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Free Education at What Cost?

Is the CBSE board's decision to make it mandatory for all CBSE schools to provide free education to the girl child a step in the right direction?

The CBSE board has now made it mandatory for all CBSE schools to provide free education to the single girl child (girls without siblings) after a certain grade. The fees will be reduced by 50% in the case of parents with two girl children. This provision has been introduced with the aim of discouraging bias against the girl child, and encouraging people to send their daughters to school.

Although private schools too must conform to these guidelines, they will not be reimbursed by the board, and will have to bear the cost themselves.

Naturally one can see what's going to happen. Admission to most private CBSE schools is very competitive. Hundreds of children get rejected each year. There is no real standard admission procedure, and most decisions are based on interviews with the child, etc. If schools know they will have to foot the bill for every single girl child they admit, chances are, a lot of such girls will be denied admission, or admitted only after paying a hefty 'donation'.

The fee for other children is likely to be raised, in order to compensate for the loss. So for all intents and purposes, the parents of a poorer boy, with perhaps two to three children to educate, may be forced to foot the education bill of a girl from a wealthy family, whose parents have only one child to educate.

One wonders if there shouldn't be some criteria for giving free education, other than just gender. Since this is an economic benefit, it would make sense if such aid were given on a need-basis, merit basis, or both.

Such a provision also makes no sense when one considers the fact that many parents who send their children to private schools, do so with a willingness to pay the fee. They make the decision to send their children to private schools because they are satisfied with the quality of education provided by such schools. If the schools find themselves suddenly short of funds, needless to say, quality of education is bound to suffer. The school will cut corners to save money, and will compromise on other aspects. Perhaps libraries will not be as well stocked. Perhaps toilets will not be cleaned as regularly.

In addition, parents of one child are generally able to afford a good education for their only daughter. Even when couples find that money is tight, they are willing to spend on education of their children, because they often consider education to be an investment.

The schools that will be hurt the most by this provision, are all-girl schools. All boys schools will feel no pinch at all. So essentially those institutes that are at present providing education to the girl child are the ones that are being penalised in this manner. Wouldn't a new school think twice before deciding it should be an all girls' school?

Take any all girls school that has around a 100 students in every year. After the introduction of this provision, the school will still admit only a 100 students. Yes, the number of girls applying to a particular school may increase, but the same number of students will get in. So the question of providing education to more girls by this scheme makes little sense, especially in private schools located in metropolises like Mumbai and Delhi. Perhaps this makes sense in the case of villages, where many parents don't send their children to school.

Now, the ICSE board is considering implementing this scheme. What do you think? Do you think all girls without siblings irrespective of how wealthy their parents may be, should be provided with free education? Do you think it will help, or is it counter productive? Contribute your opinion.

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