The News Corp VC Circle held an event on the 18th of November 2016 wherein I was invited as a speaker. The event was the Education Investment Summit 2016, which was attended by potential start-ups, investors, angels, VCs, academicians, and educationists, to discuss and address pertinent issues in the education industry and to give their views and solutions on the issues. Here’s a sneak peek into the summit and my views on the topic:
I believe that the need to improve the state of education in our country is strongly felt. The need and desire to invest in education is strong. Fortunately, education is a vast area and investments can be done in different areas such as improving teacher training, learning outcomes, bringing technology in classrooms, assessments, etc. The unfortunate part though is that the impacts show up after a long time. The investors show interest in improving the conditions and fund such improvements, but sadly lack the patience that is required to see the outcomes and hence, funding is stopped and quality is compromised.
Secondly, we are facing the issue of accessibility and equity. This can only happen if we bring in good schools in remote areas and make education compulsory for every child. But sadly, there is no equity pumped into building these schools. The experience of setting up schools in rural areas has been a rather disappointing one. The idea was to ensure that the rural children get the same quality of education that the urban children get. While doing this experiment, the first difficulty was to bring in a price point at which these schools would be appropriately set up. Any investor would only fund a project, only if the project can at least reach a break-even point and become sustainable. Now for a good quality school, you need to bring in good quality teachers, good course material, technology, and teaching aids. All this requires money. A private player may invest in the land, building, and the basic set-up, but will eventually expect the school to become self-sustaining by generating enough revenue. But the sad part is that the schools could not even generate enough revenues because the price point at which these schools break even is much higher than the highest level of fee that the rural people could afford to pay. The rural parents could either not afford the fee or the payment was dependent on some crop outcome, which made running and sustaining the school very difficult. Even though there are government schools, the quality of these schools are deplorable. There is no accountability and responsibility taken by anyone at the grassroots level and hence education does not happen.
The tragedy is that while players and venture capitalists do not put in equity as they need returns, schooling in India will never be able to achieve equity and accessibility in the true sense. The only solution to this is getting into the public-private partnership which allows private players freedom to run the institutions while the government acts as an accreditation body and evaluate the private partner for learning outcomes. While the private players cannot meet the price point, the government should have an approach that they pay a certain price per child to the private partner in order to facilitate good quality education to the rural population as well. While not interfering on a day-to-day operational basis, the public partner should do regular audits and state and evaluate the requirements in terms of the outcomes they desire out of their funding. The government needs to stop believing that education is only a social service. If water can be privatized in our country, which is a basic requirement of every human being, why cannot schools be privatized? Why are we living in the hypocrisy that every player in the field of education is a thief? As per the rule of the government, no private player can make the profit out of any school. Thus, we have to re-look and rethink the legislation on the way education is run in our country. While the government can and should focus on the social aspect of education and reach out to children in the rural areas, the public-private partnership seems to be the only way out if we really wish to fulfill the dream of educating every child by 2020.