NEW DELHI: That private schools improve learning outcomes is a myth. The impact of the voucher system on learning achievement levels was studied over five years in rural Andhra Pradesh by Azim Premji Foundation. The findings of the Andhra Pradesh School Choice research aren't encouraging for voucher system supporters. Private school kids performed better than government school ones in only the first year; in subsequent years, government school ones performed just as well, if not better.
DD Karopady, from the Research Centre at Azim Premji University, Bangalore, concludes his paper on the study writing, "Even after 5 years of exposure, the children who shifted to private schools from government schools when given a choice under a scholarship programme are not able to perform any better than their government school counterparts. ... Contrary to general perception, fee-charging private schools are not able to ensure better learning for children from disadvantaged rural sections as compared to government schools."
The debate on voucher system came up with discussions on the Right to Education Act. A 'voucher' is essentially a document promising government funding which the parent, exercising "school choice", can then use to pay for their child's education at either a private or government school. The pro-school-choice group argues that fee-charging private schools produce better learning outcomes, are more accountable. But as Karopady observes in his review of existing research on the subject, "This flies in the face of data. Analysis of PISA 2012 data suggests that competition and school choice do not improve learning outcomes at the system level but could lead to greater inequity and segregation."
The APSC's findings confirm this. The study involved launching a scholarship system promoting school choice in 180 villages in pre-split Andhra Pradesh. Over 10,000 children were selected and divided into four groups — those who didn't apply for scholarship at all and stayed in government schools (Group 1), those who applied but didn't get (Group 2), those who received the scholarship (or 'voucher') and moved to EWS seats in private schools (Group 3) and those who started in private schools without considering government ones (Group 4). For the paper, Karopady combined the first two groups — both sets remained in government institutions - and clarifies that the findings were similar for them.
Group 4, performs best consistently but as the paper says, "The findings seem to indicate that the reasons for better performance of Group 4 children (who would have gone to private schools in any case) may need to be looked for outside the school." A comparison between the first two groups combined and Group 3 — they come from similar backgrounds — is most revealing.
In year I in Telugu, private school kids are ahead — 38.4 per cent of them attain minimum learning levels as against 32.0 per cent of government school children. But after that, the gap diminishes and becomes insignificant. In fact, in year 3, more (42.6 per cent) children in government schools attain minimum levels than private school ones (40.7 per cent). In year 5, government schools are still ahead though their edge over private ones is insignificant. It's the same story with mathematics — better performance by private school kids in year I followed by steady decline. By year 3, government school kids are performing better and they keep that up till year 5. The findings in the case of English (as a subject) are most interesting. In AP government schools, English is taught from Class 3; private schools teach English from Class I. "In spite of the two-year head start," says the paper, "private school...children end up with performance on par with their government school peers in English."
Learning achievement test results for English (mean per cent):
|Type of School:||Year 3||Year 4||Year 5|
|Government school children:||43.8||12.6||18.5|
|Private school through scholarship:||47.3||13.5||19.3|
"The analysis of five-year data from the study shows strong evidence that contrary to popular perception, private schools are not adding value, as compared to government schools, to children except in the first year, after adjusting for socio-economic factors. The findings in all four subjects studied are similar and consistent," writes Karopady.
The findings dispel a popular myth that private schools lead to better learning — a claim frequently used to support demands for increased government funding into private education. For instance, Delhi-based think-tank and school-choice proponent, Centre for Civil Society's list of demands for the 2015 budget includes a voucher system for secondary education (in place of the government using the funds to set up its own schools) and an institution "that uses private and public funds to support private schools for the poor." Predictably, CCS quotes the ASER report to support its demands and the claims on learning outcomes.
Pratham's Annual Status of Education Report has frequently been accused of oversimplication of a complex issue. It is a household survey but where the survey findings are presented, there is little on the families from which the children come, the environment at home, early childhood care and availability of curricular support outside the school. It appears to attribute all learning achievement — or the lack of it — to the school alone. There is no word on the extensive use of private tuition even in areas like Delhi's Nand Nagri where ASER did a district survey in 2014. Unlike them, the APSC study acknowledges a range of external factors that impact learning.
"Based on the household data," writes Karopady, "private school students often come from relatively more privileged backgrounds....65 per cent of private school students have at least one parent who completed primary school while 37 per cent of students from government schools have at least one parent who completed primary school."
The following table from the preliminary base-line study conducted in West Godavari shows the differences between the backgrounds of the two sets of kids and, by extension, also why a simple comparison between the test scores of the two groups is an unfair one.
Socio-economic Characteristics of Children in West Godavari District :
|Household characteristic||Government School (in per cent)||Private School (in per cent)|
|From SC/ST families:||34.5||13.6|
|Father illiterate/just literate:||50.5||20.3|
|Mother illiterate/just literate:||55.1||17.0|
|Father farm/non-farm labour:||83.6||39.3|
|Toilet in the house:||36.3||80.2|
Data from the final household survey shows that the differences existed even for the kids who participated in the five-year project.
Vivek Vellanki, from the Regional Resource Centre for Elementary Education, University of Delhi, had, in fact, compared the methods used for ASER and APSC. He writes of the ASER report in a piece for the Economic and Political Weekly, "Two specific issues emerge that demand greater attention:
1) An improvement in learning out comes is closely related to socio-economic factors that lie outside the school and these deserve as much attention at the level of practice and policy;
2) the binary of government and private schools to examine learning outcomes needs to be critiqued by looking at the social processes that govern participants within these schools as well as the functioning of the schools. While (Wilima) Wadhwa (of ASER Centre) acknowledges these important nuances in her note, they seem to get lost in the larger report that "ignores" these aspects while presenting the findings of the study."
Vellanki also raises questions about the "silence" on the quality of private schools.
Karopady's paper examines the motivations behind parents' choice of private schools and these, ironically, have little to do with outcomes. "Qualitative feedback collected during the study points towards a complex mix of reasons," he writes, "The use of English as the medium of instruction is a prominent reason besides others like the use of smart uniforms, the opportunity to mix with children from affluent sections, the presence of more homework and longer school hours."
5 districts: Visakhapatnam, East Godavari, Medak, Nizamabad, Kadapa
180 villages: 90 in control and 90 in treatment categories (explain)
1,026 schools: 599 government, 427 recognized-private (of these, 215 were "English medium")
2 Cohorts with total 10,245 children:
a) Cohort 1: 4,063 children going from Class 0 (anganwadi or KG) to Class 1 whose performance was tested over 5 years
b) Cohort 2: 6,182 children going from Class 1 to Class 2; their performance was tested over 4 years
a) Group 1: 1,554 children (cohorts 1 and 2) in government schools who did not apply for scholarship
b) Group 2: 4,453 Children who applied but weren't awarded scholarship
c) Group 3: 1,980 Children awarded scholarship and shifted to private schools
d) Group 4 : 2,258 Children who started in private schools
The School Choice Scholarship:
Intended for children attending aanganwadi/KG in academic year 2007-08 and who were planning to study in govt schools
Scholarship worth about Rs.3,000 per year, per child. It was to study in recognized, private school
Recipients continued to receive the amount till Class 5
Covered all expenses — books, uniforms, school supplies — except transportation and mid-day meals
No conditions on households except that they had to participate in survey and "ensure attendance in school." They were free to move children back to government schools
No participating private school had to admit more than 25 per cent of total seats in the class
Payments made directly to schools who weren't allowed to charge extra
Schools had to maintain attendance records
Learning outcomes measure through written assessments based on state curriculum
Test administered to same set of children in March every year from 2009 to 2013
Schools were informed in advance about tests and detailed feedback was given
Household surveys conducted
Subjects were Telugu, mathematics and later, social studies/environmental science (from Class 4) and English (from Class 3)
Read the original story on The Times of India website.