The Government of Tamil Nadu has opened up a new vista for financing much-needed school infrastructure in Tamil Nadu through public-private partnerships with domestic and overseas institutions.

In a significant step that could boost government resources for upgrading school facilities M. Kutralingam, Principal Secretary to the School Education Department, Tamil Nadu, on Saturday signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the State government and the Tamil Nadu Foundation, a Tamil association in the United States.

As per the MoU, the foundation will be regularly investing funds into school infrastructure projects in numerous districts, building on the 35-plus years of experience that it has in this field.

Speaking to The Hindu here, Mr. Kutralingam said, “Government schools still have a lot of requirements in terms of infrastructure – additional classrooms, toilet facilities, water facilities, furniture and compound walls, for example.”

In a statement Thangam Thennarasu, Minister for School Education, said, “I am very glad that TNF has decided to undertake school education in Tamil Nadu as its Focus Project. The Government of Tamil Nadu is grateful to the American Tamil community for their support to TNF’s Focus Project. We are looking forward to working with TNF in strengthening the state’s school education system.”

In an interview prior to the signing of the MoU Mr. Kutralingam said that the Government of Tamil Nadu and TNF had formulated a public-private partnership framework under which “anybody can adopt a school for these purposes – that is to provide furniture, computers, lab facilities, library facilities, compound wall, and classroom facilities.”

As per the MoU the areas to which investments will be channelled include: provision of uniforms, notebooks and stationery; provision of computers and furniture including the costs of a computer skills teacher; provision of educational aid and play materials; support for English language classes; construction and renovation of school toilets; provision of water supply; and counselling for students to ensure continuation of schooling and bringing back drop-outs.

The MoU would be valid for a period of five years. After reviewing the results of the partnership and mutual consent the MoU could be renewed for a further period of two years at a time.

Mr. Kutralingam noted that the local Chief Education Officer (CEO) would be the person in charge of this process and “any company or any individual who wants to enter into an MoU can deal with the CEO.” TNF already had experience in this area from its adoption of schools located in Maduranthakam taluk, where they had provided furniture, built classrooms and so forth, he said. He added that the Government of Tamil Nadu would be working with them to extend the Maduranthakam experience to at least two districts, to begin with. Later on they would extend this to other districts, he said.

The MoU would, however, be applicable to the entire State, paving the way for further investments from both TNF as well as other overseas entities that wished to partner with the State government.

On the motivation for the project Mr. Kutralingam said that for corporations this process was about corporate social responsibility and for individuals it was about giving back something to their roots. “They have graduated from schools of that type, and now they want to improve such schools,” Mr. Kutralingam said.

The public-private partnership framework has already yielded significant dividends in terms of resources available to finance school infrastructure. In Kutrathur, Standard Chartered Bank has provided the government with Rs.1.5 crore to put up a three-storey building, according to Mr. Kutralingam, and it would have about 30 classrooms. Similarly in Coimbatore the pump industry there has adopted a number of schools under their CSR programmes, he noted.