It seems to be the season for focusing on education. I will do the conjecturing below but first here are a bunch of articles on what’s going on in education in India.
A Broken School System
Let’s start with today’s Economic Times editorial, A Broken School System, by Neeraj Kaushal. He starts off generously, “For a moment, let us not dismiss Dr Manmohan Singh’s goal to eradicate illiteracy among women in the next five years as just another hollow promise. Let the inactivity of his government in the past five years not influence our judgment.”
Did you know that illiteracy is actually increasing?
In 1991, only 40% of women in India aged seven or above were literate. Ten years later, in 2001, the latest year for which census data are available, the proportion increased to 54% — about a 1.4 percentage point increase per year.
Projecting this growth to the present, perhaps 66% women are literate in 2009.
Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy knowing that the government is in charge of education, doesn’t it? I know that it is possible to make India 100 percent literate and numerate within 3 years. But that would not serve the interests of a government which depends on illiteracy and innumeracy for maintaining its power at the ballot box. Sheer incompetence can explain the failure to achieve expressly stated once in a while but consistently bad performance forces the conclusion that the failure involves malice.
The Sarva Sikhsha Abhiyan, the flagship elementary education programme of the central government, introduced in 2001 to provide education to all children, has been a colossal failure. The 2007 the Comptroller and Auditor General of India report found that 40% of the children aged 6-14 were out of school. The goal of the SSA was to increase enrolment to 100% by 2010.
The article is worth a read because it lists studies that document the government failure in education. However, the author makes an elementary mistake near the end of the piece:
The government school system in India is non-functioning. However, government schools have a big responsibility in providing primary and secondary education to all. In most developing and developed countries, providing free primary and secondary education to all is a government responsibility.
Confusing funding and provisioning of a public service is pretty common. It is well-understood and widely appreciated that the government has a role in funding primary education because of its public good characteristics. However it is also widely appreciated that governments usually are not very good at providing the service. The solution is therefore public funding but private provisioning of the education. What’s needed is the design of the instruments to get this done and an independent regulatory authority that will oversee the entire operation.
The Human Resource Development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, appears to think that an independent education regulator is a good idea. Today’s livemint.com reports that “India needs a regulatory body for education sector — HRD minister Kapil Sibal said he would try his best to push for FDI in education & the government may soon set up a regulator to oversee this crucial sector.”
A bit from a CNBC-TV18 interview published in livemint.com
CNBC-TV 18: In the context of attacks on Indian students in Australia, does it not throw up the challenge of a supply-demand mismatch? Do you think the time has come to open up the education sector to do away with the political rhetoric and the hypocrisy?
KS: I entirely agree. I think if you are spending $20 billion (Rs94,800 crore) by sending your children out, it’s better to invest that $20 billion in the country. You know, you can transform the entire education sector.
Mr Sibal appears to be somewhat sensible. He says about the coming changes that “at the heart of it would be to open up the entire education sector to greater investment and to allow children to go to the school that they want to, without any concern about where the money is going to come from, because we’ll have to put in place a loan scheme, both in higher education as well as public education. If somebody wants to go to a private school, he should be entitled to go to a private school as long as he gets a loan.”
I have been saying this for a while that that’s what’s needed. Good to hear the talk but let’s see if they walk the talk.
Here’s that bit about the independent regulatory authority from Sibal:
We need to have an independent accrediting agency that accredits at the entry point by giving a provisional certificate, and when the institution is built, by giving a final certificate so that the intake can take place. We need to get the government out of this and give it to an independent regulator. But all of this needs a lot of work and a lot of consensus across the board, and I think once we do that, then anybody should be able to enter.
I’ll give you an example. Except for the Central government or the state governments, nobody can set up a university. And then, you have the whole deemed-to-be-university concept. Why should this happen? Anybody should be able to set up a university and he should be able to compete in a market for the quality of that degree. As long as you put a system in place, it’s very easy to work it out so you’ll get the investment that (will bridge) that Rs2.5 trillion gap if you have the appropriate policies in place.
Great start, Mr Sibal. If you need some ideas, you know where you can reach me. And good luck.
Moving on, again from livemint.com, see a piece titled “A new era in education” which notes that “the government is seriously considering a regulatory overhaul.”
A senior official at HRD told this newspaper that the government will soon abolish both the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), replacing them with a new independent regulator. To put that in perspective, that’s like doing away with the Reserve Bank of India and installing a new banking regulator. The move may sound too bold to some, but multiple committees have found that this is the best avenue for reform.
The National Knowledge Commission (NKC) has recommended this repeatedly, as has a committee under Yash Pal. With not one but two regulators, supervision is already complicated. And heavy-handed regulation gives universities little autonomy—even introducing a new academic course requires approval.
Add to that the usual bureaucratic corruption and inefficiency, and India is left with incompetent management of perhaps its greatest resource today: its large and young population.
I totally agree what the UGC and the AICTE must be killed without much ado. But I have another suggestion that I suspect won’t sit very comfortably with Mr Sibal, the minister for HRD: Abolish the ministry of human resource development.
Why? Because that ministry has been responsible for education in India and we know how well that turned out.
Moving on, Raman Roy writes in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that “We Need An Overhaul in Employee Education“. (Hat tip R S Malapati.) Mr Roy, a pioneer of the Indian outsourcing industry, is chairman and managing director Quatrro.
He says that there are three category of graduates in India. The first come from the elite institutions such as IITs and are employable right out of school and get premium salaries. The second category people are rough cut and have to be given some additional polishing by companies such as Wipro, Infosys and Quattro. They do alright. But the third category:
The third category is what I call “paper graduates. Students are duly awarded a degree and have the paper qualification but in terms of competency and capability, they don’t match up to the qualifications they possess. Bringing them to the point where they could be a revenue-generating resource would not be cost efficient or effective.
It is disappointing to see that only 150 to 200 applicants meet the actual criteria and get recruited when Quatrro advertises and we get 7,500 to 10,000 applications. Technically, a large proportion of the applicants meet the requirements but in terms of competency and capability, they don’t match up.
He outlines some of the things that need to be done.
Another piece from the Wall Street Journal warns “Don’t bet on Education in India.” Harsh Joshi write:
India’s education sector is heating up — to scalding point.
Stocks such as NIIT and Everonn Systems India are soaring on expectations that the newly elected, reform-friendly government will spend on schools and colleges as it promised in the manifesto and maybe relax rules to allow private investment in them.
Oh, the title is misleading. I believe that one can bet on education in India — in fact, make the biggest bet you can. But don’t bet on the stocks of Indian education providers right now because they are overvalued.
Remember that overvalued stocks indicate that the sector has space for new entrants — which is precisely why the existing players’ stocks are rocketing. That also means that the sector is ripe for entrants. (That’s econ 101 — entry in the industry when the firms are making supernormal profits.)
So the lesson is that you the Indian education sector is ripe for innovation and reform. But the government has to let go its hold on it. The license-permit-control-quota Nehruvian raj has to go.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed.