There have been mixed reactions among various stakeholders to the school adoption scheme approved by the Maharashtra government last week, as per which private companies, NGOs and individual donors can ‘adopt’ over 65,000 government-run schools in the state for a tenure of five or 10 years.
While some feel that this scheme will bring the much-needed improvement in the infrastructure and quality of schools, others are sceptical about the involvement of private donors and feel this could increase the disparity between quality of schools in urban and rural areas.
The school adoption scheme will be implemented as part of the ‘Vidyanjali’ initiative under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, to improve the infrastructure and the overall quality of education in government schools. The donors can donate to the school by way of beneficial infrastructure, providing goods and improving services but not money.
Mahendra Ganpule, spokesperson of the Maharashtra School Principal’s Association said, “According to the Constitution, infrastructure and facilities are the basic responsibility of the government, not private companies or individuals. The donors need to show that they have made the prescribed expenditure on infrastructure and facilities but there will be no check on the maintenance of the same, once they have spent what they were supposed to.”
Another major point of contention is the provision for donors to add their name of choice to the name of the school during their tenure.
Ganpule added, “A private company would rather want their name on a school in the centre of the city rather than hidden in far off rural areas or hilly areas and tribal regions. The selection of schools for adoption will be on the whims of donors, so the drawback of this can be that the schools in already developed regions are developed further while the ones in need are left unseen.”
The government resolution released by the School Education Department last week stated its objectives “to develop a system of repair, maintenance and painting of school buildings” along with quality education and health, hygiene, use of modern technology, sports skills and others.
Pankaj Patil, a Mahatma Gandhi National Fellow who has been working closely with the Pune district administration, explained that the involvement of private companies and NGOs in government schools is not new. The adoption scheme merely streamlines and centralises the process.
“The Pune district administration had formulated 18 infrastructural points needed for quality education after a study of models from Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Delhi. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds were already being used to meet some of these needs like digitisation of the school, creating STEM labs or libraries, computer labs and so on. Even in villages, CSR or NGO initiatives were being approved by the local bodies. With the adoption scheme, all this will happen through the state government and there will be better accountability,” said Patil.
He added this scheme will let donors bring specialised teachers on a temporary basis for subjects such as art, physical education and computer science, for which teachers are not officially recruited yet.
Vijay Kombe, head of ZIlla Parishad Teachers’ Association said, “Even if donors provide us with state-of-the-art computer labs or libraries, it will not be of much use without enough teachers in government schools. Why does the government not focus on recruiting more permanent government teachers from among the thousands of unemployed ones we have instead of giving private companies and NGOs the freedom to bring in temporary teachers from outside? ”
He also raised the concern of ways in which the other activities organised by donors as services could further take away teaching time and focus on regular classes.