Chalk, talk and school reforms

Chalk, talk and school reforms
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First Published: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 10 18 PM IST

Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Updated: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 10 18 PM IST
We wholeheartedly endorse the view expressed by economist Arvind Subramanian in these pages on Friday. There is a lot of speculation right now about what reforms this government should pursue in the few months that it has before national elections. Subramanian says that one feasible option is to free higher education from the clutches of the licence-permit raj.
Illustration: Malay Karmakar / Mint
Meanwhile, this newspaper has reported that the government is taking steps to convert the Right To Education Bill into law. But this Bill is statist in intent. In fact, we need more private sector participation in schooling.
Let’s face it: When it comes to education, we live in an authoritarian country. Indians can choose neither what to learn nor from whom to learn. The government decides the syllabus, and entrepreneurs do not have liberty to educate the poor. Democracy loses meaning if the government controls the very minds of the people who are to elect it. If we cannot allow the state to control what newspapers publish or televisions channels report, then how can we allow the state to determine what children learn every single day for 12 years of their lives?
The state does have a role to play in funding primary education; but parents should have the freedom to choose where and what their children will learn. Already, we see the mushrooming of thousands of private schools in the slums of Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and remote rural areas. James Tooley of Newcastle University has shown that students of unrecognized private schools perform far better than those of government schools in mathematics, English and other language tests. After accounting for factors such as income, caste, parents’ education and around a hundred other variables, unrecognized private schools were found to be two-three times more efficient than government schools.
The Right to Education Bill proposes to increase teacher-student ratios, but how will that help when, on any given day, over 25% of teachers are absent and less than half of the remaining are teaching, according to World Bank data? In six states, 70% of the children go to private schools, even the poorest are opting out — in Rafiq Nagar, a slum in Mumbai, a fifth of the kids go to private primary schools.
Indians have the legitimate right to educate themselves without government coercion; young minds of India should benefit from entrepreneurial innovations.
Should the private sector have a bigger role in primary and higher education? Write to us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Sun, Aug 10 2008. 10 18 PM IST