Empowering poor parents so they can choose schools and helping unemployed, trained teachers open new private schools—Vasundhara Raje has dealt with the need for choice and competition in education with the “Gyanodaya” and “Shikshak ka apna Vidhyalaya” schemes in this week’s Rajasthan budget.
This is a fitting answer to the pathetic quality of teaching in state-run schools—a key reason for large-scale dropouts and/or poor learning outcomes for already disadvantaged students.
The country’s first state-run education voucher approach is something other states and the Centre would do well to adopt across the country—as a first step towards empowering parents. This can be done through tuition, transport (in remote rural regions) and other expense reimbursements, linked to schools on an approved list, or through direct cash transfers. The idea is to adapt to local community requirements.
So far, there has been just the odd pilot project—in the private domain—such as the voucher scheme of the Centre for Civil Society in Delhi. That has shown how an overwhelming majority of parents in the low-income areas of the Capital want such options so they can reject state-run schools and send their children to the more efficient private schools instead. Around 120,000 applications came for 400 vouchers. A similar response is bound to come from regions even more deprived of quality schooling.
The poor need—and increasingly demand—access to good quality education. And public policy—planned targets, budgetary allocations, making education compulsory for children in the 6-14 age group, et al— has been inadequate and ineffective. Hence the growing call for the government to get out of provision of schooling—let it fund demand on a need basis and have the market provide the supply. Once there is spending capacity in the hands of the consumer—the low-income parent—private supply will increase. There is a caveat though. Regulation would need to be transformed —so that it facilitates and does not hinder that increase. All this will eventually also improve state schools.
Of course, opponents argue that the voucher system has not necessarily meant better education quality in the several countries using it. The answer to that: Let’s not reject what is intrinsically a good idea, but learn from the gaps in those experiences.
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