity.”

COVID-induced financial woes have forced parents to shift their wards to public education institutions. About 51% students are in government schools and nearly 10% in aided schools, yet there seems to be a bias against such schools amongst wider sections of the middle class.


  • Education, for most of us, is a necessary public good central to the task of nation building and, like fresh air, is necessary to make our communities come alive.
  • It should not be driven solely by market demand for certain skills, or be distracted by the admittedly disruptive impact, for instance, of Artificial Intelligence.
  • This form of education should be unshackled from the chains of deprivation, and “affordable” education is vital to ensure access to even the most marginalized sections of our country.
  • Education is a basic fundamental right. If we want to see the world as a fair place where everyone is given equal opportunities, education is what we require. Education should be free to all – both in elementary and secondary stages. It is essential for the development of human personality and moral living. If education is restricted to only a privileged section, it will be a huge injustice to the rest of the society.
  • Education, in essence, must aim to produce sensitive, creative and upright citizens who are willing to take the less-travelled path and whose professional “skills” will endure revolutions in thinking and technology.
  • There is no developed country where the public sector was not in the vanguard of school and higher education expansion, in ensuring its inclusiveness, and in setting standards.
  • Increasing literacy rates, for example, leads to improved health outcomes, broader participation in democratic processes, reduced crime and poverty rates, environmental sustainability and social equality.
  • In a recent report, UNESCO outlined how education performs much more than an economic function, by enabling individuals, especially women, to live and aspire to healthy, meaningful, creative and resilient lives. It strengthens their voices in community, national and global affairs. It opens up new work opportunities and sources of social mobility.
  • Affirmative action is required for quality of opportunity. It is an action that helps the underprivileged people to compete with others with respect and dignity. Reservation in educational institutions is an affirmative action. It helps the backward communities and section of people to come to acquire education and compete with the privileged classes.
  • Infrastructure issues:
    • Most of them do not have proper infrastructure like class rooms, black boards, drinking water, toilets and sanitary facilities.
    • The school environment is so suffocating that the students are dissuaded from attending the classes which is why the dropout rate is also high.
    • Almost half the government schools in the country do not have electricity or playgrounds.
    • There is slow progress in building classrooms, labs and libraries to strengthen government higher secondary schools.
    • The secondary and higher secondary level government schools do not have adequate capacities, so the net enrolment falls, especially girls, sharply beyond the primary level.
  • Budgetary and expenditure issues:
    • The budgetary allocations saw a 27% cut from proposals made by the School Education Department. Despite proposals for ₹82,570 crore, only ₹59,845 crore was allocated.
    • Overall, for the core Samagra Shiksha Scheme, the department had only spent 71% of revised estimates by December 31, 2019.
  • Poor quality of education:
    • Several reports suggest that nearly 70% of students studying in government schools are ill-equipped to learn in the class they are admitted to.
    • The private schools offer an enhanced teaching experience, better student-teacher ratio, efficient learning methodologies, and superior infrastructure, thus driving parents away from government schools.
  • Teacher issues:
    • India is also dealing with a scenario of significant teacher vacancies, which are to the tune of almost 60-70 per cent in some states.
    • Teachers’ professional development is a very weak area in government schools.
    • Almost half the regular teacher vacancies are filled by guest or ad hoc teachers.
    • Nearly, 95% of teacher education is in private hands and most of it is substandard.
    • Absenteeism of teachers in these schools is very high. Even though they are paid a much higher salary than the teachers in private schools, they cheat the government and fail to discharge their duties as teachers. And sadly, no action is being taken to prevent this.
  • Poor implementation of RTE Act:
    • Barely 15% of the schools can be called compliant with the RTE.
    • Section 29 of the RTE explains what kind of education every child has a right to. There is no government school that is complying with that, including elite schools.
  • Corruption:
    • The officers in the education department, being ‘managed,’ file false reports about the working conditions of schools.
    • Political interference and patronage shield the corrupt and incompetent.
  • Perception of private schools:
    • People feel there are not enough teachers in government schools, or the schools may not be functioning regularly.
    • They get carried away by the notions of a branded private school, even though it may not have good teachers.
    • Also, private schools’ brand themselves as English medium and it is most imperative for children’s education.
  • Patriarchal norms and gender bias:
    • According to the ASER report by Pratham in 2020, parents prefer private schools for education of boys while girl students are primarily sent to government schools to get basic education.
    • The ASER 2019 report states that parents exhibit a unique bias when it comes to selection of schools for their children.
    • The report shows that parents are more likely to opt for a private school when selecting a school for boys while government schools are primary choice of parents when it comes to girl’s education.
  • The government (State and Union) has toimprove pedagogy, teacher development, the level of community participation, the parent committees, etc.
  • India should also look at the basic safety, well-being and hygiene factors in government schools. Such as, well functioning toilets, drinking water and proper compound walls.
  • India can create better professional networks for teachers, this will help teachers to continuously learn from each other.
  • Developing a micro plan for every school, and a larger plan for schools at the district level, and then at the State level.
  • Local bodies can take ownership of government schools, and school development committees can be linked with elected local bodies, so they can support the needs of schools.
  • Create a comprehensive curriculum reviewlike Kerala and synchronise it at a national level to facilitate the incorporation of inter-state migrated children.

The Delhi model of education has caught the attention of people in Delhi and beyond, in the last five years. It built a model which essentially has five major components and is supported by nearly 25% of the State Budget. The validation of this model now creates a pathway for the next set of reforms. For too long, there have been two kinds of education models in the country: one for the classes and another for the masses. The government in Delhi sought to bridge this gap. Its approach stems from the belief that quality education is a necessity, not a luxury.

An education that privileges one child over another is giving the privileged child a corrupted education, even as it gives him or her a social or economic advantage. India’s past, and its unique, culturally diverse matrix provide a rich framework, but delivering on a holistic liberal education programme requires much more than just proclamations.