Are Affordable Private Schools Rebounding From Pandemic Hit?

Are Affordable Private Schools Rebounding From Pandemic Hit?

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Affordable Private Schools (APSs) have been at the forefront of making quality education accessible to all. Yet, the educational disruptions triggered by the pandemic have impacted them more severely, jeopardizing the learning of approximately 80 million students. Notably, most of these students hail from families in the middle and bottom segments of the economic pyramid (MBoP). APSs, already grappling with limited academic and policy backing, now face added financial and infrastructural challenges. Their tepid embrace of Edtech for remote learning over the past couple of years has resulted in declining revenues, reduced student enrollment, and noticeable learning loss.

Recovery and Reinvention: A Blueprint for APSs

While schools are on the path to recovery from the pandemic’s aftermath, it’s imperative for APSs to strategize and be prepared for any contingencies. To bolster resilience and efficacy, structural overhauls in APSs are crucial across five key domains: academic, technological, procedural, regulatory, and financial.

  • Academics: Private schools often showcase superior test results compared to their public counterparts, making them a preferred choice for many parents. However, this performance gap is narrowing. Despite this, APSs are yet to consistently achieve grade-appropriate competencies. Their academic progress is primarily stymied by:
  1. Regulatory policies that sideline learning outcomes in favor of other benchmarks.
  2. Limited information available to parents, forcing them to rely on proxies like infrastructure and reputation for decision-making.

The Right to Education Act of 2009 (RTE) fails to distinguish between high-end and affordable private schools. It mandates APSs to conform to infrastructure norms crafted for larger spaces, such as expansive playgrounds and dedicated classrooms per teacher. Consequently, rather than channeling efforts towards elevating learning standards, school leaders find themselves preoccupied with these concerns. The last two years further exacerbated schools’ challenges as they navigated transitions to blended or entirely virtual teaching models, often sans sufficient academic support.

  • Technology: In the wake of the pressing demand for remote learning and a desire to uplift academic outcomes, school authorities have recognized the imperative for advanced resources and technology. Key policies, including the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 and the RTE, should align with parents’ aspirations, placing enhanced learning outcomes at the heart of APSs’ mission. This necessitates the provision of robust tech-backed academic support. Educators need training in digital teaching methods, access to a meticulously curated digital resource library, diverse multimedia and multisensory tools, and AI-powered instruments to track student progress.

Also Read: NEP 2020: Why Indian School Systems Must Prioritize Curriculum and Pedagogical Restructuring

  • Processes: Research on student engagement within APS classrooms has shown varied results. However, a touch of support can yield significant improvements. Some schools were able to sustain the teaching-learning process during the pandemic, primarily owing to excellent technology support for both teachers and students. When a proficient teacher leads a class, students tend to form positive perceptions and become more receptive to the knowledge shared. Conversely, less-experienced teachers might find it challenging to engage digitally native students. Thus, a teacher’s preparedness for the digital era and adaptability to a rapidly evolving environment are essential.
  • Regulation: APSs aim to offer quality education at affordable rates, often resulting in minimal tuition fees. The extensive job losses induced by COVID-19 made fee payment an overwhelming challenge for many parents. Consequently, the scarcity of funds to compensate teachers and staff and manage daily expenses jeopardized regular school operations. This was exacerbated by the government’s delayed RTE reimbursements. The ensuing financial crunch forced many schools to cease operations. Moreover, the pandemic catalyzed a shift in student enrollment from private to public institutions. For efficient school management, it’s imperative that the government expeditiously disburse owed funds and that financial entities provide schools with tailored, flexible loan options.
  • Financial: APSs require holistic support to sustain teaching—be it offline, online, or blended—as the instructional landscape keeps evolving. Additionally, it’s essential to ease entry and exit barriers, bolster financial aid, and maintain transparent communication of learning outcomes to parents, fostering informed decisions and accountability.

While schools have resumed regular operations over the past two years, many APSs are still grappling with the pandemic’s aftermath. Nevertheless, they are acclimatizing to the tech-driven setting, bracing themselves for the uncertainties ahead. Notably, several schools have been proactive in adapting to future needs, aligning with the expectations of teachers, students, and parents. Insights from interviews with some Varthana customers highlight such initiatives:

Jahangeer Alam, of Madni Public School in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, has effectively transitioned the institution into the digital age with commendable results. They now accept online applications and tuition payments, and to bolster their digital presence, they’ve launched a website and Facebook page, keeping parents updated on their child’s progress. Moreover, they’ve initiated a YouTube channel to provide additional educational content. This digital transition resulted in a surge in student enrollment from 550 to 800, a number that further increased post-pandemic.

Post-Covid, Balvinder Singh of KD Convent School in Kurukshetra, Haryana, embraced flexible teaching methodologies tailored to individual student needs. This included avenues for project-based, blended, and personalized learning. Feedback-driven strategies were designed, and supplementary coaching and counseling sessions were introduced to cater to specific student requirements.

Also Read: How to Find the Best Private School Loan for Your Needs?

At the New Asia Pacific International Kerala School in Jalandhar, Punjab, Martin M.J. champions an affordability and sustainable approach to quality education. However, upon reopening in 2021, the school identified a concerning rise in hostile behavior among certain students, which alarmed many parents. In response, Martin formed a remedial team to address these issues and conducted individual sessions with students to ensure none were left behind. His tailored strategies to nurture student abilities enabled the school to effectively navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

Surendra S, from Srujana Sarovara Pre Primary School in Mysore, recognized the diverse learning patterns among students. Instead of rigidly adhering to the curriculum, he prioritized imparting foundational knowledge, ensuring that students remained updated. He observed that parents often value the school’s infrastructure and aesthetics more than the quality of instruction delivered within its classrooms. In line with contemporary educational trends, the school is planning future investments in classroom technology. Broadly, the institution is focused on expanding its physical infrastructure, incorporating technological tools, and enhancing amenities, all as part of a strategic initiative to accommodate more students.

Given the varied approaches adopted by school leaders, it’s evident that APSs and other eminent private schools in India might benefit from distinct categorizations under legislative frameworks like the RTE and NEP. Realizing the Sustainable Development Goal 4, which advocates for inclusive and quality education for all, is a tall order without recognizing the expansive role and reach of affordable private schools. By seamlessly integrating quality, affordability, and modern technological tools, these institutions can ensure a robust recovery and continuity in learning, benefiting millions of students.

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