In the education sector, the state of Bihar has done far better than the state of Gujarat.
These days the manner in which growth rates or other data-points, often in percentages, are compared across states— and time horizons—can make anyone with elementary mathematical background cringe. Different states have different socio-economic and political conditions and they have to mould their policies to address their specific challenges. Some states might invest in industry and infrastructure which can lead to rapid growth while other states might opt to invest in human capital (health and education) which will normally give returns in the long run. This is a matter of policy choice and most of the times that choice is dictated by circumstances.
In an article written recently, Prof Arvind Panagariya argued that Gujarat is doing well because there is something called “Gujarat Model” and he then compares it with “Bihar model” to further his case (or cause). He thinks that the so-called Gujarat Model can be used as a one-size-fits-all model for the whole of India. While the performance of Gujarat in many sectors must be recognised, Prof Panagariya makes a case that everything that is good in Gujarat is because of the Gujarat Model; and in the sectors where Gujarat is not doing so well, it is because other states are having a historical advantage. This explanation can be seriously contested atleast as far as the education sector is concerned. More so because education sector is an example cited by Prof Panagariya himself.
Bihar has made significant progress in elementary education. When Nitish Kumar took over the reins, the education system was in total disarray. There were fewer schools, 17% of the children in the age group of 6-14 were out of school, 85% of the existing schools did not have a black board, the pupil-teacher-ratio (PTR) was as high as 1:80, and there was poor gender parity in enrolment (740 girls for every 1000 boys).
Bihar, with its limited resources, transformed the entire elementary education system under Nitish Kumar. Today Bihar is the largest public education system (even bigger than UP) in India with over 2 crore children in government schools. The state government took a bold decision to recruit over 3 lakh contract teachers to get to a pupil teacher ratio of 1:50 (the ratio is still high).The gender parity in enrolment is now equitable (940/1000). Most interestingly, it is one of the few states where parents still prefer to send children to government schools.
Now compare this with Gujarat during the same period: the enrolment in government schools actually declined, not many government schools were constructed, the state continues to have poor gender parity, and parents are opting out of public education system in big numbers and with a huge dropout rate. (all graphs below).
Figure 1 : Bihar public school enrollment in elementary education nearly doubled while Gujarat enrollment slightsly decreased. (Source : DISE)
Figure 2 : Bihar gender ratio progress with bicycle scheme for girls and after adressing law and order problems (Source : DISE)
Figure 3 : Parents in Gujarat prefer to send their children to private schools, the enrollment in pvt schools increased by 300% (Source : DISE).
Figure 4 : Bihar increased the access by constructing more number of schools, while Gujarat did not do much in this aspect (Source : DISE).
Coming to the interesting aspect of learning outcomes, according to Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a comprehensive annual survey of Rural India done by Pratham, Bihar outperforms Gujarat by a huge margin in both reading as well as arithmetic. Please remember that the size of Bihar public education system is close to three times that of Gujarat and Bihar nearly doubled the capacity of public education system after Nitish Kumar took over. Any education policy analyst will agree that it is very difficult to maintain quality with massive expansion and despite that Bihar has outperformed Gujarat.
According to Prof Panagaria, Kerala has a historical advantage in education. It is a valid point, but it does not explain the colossal failure of Gujarat’s public education system, where only 12% of the children in Class III can do a simple subtraction and only 11% of the children in class V can do a simple division (the corresponding percentages for Bihar are 26% and 30% respectively). A state with excellent administrative abilities (as is often claimed by many) but only 10% of the children acquiring minimum basic skills is hardly a “model” which can be applied to entire India( graphs below). To put it simply, the Gujarat Model is educationally anorexic.
Figure 5 &6: Children in Std III who can do subtraction or more (Source: ASER-2012) .
Figure 7 & 8: Children in Std V who can do single digit division (Source: ASER-2012 )
In Gujarat, 65% of the children dropout before they reach Class VIII and of the remaining students, only 35% can read simple English sentences (example of simple English sentence as per ASER : “what is the time”, “she has many books”). Only 6 of 33,458 government schools in the state impart education in English medium. When Mr Modi says India can export teachers to other countries, it sounds like a novel thought, but that does not even remotely match with the reality on the ground. Unless there is a huge demand for Gujarati medium teachers abroad!
Focus on Industry and infrastructure is important for growth, but for that growth to be sustainable it has to be backed by robust human capital and higher productivity. It is not uncommon to hear from industry the complaints related to lack of employable skills even among graduates. In education sector, we are sitting on a time bomb. The learning outcomes in schools, all over India, are abysmally low and they are declining every year. If we do not address this challenge with a sense of urgency, we might construct the most wonderful industries but there will no skilled labour to run them. Whatever be your political leanings, no one can argue that Gujarat is the model for India to emulate to overcome that challenge.