Pragati Manifesto

Education: How to Save Our Future

This section of the Pragati Manifesto outlines how to fix our education system. Read the other pieces here.

Everyone knows how bad the education system in India is — but, oddly, it doesn’t seem to be a big issue when elections take place. The failure of the state to provide quality education does not change the way parents vote. The abysmal mess our education system is in seems to have been normalised–that would explain the apathy. But the future of our country depends on the education our children get. We need to fix this.

Commenting on the increasing number of engineering graduates in India, someone once said that if a stone is thrown in any random gathering of people, it is likely to hit an engineer. A similar statement can be made about India’s education system. Pick any random component of India’s education system, from teacher appointment to student enrollment to free learning aid distribution to construction of schools or whatever, and you will find it marred by corruption, inefficiency and lack of accountability.  The core of the problem is the flawed design of education system. Until that fundamental design is changed, the system will not change. Attempts to address visible problems will only be good for temporary face saving. The solutions we evolve must address the issue of corruption, inefficiency, lack of accountability, and that can be done by empowering parents, ensuring accountability, and trusting our foot soldiers, the teachers, with autonomy. These sound good in principle, but what specifically must we do? Here are some ideas:

One: Repeal RTE

The much celebrated Right to Education Act has proved to be toxic to the education system. It is flawed in design, impractical when it comes to execution, and the consequence is schools closing down and declining student learning level. The Act is so flawed that even amendments can’t make it any better. The easiest thing for any government to do is to scrap the Act. It would give immediate relief to our ailing education system. Schools on the verge of closure could come back to life, and parents upset with increasing fee of private schools will find respite.

Two: Allow For-Profit Schools

One of the fundamental problems of our education system, with deep-rooted consequences, is schools being mandated as a not-for-profit activity. Education certainly is more than just a business–but in no way less than any business. The profit motive is a powerful incentive for people to solve the problems of others. The government itself is unable to provide quality education — and it prevents others from doing so as well.

Three: Introduce DBT in Education

Rajiv Gandhi, when he was prime minister of India, famously said that out of every rupee spent by the government, only 15 paise reached the intended beneficiary. The per-child expenditure in schools in Delhi (owned by both municipal and state govt) is roughly Rs 50,000/- a year. However, the benefit doesn’t reach the last child for whom the state has taken up the entire responsibility to provide education to all the children, and therefore monopolized the sector. The Direct Benefit Transfer model has been adopted in several welfare schemes, and has brought efficiency in government expenditure. The good news is that the idea has constitutional support available in form of article 12-A, which was added after the 86th amendment to the constitution in 2002. If implemented, it will empower millions of poor parents to provide access to quality education to their children.

Four: Separation of Roles

Regulation of norms and standard of schools; financing for construction and operation of school; implementation and evaluation of academic provisions: all three roles are performed under the same body, Ministry of Education, at state and central level for different kinds of schools. This arrangement goes against the principle of ‘non-conflict of interest’ and makes it easy for government to manipulate the system. For these three different roles, there should be three different and independent bodies. They will have to work in sync with each other due to the interdependent nature of the work, yet the independent nature of the bodies will act as a check on the others, keeping them transparent and accountable.

Five: Learning-Outcome-Based Regulation

The norms of school regulation are currently based on inputs such as school infrastructure and teacher qualification. A school can continue to function as long as it complies with input norms irrespective of the result it delivers. This needs to be reversed. We should be concerned about the result the school delivers. A school must continue to function as long as it delivers good results, and must cease functioning if it fails to do so. This requires that the norms of school regulation are changed to the learning outcome.

Six: Autonomy to Schools

The education system is pretty centralized at state and central level as it is designed on the principles of command and control. This has resulted in a mismatch in what children are taught and what children need to learn to survive in the world of today. Students, failing to see the real life application of lessons being taught, take to rote learning. The person and institution closest to the beneficiary is in the best position to understand the beneficiary, and accordingly customize its service. Therefore, schools need to be given autonomy to function in a manner that its teachers think best for its students.

Seven: Third-Party Assessment

Assessment of school performance, for both government and private schools, is done by the government. Now, government itself being a service provider and also assessing a private provider of the same service is another example of a conflict of interest. An external expert agency should be set up agency to conduct independent assessment of all service providers, based on the same standards.

Eight: Education Data in Public

Unified District Information System for Education (UDISE) is currently the source of authentic data to get insight into school education. Yet it lacks credibility, and is available in public domain only after a year. Lack of credible and real time data compromises transparency, reduces accountability and gives system scope to manipulate. It is not possible even for policy makers to see the response of their own policy interventions and take timely decisions accordingly. With use of modern technology, a system needs to be created to generate real time data on everything happening in school. It is possible and being used in other sectors such as railways. Making such data available in public domain for independent interpretation by experts will bring transparency, fix accountability and save generations with timely actions.

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Read the rest of the Pragati Manifesto here.

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About the author

Amit Chandra

Amit Chandra is a passionate promoter of market-based policy solutions, with hands-on experience in the policy space. His work has focused on school education, urban livelihoods and governance.