Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why so much fuss about a Mole when there’s a Mountain ahead?

It’s quite encouraging that the present HRD minister at the center is really trying to solve some real issues. Compared to his predecessor Mr. Arjun Singh, Mr. Kapil Sibal is no doubt a MUCH better option. At least, for Madam’s sake, he is trying to see real leaks in the pipe rather than being in a utopian world of hypothetical leaks. But now the point is whether Mr Sibal is running after the right leaks or whether he is devoting all energy to fix microscopic holes in the pipe when several portions of the pipe line are totally non exisent? Isn’t it like talking about cakes when people don’t even have the bread to eat?

Yes, there’s no doubt that examinations, in their present forms, need to be changed. Mr. Sibal has all the right to do that. Similar things have been done in many Western countries. I’m sure any educationist of repute would agree with Mr. Sibal about the necessity of changes required in our present system of education, specially the way the examinations are held. But how many kids actually reach the stage of giving the secondary examinations?

Let’s consider the following facts.

According to
reports while 96% of India's children enroll in primary school, by the age of 10 about 40% drop out.

The government's education expenditure as a percentage of GDP has never ever risen above 4.3% of GDP, despite the target of 6% having been set as far back as 1968 by the Kothari Commission.

A closer
look shows that GDP seems to be rising at a much much faster pace than the government's education expenditure to be able to reach the 6% target.

Though the Common Minimm Program of the previous UPA government included the target set by Kothari Commission, the public expenditure on education has actually declined from around 3.23 percent of GDP in 2000-2001 to 2.88 percent in the recent times. As a proportion of total government expenditure, it has declined from around 11.1 percent in 2000-2001 to around 9.98 percent during the previous UPA rule.

The quality of education imparted in the free government run schools is very dismal. Even if it’s free, still many people from the lower income group go out of their way and send their kids to private schools or tutions. Absteeism of teachers in government run schools is one of the major reasons for the poor quality of education in the government schools.

In this respect it’s noteworthy to see what Mr. Santosh K Mehrotra has
mentioned in his book “The Economics of Elementary Education in India”: Amartya Sen's introduction to the Pratichi Education report (Pratichi India Trust, 2002) notes: We encountered some disturbing evidence that primary school teachers often show much less regard for the interests of children from pooer and lower caste backgrounds. We observed much greater teacher absenteeism in schools with a majority of children from scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (75%), compared with other schools (33%).

Why the problem of absenteeism is never brought under limelight is also a well know fact. The teachers of the elementary schools provide a strong cadre base for most of the cadre based parties like Congress and many others. The scene nationwide might not be as bad as that in Left ruled West Bengal, but still it’s at a quite alarming state and should be tackled ass soon as possible.

The teachers of the government schools are perhaps the least accountable in the entitre government machinery. If your neighborhood roads become pathetic the local PWD enginner is accountable for that. Even if he doesn’t do his job throughout the year, still at least before the election the roads are repaired. Water connections, electricity connections, gas connections are all made in haste before the election. But have you ever heard of the standard of education or the behavior of the teachers of the schools changing before the elections? On the contrary the teachers are busier with their ‘party work’ during elections and are seldom seen at schools.

Mr. Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar and Gurucharan Das have been writing in the columns of Times of India for quite some time that a very simple way to improve the quality of the education in the government run schools is to give coupons to the families of the kids. These coupons should be redeemable either at the government schools or at any private schools which are ready to provide education at the same rate. Given the salaries of the school teachers, the monetary value of the coupons would be quite attractive and many private schools would be interested to admit kids against them. The salary of the school teachers would be directly linked with the amount a school draws from the collection of coupons. This system has worked quite well in many countries and it shouldn’t be hard to implement such things in India.

Now doesn’t it look like there are many more important things to be taken care of by Mr. Sibal? Isn’t it like thinking too much about a small mole when a big mountain is ahead?

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