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Solutions for pathetic state of primary education in India

One of my favorite columnists, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar, recently attacked the main proposals of a study led by Nobel laurete Amartya Sen. In summary, the study found that privately run schools are producing better results for less money than government run schools. For this, it blamed the private tuitions and recommendaed that the solution is to ban private tuitions. Mr. Swami disagreed with this view with the reasoning that this will curtail the right of better education for those who can afford it. His solution: empower local communities to punish errant government paid teachers and reward who perform better.

Amrtya Sen responded to this, that he was quoted out of context. In response, Mr. Swami quoted him extensively and toned down his criticism a bit. A later article by Gurcharan Das, former CEO of Procter and Gamble, India and now a columnist, praised the public debate, while denouncing the harsh tone of Swami's first column, stating that a practical solution has to be pragmatic and workable.

My own views are mixed. I must confess that my thinking on economic, political and organisational matters has been greatly influenced by Mr. Swami's columns (I have been an avid reader of his writings since 1990 -- except for a two year gap in 1999 and 2000 when I relocated to US and the columns were not available on the Internet) and I have been an admirer of Gurcharan Das for his pragmatic views.

Here in US the government schools compete for a better ranking, administered by the state. Better ranked schools drive property prices higher in a locality as only residents of that locality are allowed enrollment and parents are willing to pay more for better education. Higher property prices mean more local taxes and hence more money to the school and hence, even better performance. This is indeed a vicious circle, favouring the rich and promoting inequity. In fact, schools who are not able to improve their performance face cut in state funding as well.

This system, certainly not a socialistic one, guarantees that the school administration and techers don't become complacent and ignore their primary duty.

This kind of a system may not be feasible, or even desirable, for India. However, any solution has to account for the fact that competition is required for continued improvement and innovation. Government should regulate the playing field for fair competition but not eliminate competition altogether. The way I read Mr. Sen's conclusions, it appears that he is arguing for removing private tuition as a mechanism to improve government schools. A better solution would be create an instituitional framework where these two compete, with adequate rewards for the winner. As of now, the government schools and teachers have little to lose even if they don't perform.

Comments (1)


hi Pankaj

I'm going to listen to Gurcharan who is coming to talk near Berkeley where I live. Your discussion is an important one, and so I am responding to it. I would like to hear you response to what I have to say.

I see this scenario as a problem that has shown up many times before, but never answered properly. The reason I think is because there seem to be a reluctance to find a middle road for some reason. It has to be one way or the other. I think the middle road is a harder road to follow as it requires constant attention and effort.

I see the weakness of both the opposite views. They work for awhile until they become corrupted.
The middle path is a realistic path as it demands upfront that there are no short cuts. And requires a discipline and political will from the get go. The opposite views are compelling initially as they are simpler to explain and are favorable for a certain class depending on which view is selected.

I am afraid of some of the things Gurcharan says, but I haven't read much of him, so I am still open. However I fear that he is excited about privatization too much. I do not believe any longer that the massive privatization in the US and elsewhere has helped in general. In fact I would say it has caused problems.

I feel the real problem is corruption of people. The status-quo of any society is upset by sudden change, and also by disparity in power. Gurcharan Das believes in trickle-down economy espoused by the Reaganites and this creates more diusparity in my opinion.

I think good governance with very mild and selective capitalistic encouragement is the way to go. Its longer and harder but there is less chance of fatalities.

Anyway, I hope you are not bored already ;) Let me know what you think if you can.



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