I. Introduction While the focus of education policy in developing countries such as India has largely centered on increasing the resource base and the number of government-run schools, the role of private fee-charging3 schools in the primary education sector has not been appreciated as much by academics and policy makers. However, as several recent papers point out4, private fee-charging schools increasingly cater to a substantial fraction of the primary-school going population in India. In this essay, I first summarize evidence from all-India data regarding the prevalence and characteristics of private schools in India and show that they outperform government-run schools on various measures of performance. I then discuss how a system of scholarships/vouchers for poor students can be designed so as to obtain the efficiency benefits of the private sector while negating its biggest disadvantage – which is the fact that it allocates goods and services largely according to people’s ability to pay. Finally, I consider some of the most important concerns with voucher-based systems and discuss ways in which these can be mitigated. In particular, I emphasize that increased use of private provision combined with public financing does not in any way absolve the state from its duty of ensuring universal quality education, but instead provides a potentially more efficient and equitable way of doing so. While the discussion in this paper is centered on primary education (where my own research has been focused) many of the points here are equally relevant to higher levels of schooling, and even more so to vocational and higher education.
A slightly modified version of this essay appeared in the September 2006 issue of Seminar. If citing this paper, please refer to it as: “Public-Private Partnerships for Quality Education in India”, Seminar, Issue #565, September 2006 2 Ph.D. Candidate,... [continues]
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