Mass demonstration for private initiative and autonomy in education in India

India education

Responding to Centre for Civil Society (CCS)'s call to speak up against the stifling of private initiative and autonomy in education in India, over 65,000 representatives from private schools from across 24 states in the country gathered together on April 7 in New Delhi, India’s national capital. Recognized as the largest gathering of private schools in India, the mass demonstration was a culmination of CCS’ Save Education Campaign, a nationwide movement to mobilize parents and private schools to urge the Indian government to reinstate choice and autonomy in educational provisioning - to "fund students, not schools!"

CCS has consistently advocated for the rights and recognition for Budget Private Schools in India, speaking up against arbitrary regulations that deter private initiative, and compromise educational access and quality. To speak up against the enduring policy prejudice against private schools, and the statist bias in educational provisioning, CCS through the National Independent Schools Alliance (NISA) launched a mass campaign to mobilize "edupreneurs" from the country to advocate for reinstating parental choice, and the rights and recognition of private schools in the country.

"One image succinctly captures the focus and the impact of CCS' work in education in India," said Parth Shah, president of CCS. "The billboards on the roads leading to Leutyen's Delhi - the power centre of Delhi which has the Parliament, offices of government ministries and the President's home - that read 'Fund Students, Not Schools!' When we launched the School Choice Campaign more than ten years ago, none of us could have imagined that the campaign motto would be on billboards across the city. The second slogan on other billboards was ‘Happy Child, Happy Nation!’ The first slogan is a means to the second one, we need school vouchers, direct benefit transfers and similar means of empowering every child to go to a school of their choice. The children would be happy and learning and so would the nation."

Over 65,000 representatives from private schools from across 24 states in India gathered together in New Delhi on April 7 for the NISA rally.

The Save Education Campaign, conceptualized as a mass-scale, pan-India initiative was formally launched in New Delhi in March 2018 by author, commentator, and public intellectual Gurcharan Das, calling for the mobilization of edupreneurs, parents, and teachers to come together to advocate for choice, accountability, and quality in education in India. A comprehensive Charter of Demands was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office to mark the launch of the campaign. The charter demands school choice, more effective and feasible safety regulations, direct benefit transfers in education, and policy interventions to promote the ease of opening schools in India.

The campaign spread to 24 states in India, with 27 press conferences being held across the country. Over 300,000 parents were reached through pamphlets. Radio messages, newsroom debates, public information billboards and street plays - 22 plays across 3 states took CCS' messages to India’s people. The campaign culminated in the mass demonstration by 65,000 representatives on April 7. The demonstration was addressed by a panel of 45 speakers including Prof. Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, University College London; Kulbhushan Sharma, president of NISA; and Dr. Amit Chandra, national coordinator of NISA.

Over 65,000 representatives from private schools from across 24 states in India gathered together in New Delhi on April 7 for the NISA rally.

CCS' digital advocacy lead to 58,000 impressions on Facebook, and the hashtag #SaveEducation trended at #1 on Twitter in India. The campaign received 199 media placements in leading national and regional print and online publication. The support CCS received was resounding - 65,000 people gathered in solidarity to call upon the Indian government to recognize the right to choice and the need for autonomy in education. Several states observed a ‘Back Day’ on April hoisting black flags in schools, and schools remain closed in 7 states to support of CCS' call to fund students, not schools.

CCS has been committed to advancing reforms in education that promote choice, quality and accountability, keeping students first. It continues to work towards reshaping the policy landscape in the country, to reform design, delivery, financing and regulation to improve access to and quality of education in India. The centre targets mindset change – among policy influencers, popular media, thought leaders and education practitioners, and policy change- at the centre and state level. It brings to the forefront the concerns of budget private schools, and by that means, the concerns of low-income communities and parents who continue to demonstrate a marked shift in school preferences, from government to private schooling.

Incubated by CCS, NISA is a pan-India alliance that serves as the fundamental voice of budget private schools in the country. NISA works towards achieving micro school-level changes, and macro systemic transformations for improving the quality of education imparted in budget private schools across the country. The alliance today includes over 55,000 schools catering to over 22 million children across 20 states in India.