The Gold Standard | RTE and elites

My cousin brought to my attention the piece that Ms. Shoba Narayan had written in MINT on the 25% reservation for poor students in private schools, mandated by the Right To Education (RTE) bill. His views were:

Any affirmative program will feel like it won’t work when forced and we all can talk about reservation being not really effective etc., However, unless some mass movement that can ignite and sustain social change as it has done for India in end of 19th century and pre-independence 20th century happens, legislation is the only way. I do know that it will not achieve all that it purports to but it will start and start for sure.

Ironically, besides this aspect, there are so many other aspects to Education in India as well as RTE but the fact that all elites and elites of Mint focus on this aspect typifies typical resistance. We need to be as honest about that too…..

Personally, I liked Shoba’s piece. It was politically incorrect and hence, in my view, courageous. She did not motivate her piece on macro arguments against reservations. She dealt with the psychological and social dangers (attitudes) that might limit or even nullify the effectiveness of the 25% reservation. Her piece is here.

I am prepared to add my two cents worth:

(a) 25% reservation might end up alienating both sides as the Australian programme of planting aboriginal children in white homes achieved.

(b) At another level, it makes sense to start reservations early so that the periphery-centre gap is plugged early in life. If so, should it be extended all the way up to jobs and promotions?

As long as reservations are seen as pure entitlement and not empowerment, resentment and bitterness in ‘others’ are inevitable. One cannot criticise the latter without blaming the former for it. Political parties want to make the poor feel as though they are being done favours rather than make them feel that they have rightfully deserved it and thus feel less inferior or equal to their more affluent contemporaries.

Political interests continue to focus on entitlement approach for three reasons: (1) Entitlements are favours granted by ‘royalty’ and that makes them feel powerful (2) Keep ‘them’ poor and dependent and (3) keep divisions within society brewing and rising.

In the final analysis, with any public policy-making, we can debate them to death. But, experimentation is in order and the only way to improve policy. Nothing better than empirical verification to validate policy goals. If reality falls short of goals, there should be no hesitation in admitting failure in design (if not in goals) and in re-designing. We often fail to do that.

However, as my cousin writes, there are, perhaps, more important issues with the RTE bill. After reading James Tooley’s book (I have blogged on it here), I have been concerned about the impact of the RTE bill on small private schools, run in poor neighbourhoods. The Act threatens (or, proposes that they be) to  shut them down if they did not meet infrastructure requirements.

So, Parth Shah of the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) is happy that the rules framed by the Government of Gujarat under the RTE have been far more pragmatic:

Appendix 1 of the Gujarat Rules is the one which has a path breaking formulation for recognition of a school: this will be a weighted average of four measures:

Student learning outcomes (absolute levels): weight 30%
Using standardised tests, student learning levels focussing on learning (not just rote) will be measured through an independent assessment.
Student learning outcomes (improvement compared to the school’s past performance): weight 40%
This component is introduced to ensure that schools do not show a better result in (1) simply by not admitting weak students. The effect of school performance looking good simply because of students coming from well-to-do backgrounds is also automatically addressed by this measure. Only in the first year, this measure will not be available and the weightage should be distributed among the other parameters.
Inputs (including facilities, teacher qualifications): weight 15%
Student non-academic outcomes (co-curricular and sports, personality and values) and parent feedback: weight 15%
Student outcomes in non-academic areas as well as feedback from a random sample of parents should be used to determine this parameter. Standardised survey tools giving weightage to cultural activities, sports, art should be developed. The parent feedback should cover a random sample of at least 20 parents across classes and be compiled.

 This is one of the first times in India’s history that public policy has focused on children and parents, instead of focusing on the public sector producers of education services.

Specifically, on this issue of infrastructure, this is what the Gujarat Government has proposed:

The Gujarat Rules allow for the State to takeover the school, or transfer management to a third party, and create a genuine possibility for the school to continue and meet the norms. This, once again, shows the focus of the Gujarat Rules upon the interests of students and parents.

On the physical infrastructure issue, I have been harping on, in private conversations, on a solution that is identical to the one proposed by Abhijit Banerjee and Raghuram Rajan in a piece published more than two years ago:

The problems of private schools with inadequate facilities and government schools with inadequate motivation need to be dealt with jointly so that the poor can benefit from the resulting competition. Is there some way that schools with high verifiable performance that charge fees that are low enough to be generally affordable could be rewarded with better government-supported facilities regardless of whether they are private or government? And in reverse, could poorly performing government schools be starved of promotions, salary increments, and capital funds until they shape up — and shut down if they fail to do so? Could well-performing private schools be allowed to avail of the facilities of government schools that do not attract students? [Link]

I was in the first batch of the 10+2+3 system in Tamil Nadu. Many schools were not ready with laboratories. Intermediate students (11+1) went to colleges for their pre-University education and colleges had laboratories (or, supposed to). So, schools were allowed to form clusters and each cluster was assigned to a college. Students went there and performed their experiments, etc. In essence, that is what AB and RR propose.

Shoba gets it right here:

What the government seems to be saying is that they have failed the 90% of children who go to government schools and, therefore, want the private schools to step in and do their work.

Of course, she does not have an answer to the problem. But, India has not found an answer so far, for educating its poor (most likely because politicians did not really want them to be educated) and hence, why blame her alone?

Government education was the solution and it has failed miserably so far. India’s gross tertiary education enrolment is still very low. Same old motivation issues with teachers and staff as with other government workers.

They – politicians – do not have the courage to hand the schools over to local communities to run the schools themselves. They will do a far better job of it, I am sure. Just read the 11th chapter (‘The Men who uprooted the Beautiful Tree’) of James Tooley’s book on how India used to educate her children before the British arrived.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.