Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Formalising education in public policy

Writing in DNA, Mukul Asher says that India needs schools of public policy.

2 comments:

  1. Mukul Asher's article is excellent -- but it overlooks a very critical point: that the Indian education systems has lost most of its teachers.

    This is because (i) the government has not allowed this sector to get compensation that keeps pace with other employment sectors. This has caused the best talent to drift to other sectors (today a peon in the private and government sectors gets more money than a freshly recruited teacher -- called shikshan sevaks by the Government of Maharashtra) ; (ii) inability to protect the dignity of the educationist (it has allowed lumpen elements to beat up or 'blacken' the faces of teachers and principals of schools/colleges for the flimsiest of reasons); and (c) degradation of the teacher's post (it began with using government teachers for election duties, then included using teachers from all government-aided schools for all sorts of administrative and other work that had little to do with teaching).

    One more reason was the sudden withdrawal, in the 'seventies, of market economics for most teachers. Today, if a teacher leaves one school/college and joins another, his salary is equal to the number of years' experience. Merit, market value, or demand are just not allowed to be considered while finalising the pay package of teachers.

    The consequence is that most schools today lack good teachers.

    This was driven home to us when, in 2003, we conducted one of the biggest surveys in schools to evaluate the language and mathematical skills of students. To normalise the sample, we selected only private management run, English-medium schools. As many as 34 schools in North-East Mumbai agreed to the quiz and 16,500 students of Standards VI and VII participated.

    When the results were compiled, we found that 65% of the students had failed in Maths and 75% of the students had failed in English.

    Mind you, this wasn't in a mofussil or backsward region. It was in Mumbai, India's foremost industrial/commercial city.

    In fact similar surveys done by NGOs like Probe and Akshara in Mahrashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, found similar failure rates at schools.

    Surprisingly, the lowest failure rates were in the state of Bihar -- and my hypothesis is that in economically-backward Bihar, most good teachers could not find alternative jobs and, therefore, good teachers remained within the schooling system.

    The painful consequences of losing teachers at the school level is being felt today. It will be felt even more acutely in the next few years when India finds business opportunities, but won't be able to find the people to take care of them.

    That is when, the more affluent will get jobs. The vacancies will go to Vietnamese, or Bangladeshis, and will lead to sons-of-the-soil protests from each part of India where locals will perceive that they are being deprived of the fruits of economic growth.

    At that point, India will either lose business opportunities, or will face even greater social turmoil, or will have to recruit teachers from overseas to desperate ly shore up the skills of it millions.

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  2. rnb's comments are scary and well taken. At a time when the country happens to be at a demographic advantage of having more productive youth with potential than anywhere else in the world, it is sad that the education system mess may end up converting it into a horrific disadvantage.

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