Change is a vital phenomenon. We spend years sticking to the traditional practices and accept them to be the only way out, without thinking much about the problems and difficulties faced. Education is one of those sectors that has been following the same pattern for years.
The traditional schooling practices has challenges, of which many can be dealt by the introduction of two shifts. Udgam School is the first CBSE self-financed school in India, to introduce two shifts for its students.
Let us analyse the problems faced by the education sector, and how can two shifts find solutions to them.
1) Cost of Education for Parents
Nowadays, a perennial problem of parents has been that schools have been charging a lot of fees. The cost of private education is increasing at a faster pace than income of parents. There are close to 25% of parents in each school who are unhappy with the fee structure. However, they continue with the school due to various reasons, including failure to find a seat elsewhere.
The cost of education is not just school fees. About 30-40% of the fees goes in managing transport for their child. This problem has progressed due to the increased cost of land and construction. Hence, new schools are emerging in the outskirts of the city.
Most parents have two children which lead to doubling their expenses of raising a child. The mother has to sacrifice her career, so there is only one income earner of the family. Women need jobs which are suitable for their child’s education. It adds to the cost of raising a child, as the opportunity cost of the mother’s salary is also considered along with the schooling, clothing, feeding and medical costs.
Since the school runs in two shifts, the cost of education is bound to decrease, especially in Gujarat. The FRC will reduce the fees, even if the management does not.
As we discussed earlier in the problem part, the overall cost of raising a child would include the opportunity cost of a mother sacrificing her career. Since the usual office hours of the parents are up to 6:30 pm, also as the afternoon shift is normally until 5:30 pm, it would be ideal for a working mother.
2) Capacity Shortages
The parents cannot change schools if they do not like it, since their lives are intertwined closely with one another. The schedules, friends, relation with employees, status symbols are some of the intangible reasons.
Two principal causes of not shifting schools are:
There is a substantial amount of admission fee paid at the time of taking admission in the current school, as well as, payable at the time of taking admission in a new school. This problem, however, is resolved by the FRC. The FRC has brought in a law that admission fees can be up to only an amount of 1 month of the annual fees.
The demand is increasing at a faster rate as compared to the capacity of schools. It creates a problem for parents, and they have to hold on to the seat available to them. Moreover, the schools are working at 100% capacity (or at times more than 100%). It creates no motivation to retain the parent/student as they know if one parent leaves, the school will not be impacted financially, as another child will take admission, and income will not be affected. Moreover, this extreme shortage of seats in good quality schools negates the FRC advantage of giving reduced admission fees, as the admission fees are replaced with “favours” and at times “cash donation”.
The concept of capacity shortages needs to be understood in detail. If we see raw numbers, then the problem is not at all grave. Indian population grows at a rate of 1%. If we assume that there are close to 1,00,000 seats available in Ahmedabad then every year we need to add say, 1000 seats, which sounds easy for a city like Ahmedabad, uniting govt schools and private schools.
The problem gets complex when the following factors are considered:
- Rapid Urbanisation: The number of people staying in cities is steadily rising. Some parents stay in rural areas and send their children to study in good schools in cities, as they know that quality education is attainable in urban areas.
- Economic Affluence: Indians have top-most priority for their child’s education. Research says that, as soon as families enter middle-class, the highest priority is providing high-grade education to their children. A good home and a luxurious car come after a child’s education. With the rising income level of the middle class, the demand for private schools, which costs more than INR 3000/per month, increases.
- Change of Product Mix: Parents choose a school so that their child gets admission into a good college. Earlier, state board schools having vernacular medium got opted since those teachers used to correct answer sheets and give more marks to vernacular medium students. Later, parents realised that English-Medium education would give prospects for foreign education also good job prospects in BPO etc. Hence parents started preferring English Medium Schools over vernacular medium. Then there came a time for common entrance tests like NEET/JEE, which gave admission to Medical / Engineering courses. With this, were the other entrance tests based on CBSE curriculum. Therefore, parents started to prefer a CBSE school rather than any other school. A CBSE school has 25% fewer students in a class (since state board has 60 students in a class and CBSE has 40 students). So, it naturally costs 25% more than state board school. CBSE also has stringent requirements of infrastructure, staff as well as compliances, which further makes it a more costly board, as compared to the state board.
- Peer Preference: The task of choosing a school, is highly influenced by the peer group. For instance, if in a social group, all children are going to DPS. Then any new parent in that social circle will strive to get admission in the same school, irrespective of the fact, they had a better choice for them, or a better school has come up. It leads to bigger and older schools becoming more sought after than smaller and newer schools.
Studying the factors mentioned above there is a shortage of reputed CBSE schools in a city and parents are scared to change school even if they are not happy with it, since they may not secure the seat in other schools.
The fact is that more than 50% of children study in private schools. Considering CBSE seats, we can say more than 95% of the children study in private schools. Barring Kendriya Vidyalaya and JNV schools, no school of government imparts CBSE education in Gujarat state.
The capacity of the school will simply double. This sudden increase in capacity will create competition and will automatically prompt parents to shift schools. It will make the school improve themselves and become more parent friendly. For a long time, the capacity won’t get full, after which it would be more viable for new schools to set up, making capacity shortage less of a problem.
3) Running Cost of Providing Education by Schools
The school fees have one more important factor behind it, which is the cost of running the school. 80% of the costs of running the school are the cost of hiring the staff. These costs are in part due to the law of hiring B.Ed. teachers. The B.Ed. program can be pursued after graduation. Moreover, the CBSE guidelines require the teacher to graduate in a subject, which they wish to teach. It creates a shortage of manpower available, hence cost is higher than the average salary.
The costs are bifurcated into two parts:
- Fixed Costs: These costs are fixed irrespective of the number of students- for instance, the salary of Principal – whether you have 1000 students or 2000 students in school, certain costs like Principal, Accountant, Admin, Security, remain the same. Such fixed costs increase with the required compliances such as labour laws, FRC and host of other board regulations. For instance, each school requires a counsellor – be it a small or big school – the cost remains the same.
- Scale Costs: The costs which change due to scaling up. These costs in school are not proportionately increasing as per the size of the school. For instance, the number of classes, admin staff, etc. do not increase in proportion to the number of students. In fact, their ratio in overall costs reduce.
Scaling up reduces the cost of operation of the school as fixed costs remain the same and “scale costs” reduces. For instance, instead of getting question papers printed outside- a large school would buy the printer and print it for cheaper rate. The cost of marketing reduces for schools which are not adding capacities as most seats get filled through reference. Also, the cost of recruitment and overall manpower of well known, reputed schools are much lesser than compared to newer and smaller schools.
While much of the salary cost to teaching staff will not get reduced by the operation of two shifts, certain costs like fixed costs of building rent, landscaping, etc. will get distributed over a greater number of students. Also, admin staff salaries, IT infrastructure, marketing efforts would get reduced.
4) Capital Cost of Making a School
The cost of making a school has increased exponentially in the last 20 years as compared to the period since independence. The major cost of making a school is land and building. The prices of land have increased exorbitantly, further making school on a private land practically a waste of resources. Once the school starts, the private land gets locked up for close to 30 years. Government has stopped auction of the reserved plots of land for school since long. The only option left is to take school outskirts. On average the schools which are out of the city limits, take about ten years to reach the breakeven point. Hence the losses for ten years is part of the capital required by the trust.
The cost of cement and steel have increased by 30% in COVID alone. Year on year, the inflation in the raw materials keep increasing the cost of building a school. Moreover, there are regulatory changes. For instance, CCTV is compulsory to be installed in a school before the state board affiliation is granted. So, even before having admission of the student, the school has to be CCTV ready. Adding to it are ever-changing fire safety norms and modern facilities like AC and SMART Classes.
Here is the timeline to have an idea about how the school emerges, from the time of its inception, up to its breakeven point:
Step 1: Acquisition of land, title search, documentation, etc. takes approximately three months
Step 2: Conversion of Agricultural land to Non-Agricultural land. Since land is out of city limits, schools can afford to buy agricultural land alone, which takes six months.
Step 3: Construction of a school building takes a minimum of twelve months.
Step 4: Getting BU permission takes a minimum of three months.
Step 5: Getting affiliation to the State Board, based on the window of affiliation takes about six months to a year.
Initially, within three years from the date of land acquisition, the school can start with admissions for the State Board, without mentioning the change to CBSE.
After a few years in the State board, the school can get converted to CBSE, which would take another two years at the best.
In short, starting a CBSE school from scratch would take five years and after which another five years to reach the break-even. It would mean that the trustees must be capable of a 10-year wait before they stop pumping in funds to build the school. Not to mention that FRC approvals are required, and any losses cannot be recovered by charging more fees when the school is 100% utilized.
There is no capital cost of doubling the school as two shift saves a lot of capital investment.
5) Finance Issues Faced by Schools
As we saw above it take years for a new school to become an income-generator. It requires a lot of money to start a school. For other projects in the private sector, there is ample finance available, through public issue of shares or taking security deposits from the public at large. Schools do not have such freedom. Their only source is the donation and that too not linked to admissions. When the school starts, hardly anyone wants to give a donation. It is only when the school is well established and it doesn’t need money, they make a queue to donate in exchange for admission.
Banks do give loan against private guarantee and security of trustees, which is available at commercial interest rates and terms. There are no special benefits for the school. This means that even though school is not supposed to earn a profit, it is not treated any different than a profit-making organisation by banks. In case the school is unable to repay its debts, the trustees’ property gets seized by the bank.
Since there is no investment needed, financial issues will not be a problem.
6) Parent Preferences
A school gets built with adequate finance and planning. However, preference of parents for a school of their choice is not dependent on the amount invested, and the infrastructure created. Based on the survey of various parents, we have found out that each one has a different priority:
- Location: Parents prefer a school within 10 km distance of their home. While Ahmedabad is 464 sq km, the problem is that the rate of land within city limits is prohibitive to make a school. The past five years have seen new schools emerging across 25 km from the central area of the city. This has a lot of logistical challenges apart from the cost associated with transportation.
- Brand: In a country where even after 38 years, 50% of the cars sold are Maruti, we can perceive how much we stick to brands. In the movie, Hindi Medium, the parents did not even look at the other good schools, which were not in the top 10 ranks. We want the best for our child, hence go beyond for their child’s education. Some schools charge low fees in the same area, for the same board, yet they miss to fill the seats, whereas good schools are full in capacity.
- Board: As mentioned before, most parents prefer CBSE board, and some parents prefer ICSE. State board has a perception which parents like to avoid. International board does not solve the problem of the parents and is unaffordable for most Indian population. Moreover, it makes the admission in colleges, a dicey affair.
- Quality: Quality of education is a very delicate subject. It includes a variety of parameters – both measurable and immeasurable. For example – board results, teacher’s attitude, handling remedial education, reliability of operation, communication with parents, teacher turnover, conducive environment, and host of others.
All the four points mentioned above make it difficult for a new school to prove better than its competitors hence while new schools struggle with finances for the first few years, the established players still get inundated with ‘reference’ admissions.
As the established schools double their capacities, the schools preferred more by parents for their child’s education would have additional seats.
When a school has been delivering quality education for about half a century, there is an understood assurance that it will continue to do so.
It has tried and tested methods of teaching and remediation. Outstanding results, glorious alumni are a testimony to this. As a culture of hard work and commitment has been ingrained in the staff, it cannot be shaken by any change – be it online classes or two shifts or increase in the number of students. The same quality education and the same culture can be replicated in the same school, in an additional shift. More number of students can benefit from the physical facilities of the school, and the experience of the teachers.
7) Redevelopment of Cities Vertically
Ahmedabad and cities across Gujarat spread horizontally, which meant more roads, more water connections, more drainage, more streetlights, more police, more public transport, and more cost of governance. Learning from the success stories of different cities worldwide, the Gujarat government came out with an amendment to the redevelopment policy. As per this amendment, even if 75% of the residents agree, society can seek redevelopment. Increased FSI, ease of redevelopment and modern facilities made it lucrative for old properties to get demolished and rebuilt. It meant that the schools located in the city get more students even when they are not looking for redevelopment.
The old buildings and bungalows are getting demolished and taller, and spacious apartments are getting built across Ahmedabad. The main reason is the increased FSI, especially on the BRTS and Metro Corridor. With this scenario, it is the city-based schools, which are well-established, who need to cater to the increased children population in their vicinity.
Because of two shifts, schools will increase capacities faster than redevelopment of buildings and society. A typical redevelopment completes in five years. While a school can get converted to two shifts in a year, this would help parents chose a residence near to school, office and all other amenities.
8) Hobby Classes \ Tuitions
Education is not just about going to school. Children have different hobbies and wish to pursue the same in their free time. Also, there are variants of each hobby and a wide array of vendors providing a plethora of options. For instance, in dance – Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Garba, Western, Bollywood freestyle etc., is provided by multiple classes. Each child has a different hobby and likes to go to a class which interests them. When their proficiency improves, they change teachers and get coaching accordingly. It transpires the same with sports coaching, which, in addition to a good teacher, requires proper infrastructure too. Dev Javia, who is ranked 54th in the world junior rankings (according to International Tennis Federation) shifted cities from Ankleshwar for better tennis education. Initially, he went to Baroda and eventually to Ahmedabad so that he gets a proper tennis coaching.
Tuitions and classes have a bad reputation. However, if we look at it from the point of “remedial” education, then tuitions hold an important role in the educational ecosystem. The child, who is falling behind in education in one of the subjects, needs remedial education. A tuition teacher is ideally fit to provide it as she has to address fewer students. Also, there is a large personal tuition industry employing a lot of women and helping middle-class students.
These two facilities are among the many reasons why affluent parents of rural areas shift their family to urban areas.
Schools established away from the home take close to one hour for a commute. Combining the school hours, it becomes almost 9 hours of the tedious day for the child, leaving no energy and time to pursue hobbies or avail of tuitions. Again, city-based schools give ample time to the child at home as it saves the travel time. At times, parents pick the child from school and directly drop them at a hobby class, a luxury which only a city-based school can provide.
- Online classes have shown how teachers can use 40-45 minutes of a period effectively. It can be carried on to physical classes too, whenever schools start working normally, as we can teach competently in reduced timings.
- In the olden times, the school did not have many activities. Schools only provided the handful of mandatory activities like P.E., Drawing/Craft and Music. With time, schools went to the other extreme. Now, most schools have a plethora of activities, pushing academics to a secondary position. Yet to master any one activity, the student has to get training or coaching outside the school. Attending hobby classes beyond school hours has become the present-day trend and a status symbol. With students engaged in so many activities outside the school, it is only logical that school time is reduced, providing time for them. Moreover, these activities may lead to careers in later life.
- Another supporting point is the information available to students on the internet. Earlier, the school was the only source of information and knowledge, obtained from teachers and library books. At home, there were newspapers and a few books. But now, A to Z information is available to students at one click. Self-learning has been facilitated. Students have a variety of sources to learn from, including the coaching classes that prepare them for competitive exams, for which they need time as well.
9) Transport and Safety
Bus transport over more than 20 km has its own set of problems. Apart from the obvious risk of accidents, there are also other risks of breakdown, fights within children and travel time uncertainty.
With new regulations, bus transportation is becoming a costly affair. The overall cost of transport is very high, but schools tend to absorb a part of it. Unless the bus does two rounds a day, it is unviable for schools to run the transport facility. Both the rounds combined; the capacity has to be 80% used. Only then the salaries of the driver & attendant, depreciation, fuel, maintenance, insurance, and other costs are absorbed. Unless the school is large and the transport system well managed, it becomes a loss-making venture and / or very inconvenient to parents.
Longer the distance, the larger has to be the vehicle. These large buses have already created a safety issue for pedestrians as well as two-wheelers on the roads. Moreover, such buses cannot ply the smaller lanes and give a pick-up & drop off point far from their residence. This adds to their travel time as well as their involvement and inconvenience. A city-based school, which is usually 20 mins away from the residence, mothers can drop children on a two-wheeler within a fraction of time. Also, in case of a medical emergency, the parent can immediately come to the school to pick the child up.
Since the schools are city-based, the transport time and distance will get reduced, thus greatly reducing the safety-related issues. Moreover, the parents themselves would be able to manage the same reducing costs further.
10) Nutrition and Rest
A growing child requires an adequate amount of nutrition and rest to grow mentally and physically.
Take breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; dinner like a pauper – is an old saying. While this is also proven scientifically, most students miss it due to several reasons. Noon shift helps them to fulfil their wish of having heavy breakfast.
Moreover, Indian children are malnourished. In poor families, it is due to unaffordability of food, while in middle class due to lack of time to have three meals a day. Usually, in the morning school time, the child leaves home by 6:30 am and returns by 3 pm or even later. In such a case, a child neither gets proper breakfast nor lunch. Moreover, due to time constraints and convenience, junk food becomes a daily affair leading to obesity. Almost all adolescents in India are malnourished: UNICEF (livemint.com)
Sleep is another casualty of the morning school. Lack of sleep inflates negative moods and causes depression, anger, etc., among children, which are becoming common in today’s generation due to late sleep time and early wakeup hours to go to school. The children wait for their working parents, one or both, for having dinner together in the evening. The dinner time is usually at 8 pm, and the children go to sleep earliest as 10:30 pm to wake up at 5 am to get ready for the school. The return time in the afternoon is quite late, and afternoon sleep is not possible. Hence, sleep deprivation is a common story amongst Indian Children. Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in India – The Hindu BusinessLine
Having an afternoon shift will take care of food and proper sleep. Children can have brunch in the morning and come in time for a family dinner. Even the school time snacks can be prepared well at home and given in time. The students studying in the morning shift will come in time for lunch, hence both shifts will get at least two good meals a day.
For sleep again since the morning shift will have reduced timing, the child will be at home well in time for lunch and afternoon siesta. It will help the release of Human growth hormone and keep the child fresh even after dinner time. Afternoon shift students do not need to worry about the sleep at all.
11) Family Time
The best values are taught by parents. Spending quality time with parents every day is an essential part of the parent-child relationship. The standard school hours are not in sync with the office hours. A child leaves home early in the morning, while many of the working parents are still asleep. Since they return in the late afternoon, they do not get time to take an afternoon nap. This requires them to sleep early, while parents are still awake. Such out of sync time leads the parents to spend quality time with their children only on weekends, often combined with social gatherings, time with friends and other weekend commitments, thus leaving very less time for the family to spend.
Eventually, most children have a disconnect with their parents when they become teenagers. Later on, parents want to connect with the child but are unable to strike a chord with each other. Since the routine is so much out of sync, it is way more difficult even for parents who are consciously trying to bridge the gap.
Be it morning shift or afternoon shift, children will be able to spend more time with family. In morning shift since they will get afternoon rest, they can spend time with working parents during dinner and after. For afternoon shift, a child can easily have brunch and dinner with parents. Again, this is because reduced school hours and the change in timings.
Work or study schedule is a matter of practice. One gets accustomed to doing things at a particular time, and it is not a question for debate that children are more adaptable to schedules. With schools providing every possible comfort, there is not even the excuse of hot or cold weather. For years, schools had been functioning from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm, without any comfort. When the shift system started, it was either morning or afternoon school. Both give the other part of the day to work at home, making it convenient for a child.