Tag Archives | Right to Education

The three C’s to improve the education system

Improving competition, providing contestability and ensuring clarity of objectives can help improve the supply side of India’s education sector 

Disclaimer: The education system in India has been thoroughly reviewed and criticised numerous times. There have been various studies done by NGOs, the Ministry of Human Resource and Development and education institutions on the subject. This piece attempts to club some of the suggestions from various readings into three broad buckets.

With India struggling to reduce the large share of low skilled employment as well as its huge informal sector, it is time that some of the burden is shared with the private sector.  As per the Human Capital Index, India ranks 100 out 124 countries, indicating its inability to improve human capital formation.  Therefore, steps need to be taken that incentivise the private sector to invest in primary education institutions in the country.

As the Economist article “Learning unleashed” shows, there has been a surge in the private schools across developing countries. A large segment of the population, including the low income families, have shown a preference towards private schools over public schools. The key reason for this state of affairs is the poor standard of teacher training and, consequently, the low quality of teaching in the classroom within public schools. To add to it, the lack of competition faced by public schools removes any incentive for improvement.

Moreover, the Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) has created barriers to market entry for the private sector by imposing regulations which are uneconomical. For instance, as per the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, one of the basic requirements to attain the Certificate of Recognition for setting up schools is a Certificate of Land Ownership. This essentially means that the land ownership is a basic requirement for building a school that limits the entry of entrepreneurs with low capital. Hence, even if the provisions made for “free and compulsory education” under the the RTE Act have helped increase the demand for education, the supply side has been left unaltered.

In order to supplement the supply side in education sector, the MHRD needs to broadly ensure 3 C’s: competition, contestability and clarity.

Competition

One of the primary steps to improve primary schooling in India is increasing  the competition at the primary school level. An interesting way to acheive this would be by using the steps taken by the Punjab province of Pakistan as explained in the Economist article.

As per the article, the Chief Minister of the province, Shabaz Sharif has decided to not build any new schools and, instead funneled money to the private sector via an independent body, the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF). A scheme was started to help entrepreneurs set up new schools, particularly in rural areas, while another scheme gave vouchers to  incentivise parents living in slums to send children to PEF-approved institutions. These measures provided the impetus for an increase in the number of schools within the rural regions of the province.

On similar grounds, the 42,220 crore provisioned for the primary school level in the 2015 Budget can be allocated between funds for entrepreneurs setting up new schools and vouchers for low income families based on a pre-determined weightage.

Contestability

As more of the infrastructure building and the supply of education is undertaken by private schools, public schools can provide contestability in order to reduce the oligopoly or monopoly of private players in the market. The private sector suffers from various problems such as low profit margins that hamper their sustainability, residual risk of poor financial management, and corruption. The MHRD can also utilise its larger resources towards regulating the private sector schools and only run schools in regions where private schools are not as profitable or prevalent.

Clarity

Finally, it is important for the MHRD to set well defined objectives and outcomes. These objectives should be clear enough that each stakeholder in the education sector is given a precise and limited number of responsibilities which can be thoroughly evaluated at the end of a term. For instance, teachers at the pre-primary school level can be given targets on improving the reading skills of students. This would make them concentrate their attention on specific and attainable tasks. Also, clear goals and objectives would help the ministry avoid highly criticised and dubious polices such as the no retention policy upto eight standard in schools.

It is vital to note that one of the primary reason for the rise in private schools has been the realisation by Indians of the growing need for education in the increasingly globalised world. This increase in demand needs to be matched with a holistic growth in the supply  of education to ensure that India’s young population can be more productive in contributing to the growth of the country.

Devika Kher is a Research Associate at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.

Image Source: Wikipedia

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To be seen and not heard

Why the lack of children’s voices in the debate about the recent Amendment to the Child Labour Act is a matter of concern

Working Children

This week witnessed a lot of debate around the Amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 (“the Act”). The amendment has brought the Act in line with the Article 21A of the Constitution and the Right to Education Act. The amendment has made changes to the age of employment for children, the kinds of employment they can be hired for and the penalties for violation of the Act. However, what is conspicuously missing from the current debate (particularly in the media) are the opinions of children, especially of working children. This is extremely worrying, as the children who are at the receiving end of this Amendment do not have a voice to set the public discourse.

The original Act and the recent Amendment both acknowledge that children can (and do) perform work that is economically productive. However, it remains doubtful that children, working or otherwise, were systematically consulted when passing the Amendment and they were more likely treated as passive agents. It would be extremely unfortunate if indeed, working children had not been involved in the framing of the Amendment or any subsequent analysis of its impact as such a law would undoubtedly have a great bearing upon the lives of these children.  Not only would it be high-handed, it would amount to an utter disregard of the ability of children to think rationally and formulate opinions on decisions that affect them. This could not be further from the truth as working children have demonstrated that they can participate effectively in public decision making and voice their opinions with courage.

India is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children (UNCRC), an international treaty that sets out the civil, political, social, and economic rights of children. Article 11 of the UNCRC acknowledges that children’s relationships with adults need to move beyond children receiving protection and provision of services to also participating in decision-making in all matters that affect them. Given that India has signed the treaty, it can be assumed that the country subscribes (at least theoretically) to the view that children are not just to be seen but also to be heard.

Stakeholder analysis and involvement is commonly advocated as a tool for effective policy planning, particularly for vulnerable populations. It is only logical to first understand the needs and concerns of the target population before framing a policy that will address them. While other tools like economical analyses or scientific studies also have value, it is imperative to also seek the opinions of the people being affected. Otherwise, there is the imminent risk of providing solutions that fail to address all the concerns of the target population and may tackle a problem that the they were actually indifferent towards. Furthermore, by not being involved in the policy making process, it is quite possible that these people will not fully understand their rights and entitlements under the new policy.

The media has traditionally helped policy makers in this regard by providing a forum to spread awareness about new policies. But the media is much more than a mere mouthpiece for the government. Often described as the fourth pillar of governance after the executive, judiciary and legislature, the media can actually keep a check on all the other three. It ostensibly does this by providing enough data and analyses to the public for them to make informed opinions about government actions. Though this information does not always hold up to strict, empirical rigour, it helps create a story or a narrative about each policy. In democratic countries especially, these narratives are sources of public pressure on governments to change policies. It is impossible (and foolish) to ignore the role narratives play in ensuring accountability and moving government policies in a certain direction.

It is in light of all of this that the failure to give voice to the concerns of children becomes more stark. While the current level of information is insufficient to accurately comment on the involvement of children in framing the Amendment, what is more readily apparent is the lack of child voices in the media furor about the Amendment and its repercussions. Only isolated pockets in print media convey voices of organisations that represent and directly work with working children. If this continues, the media will be guilty of continuing to treat children as if they should be seen and not heard. Not only is this bystander status demeaning to children, it could lead to a law that is counterproductive or to a state where children are not sufficiently informed about a law that directly affects them (which the adults debating about child labour on TV or otherwise can full well exploit).

Nidhi Gupta is a Social Policy graduate from the London School of Economics and manages outreach and business development at the Takshashila Institution

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