Applications for new private middle and high schools in Gujarat have fallen to a decade-low in the last two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic and revised norms.
The Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board (GSHSEB), the state’s affiliated body for schools, has received nearly 350 applications for the current academic session 2022-23, data shows at which The Indian Express accessed. The number of applications from trusts and organizations to open new class 10 and 12 private schools was the lowest in 2021-22 with just 290 or less than half the 600 applications received in 2020- 21.
There is a “preference for public over private schools” after the pandemic, as families are still unable to recover from the financial burdens, both private schools and licensing authorities. “Applications for new schools are few in the last two years as the condition of parents affected by the Covid-19 pandemic is not yet stable. Therefore, they prefer government schools to private schools, a further trend evident in urban areas,” said Gujarat Self-Financing School Management Federation president Bharat Gajipara.
There is also “no scope for smaller unsustainable private schools” with the added problem of revised rules from 2019 for new schools.
Echoing similar views, GSHSEB president AJ Shah said, “Children are now going to government and aided schools than private schools which can be attributed to the dwindling numbers.” It is now survival of the fittest following the revised rules for new private school applications in 2019, Shah added.
Of the 350 new school applications, including 140 for middle school and 210 for high school, received this year, nearly 37% have recently received provisional approval from the GSHSEB and have also started functioning. Although it usually takes about a year and a half for regular approval to be issued by the board from the time of application, provisional approval or affiliation is issued to the school to start operations with a validity of one year.
In September 2019, the Department for Education revised the rules relating to playgrounds for the creation of a new school following a sharp decline in the number of new schools approved in 2019-20. The minimum playground size condition was changed from 1,200 square meters to 800 square meters in urban areas, while in rural areas it was reduced from 2,000 square meters to 1,500 square meters.
As per the earlier notification in 2018 and revised later in 2019, applicants were required to have their own playground space within the same campus which was relaxed to allow a leased space adjoining the school with the condition of a registered rental agreement for 15 years.
Gajipara, who heads the federation of 9,000 private schools across Gujarat, said the new rules have affected prospective applicants for new schools. “While they have not affected the larger and more reputable schools located in the good areas which are in any case less numerous, the smaller ones in the middle and lower economic stratum areas which were largely open until that the pandemic has now stopped.”
Other conditions include no pending court case for the land, the requirement of non-agricultural land along with the condition of management, trust or an organization willing to open a school in rural areas with a minimum bank balance of Rs 2 lakh and Rs 3 thousand in urban areas.
The long list of conditions also includes that the school building should not be in a mall or adjacent to a mall in any way and make CCTV cameras mandatory in the school.
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In addition, to check malpractices in the application and approval process, the board has completely eliminated any physical archival work in this process from application to approval. After examination of the applications by the GSHSEB Executive Committee, only once the provisional approval is given, the file is sent to the concerned District Education Officer for verification physical of the applicant and the application.
As per GSHSEB norms, provisional affiliation is granted once the documents are submitted online.