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Private Schools and the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education: A census and comparative survey in Hyderabad, India

James Tooley and Pauline Dixon, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, and S.V. Gomathi, the Educare Trust, Hyderabad.

Vandemataram Sujalam Suphalam
begin our day with a prayer

Corresponding author:  James Tooley, Professor of Education Policy, School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, England,,        +44 191 222 6374


Key words: comparative education, development, educational policy, private education.

Private Schools and the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Primary Education: A census and comparative survey in Hyderabad, India


Development literature suggests that private schools serving the poor are not part of the solution to meeting the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education. The study conducted a census and survey of schools in notified slums of Hyderabad, India, to contribute to the sparse literature on the nature and extent of private schools for the poor. Of 918 schools found, 60% were found to be private unaided (PUA), enrolling about 65% of total enrolment. On a range of indicators, including pupil-teacher ratio, teaching activity, teacher absenteeism, and classroom and school inputs such as blackboards, desks, chairs, toilets and drinking water, PUA (including unrecognised) schools were found to be superior to government schools. Objections to a role for private schools in meeting the MDG target are explored and challenged. (130 words).


Does private education have a role in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of universal primary education by 2015? Many assume that private education is concerned only with serving the privileged, so is irrelevant to concerns about extending access to the poor. However, the existence of a burgeoning private education sector serving the poor is now acknowledged in the development literature: the Oxfam Education Report reports ‘… the notion that private schools are servicing the needs of a small minority of wealthy parents is misplaced … a lower cost private sector has emerged to meet the demands of poor households’ (Watkins, 2000, pp 229-230). Some of this evidence points to India, the focus of this paper: The Probe Team (1999) researching villages in four north Indian states reports that ‘even among poor families and disadvantaged communities, one finds parents who make great sacrifices to send some or all of their children to private schools, so disillusioned are they with government schools’ (p. 103). Reporting on evidence from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, De et al (2002) note that ‘private schools have been expanding rapidly in recent years’ and that these ‘now include a large number of primary schools which charge low fees’, in urban as well as rural areas (p. 148). For the poor in Calcutta (Kolkata) there has been a ‘mushrooming of privately managed unregulated … primary schools’ (Nambissan. 2003, p. 52). Research in Haryana, India found that unrecognised private schools ‘are operating practically in every locality of the urban centres as well as in rural areas’ often located adjacent to a government school (Aggarwal, 2000, p. 20).


Could such private schools for the poor be a possible partner in meeting the goal of universal primary education? The answer appears to be negative in the literature surveyed. Two major reasons given are, first, that private schools charge fees, thus making them out of reach of the poorest of the poor (Watkins 2000: 207, The Probe Team, 1999: 105, UNDP 2003: 115). Second, that private schools serving the poor are of low quality: The Oxfam Education Report, for instance, notes that private schools for the poor are of ‘inferior quality’, offering ‘a low-quality service’ that will ‘restrict children’s future opportunities.’ (Watkins, 2000, p. 230). Nambissan (2003) notes that in Calcutta, ‘the mushrooming of privately managed unregulated pre-primary and primary schools… can have only deleterious consequences for the spread of education in general and among the poor in particular’ (p. 52), for the quality of the private schools is ‘often suspect’ (p. 15, footnote 25).  Nair (no date) notes that “the large-scale growth of private schools” leads to “the poorer sections of the community being short changed and unable to get value for their money.”(p. 53). 


Significantly, such concerns about low quality of private provision must be read in the context of the reported low standard of government provision. The Oxfam Education Report prefaces the remarks quoted above with the observation that ‘there is no doubting the appalling standard of provision in public education systems’ (Watkins, 2000, p. 230). Indeed, the low quality of government schools for the poor is one reason given for the ‘mushrooming’ of the private schools: Venkatanarayana (2004) notes that the ‘failure of public school in terms of meeting parents’ expectations/aspirations’ has led to a ‘growing demand’ for private schools in rural Andhra Pradesh, India (p. 40). The Human Development Report 2003 notes that in India ‘poor households cited teacher absenteeism in public schools as their main reason for choosing private ones.’ (UNDP, 2003, p. 112). In government primary schools in West Bengal, for instance, it is reported that ‘teachers do not teach’ and ‘teaching is the last priority for the teachers’ (Rana et al, 2002, p. 64 and 67). The Probe Team found that in their sample, only in 53% of government schools was there any teaching going on at all (The Probe Team, 1999, p. 63). Public education is also reported to suffer from inadequate conditions. One government school highlighted by the World Development Report 2004, in north Bihar, India, describe ‘horrific’ conditions (World Bank 2003, p. 24). Facilities in government primary schools in Calcutta were reported ‘by no means satisfactory’ (Nambissan, 2003, p. 20). The Probe Team found that out of 162 government primary schools, 59% had no functional water supply, 89% had no toilets, and only 23% had a library, 48% a playground. The average pupil teacher ratio was 68:1 (The Probe Team, 1999). 


However, evidence about the reported low quality of private provision for the poor, and the relative quality of public and private provision for the poor is limited. Indeed it is suggested that ‘little hard evidence’ is available (Watkins, 2000, p. 230, UNDP, 2003, p. 115).  The present study, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, aimed to contribute to the understanding of private school provision for the poor, its relative quality vis--vis government provision, and its potential role in meeting the Millennium Development Goal of universal basic education. Parallel research was undertaken in selected low-income areas of India, China, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. This article reports on findings from the District of Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, only, exploring some of the assumptions made about the nature and extent of private schooling for low-income families, and to compare its inputs (including facilities, teacher commitment, etc.) with those in other management type schools in the same areas. (Further research conducted detailed comparisons of the achievement of students in these schools, and pupil, parent and teacher satisfaction, reported elsewhere).



The research reported here, conducted from August to December 2003, consisted of two main parts: a census of schools and survey of inputs. In India, school management type is of three kinds: government, private aided and private unaided (PUA). Government schools are funded and managed by some level of government, state or local. Private aided schools are privately managed, but usually have 100% teacher salaries, plus other expenses, funded by government. Private unaided (PUA) schools are entirely privately managed and privately funded. PUA schools are of two types, recognised and unrecognised. The former have purportedly met the regulatory requirements of the state. Achieving recognition enables the school to conduct state examinations and to issue “transfer certificates”, which are required for students to move schools, and to transfer to higher levels of education and gain employment (Nair, no date).  Unrecognised schools are in effect operating in the informal sector of the economy. They have either not applied for, or have not succeeded in gaining, government recognition. The research investigated all three management types. 


The Hyderabad “Urban Agglomeration” (UA) is the sixth largest metropolitan city in India, with a population of around 5.75 million. (Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, 2004).  We focused on the District of Hyderabad, with a population of 3.83 million (Census of India, 2001). A recent report suggests nearly half of the Hyderabad population live in “notified slums” (Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad, 2004). The literacy rate (of those above 7 years) of Andhra Pradesh is one of the lowest in India at 61.11%, although Hyderabad District itself is above both state and national averages, at 78.84% (Census of India, 2001).


Three (out of 35) zones in the District of Hyderabad were selected for data collection, Bandlaguda, Bhadurpura and Charminar, with a population of about 800,000 and an area of about 19 square miles (Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1997). A team of 8 researchers recruited from a local non-government organisation were trained in methods of gaining access to schools, the use of an interview schedule for school managers and headteachers, and an observation schedule, which was trialled to ensure reliability of observations made. Given that we were particularly interested in ‘unrecognised’ PUA schools, which are, by definition, not on any official list, the researchers were asked to physically visit every street and alleyway in the area, during the morning of a school day (except where it was indicated that a school was operating in shifts, in which case they returned to this school in the afternoon too), looking for all schools, primary and secondary. (Nursery only schools were excluded from the study, as were non-formal education provision, such as learning centres and after-school clubs). Government lists were used to check that all government, private aided and recognised PUA schools were found.


We excluded any schools that were not found in ‘notified slums’, defined as areas with lack of amenities such as proper sanitation and water supply, proper roads and electricity supply, (Government of Andhra Pradesh, 1997, pp. 40-73). When a school was located, the researcher called unannounced and asked for a brief interview with the headteacher or school manager, taking about 10 minutes, exploring figures on enrolment, pupil fees, gender balance, age of school, etc. The researchers carried a copy of a letter from the Andhra Pradesh Secretary of Education, Dr I.V. Subba Rao, asking for full cooperation, which facilitated access, especially to the government and recognised private schools.  They also carried a copy of a letter from Prof. Tooley, University of Newcastle, which appeared to open some doors. A large part of the training of the research team, both off-site and on-site, was in how to gain access to schools, addressing school manager’s concerns, pointing to ways in which the research might be of assistance to schools, guaranteeing anonymity and full access to the research findings before publication, all of which also facilitated cooperation.


The researcher visually checked school recognition documents, pupil numbers, and fees, all of which were usually displayed in the school office. After this, the researchers asked to make a school visit, where they checked the facilities available in the school against a short check-list of facilities, and visited one level  - Class 4 - to observe the activity of the teacher and make a check on further facilities. This visit was made when a normal lesson was timetabled – the researchers instructed to wait until such a lesson was scheduled if there were other activities (assembly, break, sports, etc.) taking place. Class 4 was chosen because the research was interested in primary schooling, and it was considered that children in class 4 would be able to fill in questionnaires sensibly by this age. 


The total number of schools located was 918 (table 1). Data discussed in section 3 below came from the interview, while data discussed in section 4 came from the observation schedule.  In addition, a stratified random sample of 153 schools was selected, after stratifying the schools into approximate size bands and three management categories: PUA (unrecognised), PUA (recognised), and government (ignoring for these purposes the small number of private aided schools). (Table 2). This sample was primarily used to elicit further data on academic performance of children, background variables, and satisfaction levels (reported elsewhere). However, the discussion of free and concessionary places and teacher salaries in Section 3 used data from this stratified sample. (The stratified sample of schools was visited on several occasions, and relationships established with the managers and teachers, enabling more detailed information to be garnered).


Some limitations of the research are apparent: For the survey, it would have been valuable to have made more than one unannounced visit to gauge the extent to which teachers were teaching over a prolonged period. However, this was beyond the resources of this study. It would also have been useful to have physically counted the number of children present in the school at the time of the visit, to resolve uncertainties concerning the proportion of enrolment of students in each management type.  However, whilst initially we attempted to do this, our researchers met with opposition from mainly government and private aided headteachers, and so this aspect of the study was dropped early on.


[Tables 1-2 about here]

Results: Census of schools

Proportion of schools by management type

The survey team found a total of 918 schools in the slum areas of the three zones. Of these, 34.9% (320 schools) were government, 5.3% (49 schools) private aided, and the rest – 59.8% of the total (549 schools) – PUA schools. That is, a large majority of schools is PUA. Of these, the largest number is unrecognised, (335 schools or 36.5% of the total), while 214 PUA schools were recognised (23.3% of the total). Hence, we found roughly equal numbers of unrecognised PUA schools and government schools (table 1).  An important caveat needs to be made about this finding. We cannot be sure we found all unrecognised PUA schools, as there were obviously no official lists with which to compare our findings. So this figure indicates a lower bound on the numbers of unrecognised private schools that existed at the time of the census. 

[Tables 3 -5 about here]

Proportion of pupils by management type

The researchers asked school managers or headteachers for the number of children enrolled in the primary and secondary sections of the school, checking these figures against enrolment registers. In the 918 schools, it was reported that 262,075 children attended at the time of our census, 24% of which was at government schools, 11.4% at private aided schools, 41.5% of children at recognised PUA schools, and 23.1% of children at unrecognised PUA schools (Table 3). That is, at the time of our census, almost as many children were reported to be attending unrecognised private schools as government schools, while 65% of total enrolment were reported to be in PUA schools.


Three caveats must be made.  First, there is the reported propensity of government and private aided schools to exaggerate enrolment, as there are clear financial and job security incentives to claim larger enrolment than is actually the case (Kingdon, 1996, Kingdon and Dreze, 1998). Second, it was reported anecdotally to us that there may be some double-enrolment of children in both government and private schools, for this enabled a child to attend private school during the morning and then go to government school for the free-lunch provided; it also would enable a child to take state examinations and gain transfer certificates, which would not be possible in an unrecognised private school. Third, again we note that we have no way of checking that all unrecognised PUA schools were located by the researchers. For each of these reasons, it is suggested that the data here may only be an approximate estimate of the true proportion of enrolment in PUA schools – the first caveat leading to a potential over-estimate of enrolment in government schools, the third potentially underestimating enrolment in private unaided (as there may be more unrecognised schools not found by the researchers); the second caveat would have an undetermined impact on true enrolment.


Gender of pupils

It was reported overall that a higher percentage of girls than boys was in school, with the average school having 47.3% boys and 52.7% girls. However, more girls were reported in government schools than boys, (57.2% girls and 42.8%). In private aided and unrecognised private schools, more girls attend than boys – in private aided schools, there were 56.9% girls and in PUA unrecognised 51.8% girls. In recognised private schools there are about equal numbers of boys and girls attending, 50.5% boys to 49.5% girls. Considering both recognised private and unrecognised private schools together, there are just slightly more girls attending but the difference is minimal – 50.3% girls compared to 49.7% boys (Table 4). Taken together, these figures suggest that girls are more likely to attend government than private unaided schools.

Teachers and  pupil-teacher ratio

Researchers obtained data on the number of teachers from 882 of the school  managers or headteachers. The total number of teachers reported was 8,786, with 71.7% working in PUA schools, 7.9% in private aided schools, and 20.4% in government schools.  For schools reporting both their enrolment figures and teaching staff, we calculate an average pupil-teacher ratio of 31:1. This was highest in the private aided schools (43:1) followed by government schools (42:1), recognised PUA schools (27:1), and lowest in unrecognised PUA schools (22:1) (Table 5). Given the first and second caveats above about actual pupil enrolment, actual pupil-teacher ratios may be lower in the government schools.

Scope of schools

Over three quarters of government schools were reported to be primary-only schools, with the majority of the remaining providing primary and secondary sections only (17.2%). The private aided schools are quite diverse in the levels they serve, with one quarter serving primary only (25.5%) and around one third serving primary and secondary (31.9%) and just under one third all sections (29.8%). For unrecognised private schools the majority are nursery and primary providers (60.8%), and just under one third provide all sections (32.8%). However, for PUA recognised schools, the majority are “all through” schools, providing all sections (74.3%).

Establishment of schools

Epithets such as ‘mushrooming’ used to describe private (unrecognised) schools, as noted in the literature reviewed above, implies that such schools may in general be newly established. Our data provides insights here. A longitudinal survey would be necessary to establish whether or not there are unrecognised private schools opening and closing quickly, beyond the scope of the current work. However, we can report that the mean year of establishment for PUA unrecognised schools was reported as 1996 (i.e., seven years old at the time of the survey in 2003), although the median was 1998, and the mode 2001 – the last indicating that the largest number of schools had been running for two years at the time of the survey. For PUA recognised schools the mean year of establishment was 1986, while the median was 1988 and the mode 1998.  Many government primary schools had also been created recently (mean – 1978, but median and mode 1996 and 2000 respectively), likely to have been created under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and World Bank DPEP programmes (see Mehta, 2002). 

Medium of instruction

The literature suggests that, as private schools in India purport to provide English medium instruction, this is an additional reason why parents choose private over government schools (e.g., Nambissan, 2003; De et al, 2002).  Our results confirmed a significant difference between private and government schools in their reported medium of instruction. Of the 883 schools reporting, 50.6% were English medium only, 29.9% Urdu medium only, 7.8% Telugu medium only, 5.1% Hindi or other language medium schools and the remaining 6.6% English and other language medium. However, disaggregated into management types, we find 87.8% of recognised PUA and 80.2% of unrecognised PUA schools reported they were English medium, compared to only 0.6% of government schools and 28.3% private aided schools. The majority of government schools reported that they were Urdu medium (72.6%). Observations in classrooms for earlier research suggest that schools describing themselves as English-medium use English only textbooks for all subjects apart from Indian languages, with teachers offering a mixture of English and Urdu/Telugu to support their use (Dixon and Tooley, 2005, Smith et al, 2005).

[Tables 6-7 about here]

Management of private schools

It might be thought that private schools in low-income areas would be predominantly managed by philanthropic or religious organizations. The private school managers were asked about management arrangements for their schools, given the mutually-exclusive options of: charitable trust/society or community group, religious organization (church, mosque, etc.), individual proprietor(s), or commercial company. The results are slightly difficult to interpret, due to the fact that all private schools are legally required to be run by charitable trusts or societies. Proprietor-run schools are technically illegal.  Because of this, where the school manager indicated that their school was run both by a charitable society and individual proprietor(s), they were classified as the former. Only if the school manager indicated individual proprietor(s) as the sole management arrangement did we include the school as being managed by an individual proprietor. For the recognised private schools, it is interesting that 25 (13%) listed either individual proprietor or commercial company.  This may be how some school managers perceive the situation even though there is likely to be a charitable trust officially running the school (Table 6).  Note also the tiny number of schools that are run by religious organizations.


A follow-up question was asked to determine whether private schools received additional funds for recurrent or capital expenditure in addition to those from school fees and other income from students. Half of the private aided schools, as expected, reported that they did receive financial assistance from elsewhere. However, the vast majority of the PUA unrecognized (91%) and PUA recognized schools (82%) reported receiving no outside funding at all. The income of the vast majority of these PUA schools is solely made up of the school fees. For the minority that report that they do receive outside funding, follow-up conversations with a small number of school managers indicated that some of these funds might come from relatives, working as expatriates for instance, or indeed that some may have misunderstood the question, indicating when they have taken bank or informal loans or invested their own personal resources to finance their school, rather than referring to genuine donations from outside.

Fees in PUA schools

The PUA schools were found to charge predominantly monthly fees.  Researchers asked school managers for details, checking these against written fee charges.  A statistically significant difference in the fees charged in unrecognised and recognised schools was reported, with the former consistently lower than the latter, at each level. For example, for 1st grade, mean fees in recognised PUA schools are Rs. 95.60 (1.22) per month, (using 1=Rs.78/-), compared to Rs. 68.32 (0.88) per month in the unrecognised schools.  At 4th grade, the same figures are Rs. 102.55 (1.31) compared to Rs. 78.17 (1.00). 


Minimum wages for Andhra Pradesh are set in the range from Rs. 25.96 to Rs. 78.77 per day (2001 figures, Government of India, 2005), with workers in Hyderabad (who will be non-agricultural) typically at the higher end. A wage of Rs.78/- (1.00) per day translates to about Rs. 1,872/- (24.00) per month (assuming 24 working days per month). That is, the mean fees for unrecognised schools for 4th grade might be 4.2% of the monthly wage for a breadwinner on a minimum wage, while recognised school fees might be about 5.5%.


Free and Concessionary Places

However, not all students pay fees. Although the majority of PUA schools are totally dependent on fee income, they also offer free or concessionary seats to children.  We explored this with the smaller number of PUA schools in the stratified random sample (as in Table 2), and followed up with parents. Of the 109 PUA schools participating in this part of the research, 99 school managers gave information about the number of free places and 86 about concessionary places. Of schools giving information, 71% of the unrecognised and 78% of the recognised PUA schools reported that they offer free places to some students in their schools. Regarding concessionary places, 84% of the unrecognised and 83% of the recognised PUA schools offer these. (In both cases, the difference between school types was not statistically significant).


We can estimate the proportion of free and concessionary seats using reported total enrolment in the stratified random sample of private schools (i.e., all the private schools, including those that reported that they didn’t offer free or concessionary places). Out of the total of 43,852 children attending PUA schools, the total number of free seats given was stated as 2,978 (1,731 in unrecognised and 1,247 in recognised PUA schools), while the total number of concessionary places was 4,768 (2,992 in unrecognised and 1,776 in recognised PUA schools). That is, (at least) 6.8 percent had free places, and 10.9 percent had concessionary seats. In both cases, the unrecognised schools were more generous in the provision than recognised schools. Altogether, it was reported that 17.7 percent of children in PUA schools had free or concessionary places provided for them (table 7).


Why do private unaided schools offer free or concessionary places? Elsewhere (Tooley and Dixon, 2005b) we report that private school managers point to a range of reasons, including social concern (“To uplift the standard of education by offering services to the poorest in the slum areas”; “To help the poor[est] among the poor without any return from them”), and enhancing the profile of the school (“To gain a good reputation for the school within the community”.). That is, the reasons for offering these places may be a mixture of philanthropy and self-interest.

[Table 8 about here]

Teacher salaries

We also explored teacher salaries with the class 4 teacher from each of the stratified random sample of schools. The average monthly salary of a full-time teacher at grade 4 in a government school was reported to be Rs. 4,479/-, compared to Rs. 1,223/- in unrecognised and Rs. 1,725/- in recognised PUA schools (table 8). The average salaries in government schools are more than three and a half times higher than in the unrecognised, and more than two and a half times those in the recognised PUA schools.


Results: survey of inputs

The survey of inputs allowed comparisons of teaching activity and facilities across the different school management types.  The majority of these indicators were those explored in other research (see Section 1 above) as important proxies for the quality of the learning experience, such as those vital for basic health and hygiene (e.g., drinking water and toilets), for safety, comfort and ease of learning (eg., ‘pucca’ buildings, electricity in the classrooms, fans, desks, chairs and blackboards), and the activity or otherwise of the teacher. Other indicators focused on inputs signalling investment in educational provision (library, tape recorders, television and computers for teaching purposes, all of which are seen as important by the Government of Andhra Pradesh for improving educational quality (Government of AP, 1999).  In all cases our interest was how would PUA, especially unrecognised, schools, compare with government schools in the slum areas researched?  Research on other indicators of quality are to be reported elsewhere, on teacher-pupil  interactions (based on methods in Smith et al, 2005), and on assessment of pupil learning in key curriculum areas (for an overview, see Tooley and Dixon, forthcoming).

[insert table 9 about here]

Teacher activity

An important point of comparison is the amount of teaching activity that is going on in government and private schools.  The researchers were asked to observe, without prior notice, the class 4 teacher (or nearest grade teacher) when there was timetabled teaching supposed to be going on. Teaching was defined as when the teacher was present in the classroom, supervising the class in some activity, including supervising pupils reading aloud or doing their own work, or when pupils themselves were leading the class at the blackboard, under supervision of the teacher. Non-teaching activities are defined as when the teacher is not present in the classroom when he or she should have been, although the teacher was present in the school. This included being in the staffroom, sleeping, eating or talking with other teachers, or engaged in some other non-teaching activity around the school.


Teacher absenteeism was found to be lowest in private aided schools where no teacher was absent. Only one teacher (0.5%) was absent in recognised private schools compared with 13 unrecognised private teachers (4%) and 17 government teachers (5.7%); however, teachers were teaching far less in government than private schools: In 74.6% of government schools the teacher was teaching, compared to 95.6% in private aided schools, 90.5% in the unrecognised private and 97.5% in the private recognised. 19.7% of the teachers in the class visited in the government schools were carrying out a non-teaching activity when they were supposed to be teaching their class (table 9).

[insert table 10 about here]

School building and playgrounds

The researcher was asked to note whether the majority of the teaching was taking place in a ‘pucca’ building, that is, a proper brick or stone building, or in some other construction, such as a veranda, a tent, in open spaces, or in temporary buildings. They also noted whether the school had a playground available – although this could be of any size, not necessarily one meeting the regulatory specifications. The great majority of all school types was operating in ‘pucca’ buildings. Regarding the provision of playgrounds, it was found that 39.2% of government schools had a playground compared with 66.7% of private aided schools, 34.9% of unrecognised private schools and 52.8% of recognised private schools (table 10).

[insert tables 11-13 about here]

School facilities

Data on availability of blackboards, desks, chairs, fans and electric light concern availability in the classroom of the class 4 or nearest class teacher. Data on the type of building, playground, library, tape recorders, toilets (including separate toilets for boys and girls), computers, drinking water and television/video, concern the availability in the school as a whole. Statistically significant differences, using chi square tests, existed between school types for all inputs (Tables 11 and 12). In all cases, government schools had the lowest levels of provision. Some of the findings are:

Drinking water for children: The great majority of PUA schools had drinking water available for their pupils (96.0% unrecognised private and 99.5% private recognised), while 87.8% of private aided schools provided drinking water. However only 57.5% of government schools provided drinking water for their pupils.


Toilets for children: The majority of PUA and private aided schools provided toilets for students (93.9% private aided; 96.6% unrecognised private and 97.4% private recognised). However, only one half of government schools had student toilets (51.9%).  Only 11.3% of government schools (excluding single-sex schools) had separate toilets for boys and girls, compared to 57.9% of unrecognised and 85.3% of recognised PUA schools.  


Library for use by children: The majority of schools do not have a library. However, the school management type providing most libraries is recognised private where almost one third of schools had a library (32.7%). Around one quarter of private aided schools (24.5%), while one tenth of unrecognised private schools (10.7%) provided a library. Only 3 government schools had library provision (1%).


Computers for children’s use: About half of the recognised PUA schools had one or more computers for the use of their students, compared with 13.2% of unrecognised PUA schools and 26.5% of private aided, but only 1.6% of government schools.


Television: The majority of schools do not have televisions, however about one third of recognised PUA schools have a television for teaching purposes, compared with 20.4% of private aided schools. Only 4.9% unrecognised private and 4.8% of government schools had a television.


Desks: In 63.3% of recognised, 31.3% of unrecognised PUA and 40.8% private aided schools, desks were available in the classroom, compared to only 1.9% of government classrooms. 


Chairs or benches for children: In 81.2% of recognised and 70.6% of unrecognised schools, chairs or benches were available in the classroom, compared to 7% of government schools and 55.1% of private aided schools.


Electric light: Only 11.1% of government schools had electric lights available or functioning in the classroom, compared to 38.8% of the private aided, 45.4% of the unrecognised private and 60.2% of the recognised private schools.


Given that the ‘quality’ of unrecognised PUA schools is of particular concern in the literature, pair-wise chi-square tests were also conducted between these and government schools (Table 13). These showed that private unrecognised had superior inputs to government schools on all put two inputs (playgrounds and provision of computers), where there was no significant difference between the two types. 

Conclusions and discussion

Our study suggests that the private sector is certainly a significant provider for the poor. The census in notified slums of three zones of Hyderabad found that 60% of the 918 primary and secondary schools were private unaided (PUA), with as many unrecognised PUA as government schools – although we cannot be sure that we found all unrecognised schools, as they are not on any official list. Reported enrolments suggest that nearly 65% of total enrolment in the slums is in the PUA sector. Should the presence of private unaided schools, especially unrecognised ones, be a cause for concern, as it appears in the literature cited in the introduction, or can something more positive be concluded about their potential role in contributing to the MDG of universal primary education, especially given their large-scale contribution? We return to the two major reasons, given in the introduction, as to why private schools should not be seen as important players, to explore this question:


First, private schools charge fees. Per se, however, this need not be an insurmountable obstacle to PUA schools being vehicles to assist in meeting universal primary education: We noted that the private schools themselves engage in offering informal scholarships (free or concessionary places) for some of the poorest children. One approach would be to extend this principle to create state and/or donor agency funded targeted vouchers for the poorest, and/or for girls, to use at private schools, which could potentially overcome this objection, especially if coupled with measures to improve quality in all school types (see below). UNDP (2003) accepts this as a possible way forward: ‘To ensure that children from poor families unable to pay school fees are able to attend private schools, governments could finance their education through vouchers.’ (UNDP 2003: 115). It notes the success of two targeted voucher programmes, in Colombia and Pakistan, the latter targeted at girls. There would seem to be no a priori reasons why such programmes could not be introduced into the Indian context, which might overcome this first objection to private schools as a vehicle for education for all. Interestingly, the Probe Report revealed an overwhelming majority of poor parents would prefer to send their children to private schools, if they had the funds (Probe Report, 1999, p. 102). Targeted vouchers would be one way of enhancing these parental desires.


However, the second concern is of the quality of provision in private schools serving the poor, particularly unrecognised ones – implying that extending access to such schools would not be desirable because of the low quality of education within them. Our research findings suggest that these concerns may be somewhat misplaced. Considering the 15 indicators investigated in the survey concerning infrastructure, facilities and teacher activity, plus pupil-teacher ratios investigated in the census, we find that private unaided schools in general provide a superior level of inputs to government schools, and, in all but two indicators, this also applies to unrecognised private unaided schools.  The development literature cited above accepts that government schools are of low quality, but is in agreement that quality improvements are possible. Parallel logic might suggest that private unaided schools, including unrecognised ones, could also be improved – possible vehicles include grants and/or loans to help managers invest in infrastructure, teacher training and other provision, and the establishment of improved regulatory environments (Tooley and Dixon, 2005a). Given that the private schools are, this study suggests, starting from a higher base than government schools, it is difficult to see why such innovations could be objected to as a way of helping to meet the MDG education targets. 




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