Educating India: Choice, autonomy and learning outcomes
Parth J. Shah
Parth J. Shah is the founder president of Centre for Civil Society.
The Indian education system does not effectively promote the prior right
of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their
children. This column argues that the degree of freedom of not just
parents, but also of school principals, teachers and education providers
is a key determinant of quality and equity in education. It outlines
reforms to promote the right to ‘education of choice’.
The Article 26 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 deals with education and has three clauses the first demands free and compulsory elementary education, the second sets the goal of education to “promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups”, and the third clause states that “parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children”. This idea of parental choice has always been an important component of the Right to Education (RTE), but is hardly ever mentioned in the current debates on education reforms in India.
The education system does not effectively promote parental choice. This lack of choice or the lower degree of freedom is at the heart of our education problems. The degree of freedom of not just parents but also of principals, teachers and education providers (‘edu-preneurs’) is the most critical determinant of quality and equity in education. All parents do not get to choose the school, principals and teachers in government get to choose the system but not the school, and ‘edu-preneurs’ cannot choose their own curricula, language of instruction, or whether to be non-profit or for-profit. In this column, I outline my suggestions for education reforms. These revolve around the idea of choice for parents, principals, teachers and ‘edu-preneurs’ (Shah and Miranda 2012).
The RTE’s recognition of the power of aspirational schools should be extended to go beyond the 25% reservation for the disadvantaged, starting first with the most marginalised and under-served children.
i. Conduct annual independent learning outcome assessment.
ii. Empower School Management Committees to monitor learning outcomes and take necessary action to achieve their targets.
iii. Recognition of low fee, budget schools should be based more on learning outcomes than infrastructure norms. The Gujarat RTE Rules assign 85% weightage to learning and 15% to infrastructure norms.iv. Open Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) exams to all students, not only for students who study in CBSE affiliated schools. If learning is the focus then it should not matter which school the student attended – the student should get CBSE certificate if she passes the same exam.
i. Make entry easier by rationalising the license raj.ii. Declare education an ‘industry’ for easier access to credit and venture capital fund.iii. Offer schools (and colleges) the choice to be non-profit or for-profit, and treat for-profit ones as companies for disclosure and taxation norms.iv. Apply the same standards to private and government schools. According to the law, government schools must meet the same norms as private schools, but this may or may not happen in practice since the law does not require that a government school be closed down or penalised for failing to meet the norms. The children of the poor go to government schools. This means that the government worries about the education quality of the children of the rich by requiring private schools to meet its standards, but feels that the poor should be grateful that they at least have a school to go to. The government treats the children of the poor as second-class citizens. This inequity must end – government schools must meet the same standards of quality by going through the same process of recognition. The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), as a monitor of RTE, could be put in charge of this process since the department of education itself should not be.
The state’s mantra should be not just the right to education but right to education of choice.
Reprinted with permission from Ideas for India (www.ideasforindia.in)