Monday, January 09, 2006

Education !! at what cost??

I attended a concert by the flute mastero Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, this sunday. Now, thats no news. The news is he was in Indore for a launch of a new school & the concert was a part of the launch function of the school at one of the best known hotels of the city.

Yes ! Panditji was roped in, to rope in a crowd that would then be roped in to admit their wards in the said school.

Getting a guru of the stature of panditji means a use of substantial amount of personal clout (influence) and also money - specially because getting a minimum audience for such a function itself could be dicey (sure enough there were less than 100 odd people in a hall prepared to accomodate more than five times that number).

Education (& I am talking about education of kids) is big business now a days. In Indore alone - not yet a metro city - there are seven schools charging a fee of more than 25000 Rs. a year. (with half of them charging more than 30000). The figures do not in general include transportation - that adds another 6000 a year. In some cases this is even exclusive of lunch/snacks served to children. Most of these schools have sprung up in the last three years.

There are about five prep schools (pre primary) that charge in the range of Rs. 20000+ a year for keepping children involved in educational & developmental activities for three hours a day. They also promise to train (?) these two plus years old kids for admissions to the coveted schools.

Ofcourse these figures sounds like peanuts when compared to some schools based in metros like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc. However they are astronomical if one looks at the economy of the city - and living standards of the people. The developments are a function of the increasing metro like population that is resident of this city now.

One of the reasons for the high fee is the infrastructure that modern day schools are offering. It beats some of the best hotels/clubs in the city. You can easily get seperate cricket, football fields in all schools. Now count - an international standard swimming pool with another for younger kids thrown in, skating ring, well equipped gymnesium, Basket ball, volleyball, badminton &/or tennis courts, open air labs in physics & mathematics, huge and very well equipped mess, full blown auditoriums, outdoor trips almost every month, seminars for parents on parenting & associated issues.

One of the schools offered special lab for kids with learning disabilities, another offers after class support for problem solving, yet another promises no tution needed programme. Kids have never had so good ever.

They are proliferating
The high fee has not prevented people from admitting their children to these schools on the contrary it is difficult to get admission in a few of them - primarily because of two reasons.
One, its a status symbol to get one's children educated in one such school. How else can one prove that they are doing their best for their children. Its a mob effect - one family in a locality gets their ward admitted & then talks about it - others soon follow.

Two, early results seem to be very promising. The kids from these schools apparantly are more confident, develope a wider vocbulary faster, have a greater general knowledge, is more communicative & assertive, developes motor & recognition skills faster and is also, in general, a happier child when compared to similar kids getting educated at the conventional missionary school which is cheaper. This is largely because these schools use interactive fun to learn tools for development of child instead of the conventional classroom classwork - homework routine.

The Challenge
This is not just an interesting trend but also one that needs to be analysed for its impact. The challenge for these schools is to show that despite the variety stuff that provide in educating children they can deliver to serve the traditional model as well. At the end of the day - given the way our system is the child has to do well in exams. As the child eneters high school - the percentages in his marksheet becomes rather important. It is here that most experimentative schools have finally failed to deliver.

There is a challenge for parents too. They need to plan investments rather well if they hope to support the study of their children rather well. A simple comparison says that the amount I paid for my son's prep school in one year was double the amount that I paid to my engineering college - my hostel stay included. Higher education is becoming increasingly expensive and during high school the tution cost of a child is almost equal to, if not more, than the school fee.