`But Do High Fees Translate Into Quality?'

For long, the state was the largest recruiter of teachers. Today , private schools have leaped ahead and hire more faculty across Maharashtra, whether in Pune or Parbhani, Nagpur or Nandurbar.

The appeal for the English language, surge in private schools and a cap on government recruitment, has seen the private sector's staff strength balloon. Maharashtra currently has 3.8 lakh teachers in the kindergarten-to-Class XII (K-12) category in the private sector and 2.7 lakh in its state schools.

“There is a little more margin for everything in private schools. We call that essential freedom,“ says Naina Pathak who works for a private school in Ahmednagar. Merely 10 districts--suburban Mumbai, Osmanabad, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg, Yavatmal, Jalna, Hingoli, Gondiya, Gadchiroli and Buldana--have more teachers in state schools--corporation and zilla parishad--than in private institutes.

Pune has the highest count of teachers--51,639--of whom 34,621 are in private schools.Experts say this phenomenon isn't restricted to this state.Across India, shrinking enrollment in government schools has seen fewer teachers being hired and 17% schools across the nation have just one teacher. “There is multi-grade or grade-less teaching in 75% schools. The number of teachers does not correspond with the student count,“ says a Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) committee member.

Educationist J M Abhayankar says ban on recruitment since 2012 has seen several vacancies pile up in government schools. “Every year an average of 3% vacancies come up. So in the past six years, 1.2 lakh posts needed to be filled, but were not.“ Another August 2015 government resolution curtailed the number of teachers per school. One teacher was needed for every 35 children.

“So, earlier for a minimum strength of 15 or 20 kids in each of Classes V , VI and VII, there were four teachers. But now even if there are 69 students, just one teacher is assigned. Only when the student strength touches 70 does the state grant the second faculty ,“ says Abhayankar.

“Most developed nations have a strong public education system and a majority of children in those nations are in public schools. We have made a constitutional commitment to provide quality universal edu cation to our children. Especially in a nation like India where close to 70% of the population has an income of less than Rs 3,000 per month, a public school is the only viable option, says Dileep Ranjekar, CEO, Azim Premji Foundation. “However, over the past 20 years or so, `Brand Government School' has taken a severe beating. Several factors such as poor quality infrastructure, non-adherence to committed teacherpupil ratio and qualitative and quantitative weakening of supporting institutions such as DIET have contributed to brand erosion.“

Ranjekar says, “Several studies have established the learning levels in private and public schools are similar (if at all, government school learning levels are marginally better)--so migration of such a large percentage of children to private schools is not well explained.“

Meanwhile, international and private schools grow at break-neck speed, hiring more teachers, charging up classrooms and laughing all the way to the bank, whether in Wardha or Washim.