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A step towards privatizing govt schools in Delhi

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By Sidharth Mishra

During the early years of my career in journalism, some very sound lessons were given by the veterans then; the foremost being to question the government. The role of the fourth estate gets transformed into that of an adjunct of the government’s propaganda machinery if media gives up its ‘sense of enquiry’.

Last week the Delhi government went to town claiming it was going to bring world-class education to 30 government schools by tying up with an examination body based abroad. The advertisements were supplemented by equally big write-up lapping up the move, with none raising an eye brow.

First let’s find out about the examination body with which the Delhi government has tied up with -- International Baccalaureate (IB). The IB is a foundation under Swiss law which is in the business of selling its products and services to schools in a system similar to a franchise network. Schools buy products and services from the IB - assessments, publications, the right to use branding - and in turn schools act as distributors, reselling the products and services to families.

So here the Delhi government has in fact given a plum contract to this service selling body of 30 government schools. For this purpose, a special vehicle was constituted – Delhi School Examination Board, which de-affiliated the leading government schools from the Central Board of Secondary (CBSE) and affiliated them to state board. Now this state board has ostensibly entered into a collaboration to buy services from this commercial body, thus effectively starting the process of privatizing government schools.

Let there be no doubts about IB being a ‘non-profit’ orgnaisation as mandated under the Swiss law. It’s balance sheet shows that IB’s financial surplus has increased nine-fold in eight years. In 2012, the IB had a surplus of $8 million, on revenues of $150.6 million. In 2019, the IB's surplus reached $71.5 million on revenues of $247.5 million.

Surprisingly, the contract has been handed over by Delhi government even as the body has been hit by controversies regarding its grading system. The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation of England has stated it would scrutinize the grades given by the body post-pandemic. The Norwegian Data Protection Authority too has asked the IB to provide data under the General Data Protection Regulation.

Incidentally, the IB board, which has been functional in India since 1976, has never enjoyed great acceptance with merely 200-odd very high-priced schools affiliated to it. It’s now that Messrs Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia given the private board the huge bonanza of 30 schools in one go.

One of the major reasons for the non-acceptances of IB curriculum, even by the rich private schools, is its examination system being out of sync with the Indian academic calendar. A child passing the IB high school examination loses a year, as it’s scheduled in tune with the European/US calendars, which start academic session in September. In India, the IB grade-holders have largely found seats in the private universities, where too fee comes at a premium.

On the larger issue of right to education (RTE), as now enshrined in our constitution, can the government instead of opening more schools under its aegis hand over existing schools to private boards. The RTE entails for public provision of free and compulsory education. Even the cost of reading material of IB is more than 10 times what the government-run NCERT provides for. Who pays for? A near bankrupt Delhi government for sure will have to fall back on a medium of revenue, which would go against the spirit of RTE.

(First Published in The Morning Standard) 


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