Basavaraj Horatti, the former minister for primary and secondary education in Karnataka, is anguished by the declining enrolments in state government schools. He demanded that parents should be allowed to admit their children in private schools only after all the seats in government and private-aided schools are exhausted. The enrolment decline is not limited to Karnataka, but is happening across the country. In 2011-15, the total enrolment in government schools fell by 11.2 million, whereas in private, it rose by 16 million.
This shift in enrolment from free to fee-paying schools is a result of low-learning outcomes and parental preference for English-medium schools. If one wants to retain parents in government schools, one must address their concerns rather than restrict their choice.
The government of Karnataka is, in fact, addressing concerns to resolve the challenges. For instance, in June, it proposed to pilot English-medium classes in 1,000 government schools. For learning outcomes, some interventions by state governments (like monitoring teachers with cameras) had shown significant progress during their pilots. Despite this, they could not be sustained. Karnataka, therefore, must look for alternatives in systemic reforms, and the mergers that are being considered in the state provide a perfect opportunity.