Header Ad
HomeEducationUndoing the school education mess

Undoing the school education mess

- Advertisement -
Undoing the school education mess

Except for getting most of the children to school, everything that could go wrong; has gone wrong with the school education system in India. The situation is alarming, and the time bomb is ticking. Unfortunately, this is not perceived as a crisis because there is no perceptible epidemic. Hence, the decision-makers are allowing these wounds to fester. Like in many schemes of the government, there is a lot of ‘chintan’ (thinking, including policy formulation) but hardly any action. For any action, there has first to be acceptance of the crisis at hand. A New Education Policy has been announced. Was there a need for a policy? There are too many ideas already. What is needed is an action plan. What needs to be done? How it will be done? Who will do it and by when it will be done? 

Unfortunately, in India, the education sector has become politicised and the teacher is treated as a political tool. Political decision-making is centred around the use of these tools for political ends rather than improving the state of affairs. Without the political will to set things right, nothing will work.

On the financial allocation front too, there are many other problems. Under the law, the Central Government can allocate ‘such percentage of expenditure…..as it may determine’ The schemes, including the erstwhile Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and now Samagra Shiksha, are structured in a manner that 60% of the allocation should come from the Centre and the remaining 40% from the States (for States in the North Eastern Region and Jammu & Kashmir, it is 90% for the Centre and 10% for the States).

However, the ground reality is that the Central Government supports only 30% to 40% of the outlay. The States have been crying hoarse (evidenced by the number of letters written in this regard) but to no avail. This situation was partly under control as there was a stipulation for earmarking funds for education in the allocations made by the 13th Finance Commission. However, though the allocations were substantially increased by the 14th Finance Commission, the earmarking for education was dispensed with. This has created a serious crisis.

- Advertisement -

The Central Government has a choice to formally reduce its contribution and align it to the actual contribution, but it is perhaps politically unpalatable. Hence, we continue with the charade of contributing 60% while the actual contribution is around half of this. The New Education Policy promises 6% of the GDP to the education sector. Let us hope that this promise is kept.

The problem is not merely with finances which indeed is a huge issue. The real problem of education in the country is with government teachers. It begins with the pre-service training of teachers. The selection of teachers itself is a tricky affair. No wonder an ex-Chief Minister found himself in jail. States and politicians have found ways to shell out patronage. In 2017, there were more than 11 lakh teachers who were teaching but did not have the requisite qualifications to teach. These teachers should have been thrown out as per the stipulations of the RTE Act, but the Act was amended to provide another window for such teachers to acquire the necessary qualifications.

A study has revealed that 25% to 30% of these highly paid school teachers do not go to the schools. The problem is more acute in the northern states where politics has gotten the better of education. Teachers have found unique ways to ensure that they are not hauled up for being absent.  There are exceptions in the form of exceptional teachers but the sense of security among the government teachers and the consequent lack of sense of responsibility amongst the majority of them has had a devastating impact.

Transfers of teachers is a major ‘industry’ and a primary preoccupation of politicians. A lot of the time of the civil servants is also spent on managing these transfers and attending to service matters, most of which end up in courts.

- Advertisement -

The key question is how to get around these problems. There can be a solution, but one has to think out of the box.

The annual expenditure per child in government schools is around INR 18,000. Can this amount be better utilised for improved learning outcomes in the child?

Several studies have revealed that even poor parents are prepared to pay for schooling. Many of them are already doing it. James Tooley in his well-researched book ‘The Beautiful Tree’ clearly brings out that since the quality of education in parent-funded private schools exceeds that provided by the government sector, the corollary social benefits of education would be commensurately greater as well. He concludes, after an in-depth analysis, that the ‘private schools … appear to be superior to government schools in the creation of public goods.’ The author researched and found that ‘there were schools in almost every village before the British replaced them with the system that provided the foundations of today’s public systems.’ Tooley blames the British Government for uprooting ‘The Beautiful Tree’.

Also Read: Shaping tomorrow: role education plays in shaping your future success

- Advertisement -

Tooley quotes from PROBE (Public Report on Basic Education in India, 1999) while explaining the secret of success in private schools: ‘In a private school, the teachers are accountable to managers (who can fire them), and, through him or her, to the parents (who can withdraw their children). In a Government school, the chain of accountability is much weaker, as teachers have a permanent job with salaries and promotions unrelated to performance.’ This observation is also borne out by the National Achievement Survey conducted by NCERT in the year 2015. The survey concluded that ‘the privately managed schools performed better than the Government and Government aided schools.’

The public and private schools co-exist in the country but there is an adversarial relationship between the government functionaries and the private schools. Instead of hounding the private schools or threatening to hound them, should we not think in terms of evolving a model where healthy competition between the two sectors can be used for imparting quality education giving value to every penny that the government spends on school education? The school voucher system has been tried in a few countries and with some success. Why not provide entitlement to a child in the form of a voucher or a debit card that he/she can utilise in an empanelled public or private school? Quality of school can be ensured through the process of empanelment. This can be done and, perhaps, should be done. However, it would need some political will to do it. It is time we made a beginning.

- Advertisement -
Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup IAS (Retd)
Anil Swarup is a former 1981 batch, Uttar Pradesh cadre  IAS officer, and was awarded Director's gold medal for "best officer trainee" at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA). He served the Government of India in various capacities for 38 years and went on to become Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy and the Coal Secretary of India. He also served as Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Additional Secretary, Labour & Empowerment, Export Commissioner in the Ministry of Commerce & Industry of India and as the District Magistrate of Lakhimpur Kheri. He couldn’t make it to the “elite” Indian Administrative Service (IAS) on his first attempt but qualified for the Indian Police Service where he worked for one year before clearing IAS in his next attempt. He is today an author of several looks like 'No More a Civil Servant,' ‘Ethical dilemmas of a civil servant’ and ‘Not just a civilservant’. The views expressed are his own.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular