The starting point for sound policy making is good and honest information. The India Institute is, thus, to be commended for making a comprehensive census of all schools in the city of Patna, capital of Bihar, with the approval of the government of Bihar. This study of all 72 wards of Patna Urban has plotted the location of each school using Global Positioning System technology and also measured attitudes of parents to education through a random sample survey of 360 homes. This study concludes that official DISE data (District Information System for Education) excludes three quarters of the schools in the city and 68% of school going children. Government statistics show that there are only 350 schools in Patna; this census reveals that there are 1,574 schools. Thus, 2,38,767 school going children out of 3,33,776 students are missing from the official data. Mostly the missing schools are unrecognised schools, which charge very low fees and cater to the poor and lower middle class, and are often clustered around government schools. The household survey confirms nearly 70% of the parents prefer to send their children to private unaided schools.
The answer is not to close down unrecognised schools but to understand their situation. Since they cater to the poor, there could be a graded system of recognition. If we can have a first and a second class in the train, why not officially designate ‘first’ and ‘second’ categories for schools? Since real estate is expensive, don’t insist on a play ground the size of a football field but allow budget schools to operate with a smaller play area. This India Institute study offers some useful recommendations at the end. One of these is to offer official recognition to schools based on how well children perform in simple tests. Our first priority must be to reform government schools, but until that happens, why penalize the poor by taking away one choice they have found for giving their children some sort of future?