Yesterday was Children’s Day and, to mark the occasion, one group in Delhi organized a protest demanding better implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. They came with a list of demands – clean drinking water, cleaner toilets, tables and chairs, more teachers – and asked the government to set up the School Management Committees prescribed by the act to ensure parents had greater say in their kids’ education.
As I read about the protest, I found myself thinking about private schools. In private schools, whether expensive or budget, parents DO have a greater say in their kids’ educations. Often they demand those things that the protesters wanted, though sometimes they prioritise others. But the big thing is that neither children in private schools, nor their parents, tend to protest, and that is because they’re far happier with the educations being provided by their private schools than are the parents of government school pupils with the educations being provided to them.
Government schools are answerable for their performance to bureaucrats and politicians, but not really to parents and students. This leaves protest as the only avenue for those parents and pupils – the most important stakeholders in the equation – to make their voices heard. They’re shunted off to the sidelines rather than being right in the middle of everything. This can’t possibly be the right way round!
Of course, it’s not. Even the RTE acknowledges that. That’s why the Act calls for School Management Committees (SMCs) that involve parents in management of schools. And this is a good step. Establishing avenues for parents to have their voices heard and making those central is a positive thing. However, it is still only a partial answer.
SMCs will never be able to accomplish what choice can. SMCs involve some parents, but choice involves all of them. SMCs help to ensure that schools better meet the needs of more children, but parental choice makes schools more responsive to each individual child. SMCs bring parents in, but still leave most of the control in the hands of governments. School choice puts most of the control in the hands of parents.
So, as I think about Children’s Day, and think about what is best for the children I hear playing outside my window and their counterparts across the country, I am convinced that only through increasing school choice and empowering parents will we ever really see the kinds of improvements in education that yesterday’s protesters, and indeed all of us, so desperately desire.