Tue, July 05, 2022

international

Inflation forces Indian parents to take children out of private schools


Indian financial consultant Waqar Khan has seen his income drop by about a fifth since the coronavirus pandemic began and when his younger son's private school raised fees by 10% this year, he had no choice but to move him to the state system.

Living with his three children in a small house in the capital, New Delhi, the 45-year-old can no longer afford private school fees for his 10-year-old son. He moved his older son into a state school in early 2021.

Khan told Reuters he had no option, adding that rising education costs had come on top of a nearly 25% jump in household expenses including transport, food and clothing in the last two years.

Khan is among millions of Indian parents who have moved children from private to state education since 2020, or from elite private schools to cheaper ones. In 2021, four million children switched from private to state according to government estimates, more than 4% of the total of around 90 million in private schools.

That is a reversal of a trend that has swept India over the last two decades, as more and more families opted for private education in a bid to give their children an advantage in an increasingly competitive job market.

And while the initial upheaval was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflationary pressures mean that fewer families with children in private schools can afford to keep them there.

For the fast-growing middle class, the appeal of lessons held in English and better teaching is huge.

Enrolment in private schools skyrocketed to over 35% of students from around 9% in 1993, and nearly 50% of households spend nearly 20% of their earnings on children's education, according to government and industry estimates.

The private sector covers a wide range of schools, from those costing a few dollars a month to several hundred, and so serves lower- and middle-income families as well as the wealthy.

A large number of private schools have raised fees and other charges by more than 15% this year, said Aparajita Gautam, president of the Delhi Parents Association, adding that some had delayed doing so during the worst of the pandemic.

On top of basic fees, transport companies that ferry children to and from school have raised prices by more than 15% this month in Delhi and some other states to cover rising costs of salaries and fuel bills, parents' associations said.

Schools have defended the hike in fees. Sudha Acharya, head of the National Progressive Schools' Conference and principal at ITL Public School, sympathised with the parents who can no longer afford school fees but said the schools were also faced with rising costs.

"Without increasing school fees again maintaining quality is a little difficult," she said.

A 2021 report by the Delhi-based Centre Square Foundation, a consultancy, found that a majority of 450,000 private schools in India, 70% of which charged up to 1,000 rupees ($13) a month per student, faced financial losses of 20-50% during the pandemic.

Some resorted to cutting teachers' salaries as many parents defaulted, and thousands of schools, particularly those catering to lower-income families, closed down, according to school associations and state authorities.

Published : May 03, 2022

By : Reuters