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Government Schools -Popular Misconceptions

I have mostly been working with government schools in Tamilnadu. I have worked with schools both in Chennai city and in rural areas of Thiruvallur, Thoothukudi, Viluppuram, Thiruvannamalai and Kanchipuram districts. I often find a lot of people misinformed about these schools including sometimes the teachers who teach there and parents who send their children there.

Teacher Salary

People often are under the mistaken notion that government teachers are paid a small amount compared to private school teachers. Contrary to that Government teachers in Tamilnadu and in most of the states get a much higher salary than their counter-parts in private schools. Starting salary for a government teacher in a primary school who needs to have completed just a 12th standard with DTEd (Diploma in Teacher Education), is upwards of Rs 20,000 per month. A Head Mistress at a primary school with 15 years of experience will be making upwards of Rs 40,000 per month. Government job comes with its own perks like permanent employment, leave, good benefits etc. In comparison a new teacher in a rural private school makes between Rs 3000 and Rs 8000 per month with no further benefits or job security. Even experienced teachers will rarely make upwards of Rs 20,000. Even in urban areas, other than the top schools most of the salaries will not cross Rs 20,000.

Note the central pay scale is even higher than this. I assume teachers at Kendriya Vidhyalayas and Navodaya schools make the central pay scale. This will be even higher than the state government pay scale for teachers.

Teacher Qualification

There is an assumption that the teachers at private schools are better qualified than the government teachers. This may have been true to some extent before 2010. Around that time most state governments started implementing TET (Teacher Eligibility Test). Law now forces the state governments to hire the top ranking candidates from their respective state TET exams. Further the TET exam in Tamilnadu is not completely based on the Tamilnadu state board textbooks and reasonably tests their understanding of the subjects.

To give you a perspective, in 2017 about 2.5 Lakhs and 5 Lakhs candidates appeared for the TN TET Paper-I and Paper-II exams respectively. Note Paper-I is for Primary school teachers (with 12th and DTEd) and Paper-II is for middle school teachers (with Bachelors degree and BEd). The number of candidates who cleared the TET and thus qualified for a government teacher posting was only in the order of 10000 to 20000 in both papers. The actual appointments were a lot fewer. I heard only about 2000 teachers were appointed. I have seen many teachers from private schools attempting this exam.

Thus these days the government is able to hire the best qualified teachers for its schools. Also private schools often appoint teachers without the required qualifications. This just cannot happen in the government schools.

Learning Levels of Students

It is often taken as a given that children studying in government schools learn less than those in private schools. People arrive at this conclusion partly because of performance in the board exams where private schools do better. I am not going to go into the quality of board exams and rote learning at this point. Another circular reasoning people employ is that, if people are paying to put their children in private schools, they must be better right?

Thankfully we have a little better data to go by these days. Pratham has been conducting ASER a rural survey of education for children in the 5 to 14 age group. The survey does not go to schools but is based on households in the villages. This eliminates potential for over or under representation of either private or government school children. There isn’t any scope for criticism that good schools were not chosen or bad schools were for either private or government categories. It also doesn’t do the apples to oranges comparison of rural government school children with urban private school children.

The survey has been finding that the government school children in Tamilnadu have been performing slightly better than private school children. You can see the 2018 result for Tamilnadu here. At the bottom of the 3rd and 4th pages you can see tables comparing children learning by school type. Even in other states like MaharashtraKarnataka etc., the government school children are doing as well as or better than private school children.

This is actually a remarkable result for many reasons:

  • Children of richer and thus more educated parents go more often to private schools. Clearly the poorest people cannot afford to send their children to private schools.
  • Often a child is sent to a private school in their first standard. If the child is unable to do well in studies, the parents move them to the government school. Government school teachers often complain about children joining 3rd, 4th or higher classes who dont even know the alphabets and numbers.
  • Government schools cannot refuse admission to any child. Even children with cerebral palsy, mental retardation, autism, blindness, other physical handicaps etc. are admitted in government schools. This clearly must lower the average performance of the children in these schools. Further it also places an enormous burden on the teachers who also need to take care of these children. On the same note children of a certain age are admitted to a certain class irrespective of whether they have gone to school till then. This also lowers the standard and places an enormous burden on the government teachers.
  • Finally as the parents pay to send the children to private schools, they take a little more care about the child’s attendance, homework, studying at home etc. Problems like regular or long-term absenteeism is often seen in government schools esp. in tribal areas where value for education is low. I presume this will not happen in private schools.

So the remarkable thing is that despite all the above setbacks, the children going to government school on an average do slightly better than the children going to private schools! And if you note in the Tamilnadu ASER results, they have been consistently doing better every time from 2012!!!


The first two misconceptions (regarding the salary and qualifications of government teachers) are mostly prevalent among the urban elite. Clearly people in the government schools themselves know their salaries and how difficult it is to get in. However the third misconception about the learning levels of children is very prevalent even among the government school teachers and education department officials themselves. This can be seen in the fact that they mostly get their own children admitted into private schools. I hope these perceptions change over time and we enter a situation similar to most developed countries where most of the children go to government schools.


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