That ‘good’ private English education is now openly traded like salt and soap is a publicly accepted truth. That our schools are now run by large business-minded corporations as licensed franchises is for sure no new revelation. It is, in fact, a fairly transparent legal racket of duly affiliated extortionists with trademarked brand names.
Ghaziabad, reluctantly NCR and notorious for many unkind things, is now creating a new unusual record of its own – having nine Delhi Public Schools in the city. Yes, within a 20-kilometre radius, nine huge state-of-the-art schools with exactly the same names have come up. Some proudly ‘genuine DPS,’ ‘under the aegis of the Delhi Public School Society, East of Kailash, New Delhi,’ and others not so much.
Original Versus Counterfeit Schools
The distinction between ‘original’ and ‘counterfeit’ schools is a regretful product of the wild commercialisation of education. The love for brand legitimacy amongst educational institutions is even more remorseful. Nevertheless, the tussle for market-share between these clone schools is a tale worth telling.
The ‘prestigious’ Delhi Public School Society at present owns 11 schools in India, including DPS Mathura Road and DPS RK Puram, and indirectly controls over 150 schools. It has been already caught in several controversies regarding its rights over the acronym ‘DPS,’ the denial of voting rights in decision making to franchise schools, and its presidentship.
The Society and its Controversies
The gamble was first exposed when Salman Khurshid was served a notice to withdraw his membership of the DPS Society. Khurshid complained that he was being targeted for questioning the ‘profit-oriented’ nature of the society.
Having himself served as the president of the society for 12 years, Khurshid explained how despite paying a hefty annual royalty to the society, the franchise owners were not allowed any say in the selection of the society chairman.
He accused the society of planning to hike the royalty to Rs 25 lakh a year and creating ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ DPS schools.
Soon after the tussle, Salman Khurshid’s wife Louise Khurshid, with Rajiv Soni, president of DPS Alumni Association, launched the DPS World Foundation (DPSWF) – a rival society. DPSWF already has over 50 schools running or under construction. In January this year, DPSWF even filed a compromise proposal for settling the dispute over the use of ‘DPS’ trademarks after the DPS Society raised legal objections.
The Clones of Ghaziabad
In Ghaziabad, the puzzle is all the more byzantine. The most popular school in the city, Delhi Public School Ghaziabad (DPSG) isn’t a franchise of DPS Society. But it used to be until a fallout. It was founded by the then District Magistrate of Ghaziabad, Om Pathak, in 1980 with the help of DPS Society.
However, over time, DPSG the school metamorphosed into a society of its own, the Delhi Public School Ghaziabad Society. Other than its first school at Meerut Road, DPSG Society now owns two more DPSGs in Ghaziabad – DPSG Vasundhara, and DPSG International, and seven schools in other states.
It was in response to its crippling dominance in Ghaziabad, that DPS Society started another franchise school in the city – DPS Rajnagar. This ‘original’ DPS is owned by Sunil Agarwal, a microfinance entrepreneur, who is also the boss of DPS Agra.
DPS Indirapuram, the other DPS Society school in the city, last year decided to start another school, DPS Rajnagar Extension, just 5 kilometres away from DPS Rajnagar.
The new DPS Rajnagar Extension is situated almost adjacent to an unaccredited DPS, DPS HRIT (Harish Chandra Ram Kali Charitable Trust) Campus, started in 2010. Also called DPS Duhai, this school is owned by the Delhi Public School Trust, which was again stuck in a legal battle with DPS Society in a trademarks infringement case.
DPS Trust schools, almost 30 of them, use ‘Service Before Self’ as their motto, an obvious attempt to confuse themselves with DPS Society. In 2012, Justice VK Jain of Delhi High Court ordered the Trust to pay Rs 10 lakh in damages to the DPS Society.
In the past three years, two other ultra-modern DPS Society franchise schools have also begun operations in the city, namely DPS Siddharth Vihar and DPS Wave City.
DPS Wave City, much like DPS Rajnagar, is a DPS Society franchise owned by another group that runs several other DPS schools. The Management of Beas Healthcare and Education Society, which runs DPS Wave City, is also the owner of DPS Durgapur, DPS Ruby Park Kolkata, and DPS Amritsar.
250 and Counting
In a rough estimate of all ‘fake’ and ‘original’ DPS schools in the country, there are some 250 of them! The involvement of former central ministers, cabinet secretaries, deputy chairman of the planning commission, former CBSE chairman and several other bureaucrats in multiple capacities also brings out the moral conflict of interest in the discharge of their duties. The magnanimity of this network is surely numbing for any educationist or parent.
DPS brand is only the largest of many others who exhort high fees, cashing on middle-class insecurities and hopes of economic mobility. This piece is no suggestion of any irregularity with the society’s functioning, but a reminder of how learning is no longer what it ought to be.
Has the expansion of DPS-brand created a new dangerous game of homogeneity? The essential of learning spaces – diversity – got sabotaged by our faith in standards and standardisation. ‘State-of-the-art campus,’ ‘centrally air-conditioned,’ ‘under the aegis of original DPS society,’ ‘knowledge initiative by Dipsites’ became the only badges of honour our schools found worth wearing.
Most worryingly, this brand-culture is what we decided to buy. Their tremendous success is our collective failure to understand the purpose of education. Gandhi, Tagore and Krishnamurti would all be too disappointed to discover how India’s best schools are little more than royalty-paying subsidies of large corporations. If our schools are like hollow individuals who need brand-stamps for self-worth themselves, the children they help shape will only be worse.
A False Sense of Pride
During my time at one such franchise school, I remember how we were often lectured on 22-reasons for being proud of the ‘DPS’ legacy and how we would benefit from its rich alumni network. This false sense of pride was subtle arrogance which silently injected itself into us.
We were unusually confident of the stitched green logo of our white shirts for no deserving reason, and assumed an obvious superiority over those from other schools.
Without any doubt, I am grateful to my alma mater for helping me learn among many things, the art of rhetoric — but I choose critical patriotism over jingoism.
Of course, in abject absence of decent public schooling system, private education has played its part. The question we must seriously inquire is, if the dominance of private schools like DPS has created an elite which has purposefully ignored public school education. And our ruling class is associated and invested in the private schooling system.
This comes back to the old chicken-egg question. Is it right for politicians and middle-class to wait for public schools to get better before sending their own kids, or will they get better only when the children of the politically empowered are enrolled in them?
Delhi Public Schools are not schools of the public, after all. Nomenclature is no cure for deformed reality. It is time that we looked for better answers.
(Akshat Tyagi is the author of ‘Naked Emperor of Education’. He tweets at @AshAkshat. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)