The Unrecognized Schools under RTE Regime by B.Chandrasekaran and M.Saravanan


Indian school education system especially primary education faces challenges both from demand and supply sides. Primary school education system is beset with serious structural problems, which are reflected in gaps in terms of access, quality and equity. Unfortunately, there is a clear possibility of structural issues getting worse due to implementation of certain provisions pertaining to unrecognized schools in the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. The intervention through the Right to Education Act to provide universal primary education is a novel and historic development. But the attempt made in the Act in respect of unrecognized schools violates the basic freedom of parents in choosing a school for their children and discriminates against a section of private schools.

 After Independence, the development of school education in India was primarily a State Subject as per the business allocation of different subjects under the Constitution. The founders of modern India and Constitution makers had clearly understood the advantage of having the subject of school education under the State List rather than the Union List or Concurrent List. However, a constitutional amendment in 1976 brought school education into the Concurrent List, whereby both the State and Central governments can make legislation related to educational planning and management in the country. Though the Central government did not legislate using the Concurrent List provision for years, it became active from the ending years of the last century and in 2009 enacted the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, which came into effect from April 1, 2010. 

 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009

 The Act provides, inter alia, the following: (i) Right of children to free and compulsory education till completion of elementary education in a neighbourhood school (‘compulsory education’ means obligation of the appropriate government to provide free elementary education and ensure compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education to every child in the six to fourteen age group. ‘Free’ means that no child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing elementary education); (ii) all private schools must reserve at least 25 percent of their class strength for students from weaker sections and disadvantaged groups and the cost would be reimbursed by the government at rates fixed by it; (iii) all schools except private unaided schools are to be managed by School Management Committees with 75 percent parents and guardians as members; and (iv) all schools except government schools are required to be recognized with government by meeting specified norms and standards within the time period of 3 years failing which the schools would cease to functions.

 RTE is indeed a historic change in the primary schooling system in the country. The Act has provisions related to schools, teachers, curriculum, evaluation, access and specific division of duties and responsibilities of different stakeholders and would certainly have implications in terms of access, quality and equity in school education. However, the constraints put on the unrecognized schools would certainly create a real possibility of closure of these schools, resulting in issues related to access, equity and quality. In this context, a brief picture of the growth of and role played by the unrecognized schools would be in order.

 Growth of Unrecognized Schools

 The Constitution of India provides full freedom to parents to send their children to the school of their choice and the admission to any type of schools cannot be denied on the basis of caste, creed or religion. In fact, India was one of the early countries to include in the Constitution the principle of freedom of choice to parents in sending their children to the school of their choice. Fostering school choice to promote competition is an essential condition but not sufficient condition for any school education reforms in order to bring improvements in learning outcomes of children. If the real school choice is to be provided to parents/learners, it must be a choice that can be exercised effectively by all sections in the society.

Generally, the primary schools are run by government, public trust, private trust and other global international institutions. In quantitative terms, the penetration of public primary schools is very limited resulting in proliferation of private unrecognized schools. The unrecognized schools are not homogenous in character and are neither affiliated to the education authorities nor registered with any other agency. The unrecognized schools function independently and the grant in aid rules does not apply to them. Mostly, these schools are not required to report anything to the educational authorities. The government has no control on the functioning of such schools in India. Unrecognized schools are usually smaller in size but have a lower pupil teacher ratio and also lower per unit institutional cost as compared to the government schools. Lower pupil teacher ratio is possibly due to the recruitments of large number of teachers at market wages, which are lower than the compensation offered to government school teachers.

Though there are several factors for the mushrooming of large unrecognized schools in India, the root cause remains the failure of governments in expanding the network of schools to serve all the areas adequately. Further, the private schools are perceived to be offering a better quality education compared to government run/ aided schools. By expanding horizontally, unrecognized private schools have covered even small habitations and through vertical expansion covered the upper primary and secondary stages of school education.

Government Schools versus Private Unrecognized Schools

The demand for primary education has increased due to change in aspirations of parents. Studies show that the social rate of return on primary schooling is higher than other levels of education. A conducive environment for learning process plays crucial role in the development of children cognitive skills. The environment for learning process in government schools are hugely different to the one that prevails in private schools, including the unrecognized units. In government schools, it is common to see factors like lack of competition, low standards of learning, lack of adequate level of commitment by teachers/principals, high prevalence of teacher absenteeism, lack of accountability to parents, high opportunity cost in learning soft skills like English etc. In contrast, in private schools it is easy to see increased competition, increased affordability of private schools, better quality of teaching and learning, better infrastructure like toilets and drinking water etc. Further, the private sector took advantage of the development of information and communication technologies in right direction which led to positive impact on children learning outcomes. The unrecognized schools are more accountable to the parents, result oriented and have high level of teacher and children attendance rates.

Facts about Unrecognized Schools

As per 52nd NSSO survey, the States with high proportion of children attending unrecognized schools are paradoxically from both the economically advanced regions of Punjab (15.5 percent) and Haryana (18.7 percent) and from the economically poor regions of Uttar Pradesh (10.0 percent) and Bihar (9.2 percent). A study conducted by Aggarwal (2000) in 1999 in the 4 districts of Haryana found that there were 2120 private primary schools of which 878 (or 41 percent) were unrecognized. Based on survey data of establishment of each school, he calculated that the number of unrecognized schools in Haryana was doubling roughly every 5 years. The study revealed that enrolment in the unrecognized schools constituted around 30 per cent of the enrolment in the formal recognized primary schools. The study also found that in terms of the availability of infrastructure facilities, the unrecognized schools are better as far as student classroom ratio; availability of drinking water and toilet facilities is concerned.

Similarly, a study conducted in 7 districts of Punjab by Mehta (2005) found that, there were 3058 private elementary (primary + junior) schools, of which 2640 (86 percent) were unrecognized. The study also found that: (i) a large number of children are enrolled in unrecognized schools, their number is more than 37 per cent of the total enrolment in recognized schools; (ii) the share of enrolment in unrecognized schools in the total enrolment in recognized and unrecognized schools is as high as 26 percent; and (iii) facility-wise, most unrecognized schools are at par or even better than the recognized schools. In addition, there are case studies done in Hyderabad and Mumbai, which point out a favourable picture about unrecognized schools.

There is, however, no reliable estimate on unrecognized schools in India. Thus, large numbers of private schools are not included in the official data since they are ‘unrecognized’. An important landmark in creating a database for unrecognized schools was given importance for the first time in the 3rd All India Educational Survey (1973) to collect data from all type of schools/centres. However, the survey could not provide reliable estimates of the unrecognized schools and their enrolment due to uncertain coverage and the other difficulties associated with the collection of data from the schools/centres. Though there was no attempt in the 4th and 5th All India Educational Survey to collect information related to unrecognized schools, in the 6th All India Educational Survey efforts were made to collect data on the number of unrecognized schools, but only for rural area.

According to the 7th All India Educational Survey (2002) in rural area there were 50,620 unrecognized schools at primary stage while the corresponding number in urban area was 15,536. The enrolment in unrecognized schools at the primary stage in rural area was 43.54 lakh as compared to 19.01 lakh in urban area. Unrecognized schools employed 3.6 lakh teachers out of which 50.14 percent were female teachers. According to the primary source and flash statistics data available from 8th All India Educational Survey (2009), there were 39,015 unrecognized schools in rural areas with enrollment of students 2.37 million at primary and 7.9 lakhs at upper primary level. The difference between 7th and 8th Survey shows decline in the number schools as well as enrollment in unrecognized schools. The decline may be either because of previously unrecognized schools now getting recognition or underreporting of the actual ground reality. However, the recent steps taken by Government of India to collect reliable data including the unrecognized schools as part of District Information System for Education (DISE) is welcome as it will help us to address the issues under RTE.

RTE and Unrecognized Schools

A period of 3 years under the Act for the unrecognized schools to obtain recognition from the government may be too limited given the fact that there is lack of credible data and absence of any attempt to collect information on unrecognized schools and the ways to improve their standard. It is also not clear whether all the existing primary government schools are already meeting the minimum norms and standards. It is believed that government schools do not conform to the standards set, given the poor performance indicators like poor incentive mechanism, higher level of teacher absenteeism etc. The attempt made in the Act in respect of unrecognized schools violates the basic freedom of parents in choosing a school for their children and being discriminatory against a section of private schools by making it mandatory for them to fulfill certain norms and standards within the time period of 3 years, failing which they will have to shut down. Closure of unrecognized schools would result in curtailment in supply of affordable school education, resulting in denial of access to quality education to a section of our populace.

Regarding the linking of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) with RTE, the Approach Paper for 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) observes that “…Effective enforcement of this right requires that vision, strategies and norms of the SSA are aligned with the mandate under the RTE” It also states that “In the Twelfth Plan, possibilities will have to be explored for involving private sector more meaningfully to achieve the objective of expansion and quality improvement. Recognising the importance of private schools, the RTE Act mandates that all schools, whether they receive financial aid from the government or not, must reserve 25.0 per cent seats for children from disadvantaged households. However, barriers to private entry are high which need to be re-examined.” To remove barriers to entry of private players in school education, RTE needs to be revisited to modify the prescribed stipulation or at least extend the time limit to fulfill the standards. Efforts are also required to dilute any distinction between government and private schools in terms of meeting the prescribed standards and it is not proper to hold just a section of a system accountable.


The ideal school education system should be inclusive of all kinds of schools. Any policy intervention to provide universal school education would not be truly successful, if it neglects the efforts taken by schools from unrecognized category in the private sector. The role of private sector in education should be taken as supplementary to that of the government and not as a substitute or a replacement. There is a need for demystifying the fear factors in unrecognized schools in India. These schools generally feel that information collected will be used in taking action against them. Mainstreaming unrecognized schools, without discrimination, and giving them right direction is vital as the Constitution provides for free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14 years. There is an urgent need to revamp the unrecognized schools, jointly by government, unrecognized school managements and civil society organizations.

 B.Chandrasekaran, Former Consultant at Planning Commission, Government of India. He is Senior Fellow at Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi 

 M.Saravanan, Former Consultant at Planning Commission, Government of India 



[1] A Learning Curve by Gurcharan Das, 2005

[1]Private Schools for the Poor Development, Provision, and Choice in India: A Report for Gray Matters Capital, 2009

[1] Many myths about unrecognized schools vs government schools are demystified in the Paper (based on a study conducted in Delhi slums): Learning Achievement of Slum Children in Delhi by Y. P. Aggarwal & Sunita Chugh

[1] As per 52nd National Sample Survey data for 1995-96

[1] Aggarwal, Yash (2000) “Primary Education in Unrecognised Schools in Haryana: A Study of DPEP Districts”, NIEPA, New Delhi

[1] Mehta, Arun C (2005) “Elementary Education in Unrecognised Schools in India: A Study of Punjab Based on DISE 2005 Data”, NIEPA, New Delhi

[1] Is private education good for the poor? by James Tooley, 2005


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Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran

Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran

B.Chandrasekaran, Senior Fellow at Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi, India. He earlier worked as Consultant to the Planning Commission of India.
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