India Economic Summit | Poor scope for educational reforms

India Economic Summit | Poor scope for educational reforms

New Delhi: Looks like there isn’t much on the horizon for reforms in the education sector. The minister of Human Resource Development lashed out at the India Economic Summit 09 against for-profit educational institutions, saying “nowhere in the world" is education for profit and such a set up would be “unacceptable".

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93% of all education in India is governmental and only 7% with the private sector. Much of the so called private educational institutions are either of poor quality or owned by politicians. In effect because of this outrage against for profit, honest private sector people don’t get into education or face phenomenal rent seeking. Either dishonest people or politicians (because they are immune from the rent seekers) thus find it easy to set up educational institutions. Not only are the standards low because of this arrangement where the money is taken in cash, this also forms the basis of the argument that the private sector isn’t delivering!

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The argument that ‘nowhere in the world’ is education private and for profit is plain wrong. Unless of course the world is comprised of western Europe and the US. Europe can afford to subsidise education at all levels and therefore standards of public education are quite high. US educational system is both well funded in the primary and secondary level by the government and by private endowments in the higher education levels. In India, with the fiscal constraints and because of lack of financial support by the private sector, neither is a real option.

We clearly need to move away from short term political posturing against for-profit private institutions — the national demands for education and employability are too great for us to ignore this critical reform.

There is a clear need for introducing accountability into the primary and even secondary education in the public sector. The sad truth of our governmental educational system (in primary and secondary) public schools is that teachers don’t attend school, out of the few who attend occassionally, few really teach. Unless, the accountability of teachers is fixed by attendance records being made public or a fair part of the salary being conditional upon performance improvements — there is little hope for reforming the public educational system.

The interesting success story of parts of India where citizens have sought attendance records of public teachers and the dramatic impact of such right to information, applications on the attendance of such schools is an indicator to this key problem in the existing system. Another indicator of the impact of accountibility of public sector education is the ‘Kendriya Vidyalaya’ institutions — which are run extremely well because children of civil servants and important people attend these schools — putting the pressure of accountability by the bureaucrats on improving their performance constantly.