This week I was in Mumbai speaking at an educational forum. The topic was very relevant and debatable. Is the education sector slowly becoming an industry or can it still be treated as service?
The backdrop of the conference was a massive exhibition venue.
Almost everybody involved or doing business in the field of education was represented. The look and feel was very corporate, very plush. The conference facility was top class, plenty of food and awards besides workshops on the exhibition floor to showcase the use of products.
Demonstrations, exhibits and new product lines were on display for three days. When one walked into the exhibition hall, one could easily mistake it for a privatised, industrialised sector.
Built on a massive scale, the venue had three big exhibition halls having stalls of nearly all service providers, allied and supplementary education providers and some mainstream education providers from India and abroad. The stalls were put up by content developers, furniture manufacturers from China, those selling educational aids and tools, text book publishers and science lab material suppliers, to name a few.
Speakers from across the entire vertical from pre-school, k-12, vocational and university systems from across India and some foreign speakers from Asia Pacific and other parts of the world were invited to discuss, debate, present, question and conclude.
If conferences and exhibitions are a parameter, then the education sector looks industrialised. If the increasing number of private players entering the education space is a parameter, then education sector is getting industrialised, if the private funding available to the sector is another way to measure then the sector is surely on its way to becoming industrialised.
There are some other statistics that suggest quite a contrary view that education is quickly getting privatised and therefore, industrialised. The pre-school sector is private and so is the vocational sector, whereas the k-12 and university which cater to the lion share of students are still regularised by the government machinery.
The World Bank, the ILO and several other international agencies are pledging money for the growth of education in primary and vocational studies in India. While there is money available for the sector, the concern of the 11th Five Year Plan was that nearly 50% of the budget was unspent by government agencies.
If nearly 97% of the education in India is being delivered by the government, it can safely be concluded that education is still a service sector. All the hoopla, the noise that the industry and private players are bringing into the education sector comprises a mere 6-7%; therefore the window of privatisation is still very small.