Education providers should consider changing India’s needs


Education providers should consider changing India’s needs Rukmini Banerji , Hindustan Times New Delhi, February 03, 2014
Private Schooling in India: A New Educational Landscape

Since 2005, the Annual Status of Education Report (Aser) has been tracking schooling status and learning levels of a representative sample of children in each rural district in the country. One of the most distinct trends from this nine-year stretch of annual data is the increase in private school enrolment.

In 2005, the rural all India figure of children (age 6-14) enrolled in private schools was 18.7%. By 2013, this has risen to 29%. Clear geographic patterns are also visible. Private school enrolment is high in the north. All states from Jammu and Kashmir to Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, private school enrolment today ranges from 30% to 50%.

In the Northeast too, apart from Tripura, private school enrolment is high and growing. A decade ago half of all children in Kerala went to private schools, now it is seven out of 10. In all other states where private school enrolment was low a decade ago, a clear increase is visible. Where private school enrolment is low, private tuition is high, even in early grades. For example, in 2013, close to 70% of children attended paid tuition in Class 1 in rural West Bengal.

Putting together the private school enrolment figures and the data on tuition, it seems like close to half of all children in elementary schools in rural India get some form of private inputs into their schooling process.

Interestingly, while the debate on private schooling is polarised between euphoria and despair, the reality on the ground is actually much more mixed. Evidence points to two facts. The fraction of children in private schools who attend paid tuition classes is substantially higher than that of similar aged children in government schools — implying that parents of private school going children do not depend on private schools alone.

Studies using ASER data as well as other independent studies show that controlling for family background, parental education, additional expenditures on schooling and other factors much of the difference in learning outcomes between children going to private schools and government schools goes away.

So, how does one interpret all this data? Three immediate points come to mind. First, it is crucial to remember that regardless of school type, across the board, basic learning outcomes are very unsatisfactory. In 2013, even in a relatively high-performing state like Himachal Pradesh where 34% children attend private schools, there are still 25% children in Class 5 in private schools who could not read basic Class 2 level text. The comparable figure in government schools is 35%.

So even in private schools in one of India’s best performing states, a significant proportion of children after five years of schooling did not know the basics. This is a hard fact. What this points to — is the urgent need to take a serious re-look at how teaching and learning is organised, supported and delivered in private schools as well.

Second, parents seem to assume that ‘more is better’. With rising ambitions and aspirations, parents want more schooling (more years, early enrolment into formal schools) and more inputs (private enrolment, paid tuition) in the hope that it will lead to better outcomes. While the results from private schools may be marginally better, parental hopes and investments are certainly not being realised either in terms of learning outcomes or in terms of future livelihoods.

Third, in many ways, government is like parents. Although government priorities are now changing, for years the assumption has been that more teachers, more teacher training, more qualifications, more infrastructure, more entitlements will lead to better eventual outcomes. While this approach may have brought universal schooling it has not led to learning for all.

What is obvious though is that people in India are making strategic choices. Choices are based on available resources and information and on calculations about the potential and future of each child. Parents use interesting ‘blended’ strategies combining public provision of schooling with private inputs for enhancement.

Whether government or private, education providers need to have a deep rethink about what is needed for a changing India. At the household level or at the country level we spend substantial proportion of scarce resources on our children’s education. Our top priority should be to clearly define what we want our children to learn by what stage and then organise the allocation, provision and regulation of the education system in line with what delivers the best outcomes for all.

Large-scale models of effective delivery needed to be guided by evidence on ‘what works’. If the law of the land is to be truly followed, then education and learning need to be guaranteed in all schools — whether private or government. Otherwise, the implications for both equity and growth will be severe.

Rukmini Banerji works with Pratham and leads the Aser effort

The views expressed by the author are personal

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India’s educational awakening

Road sign to  education and future

What exactly is hindering Indian universities to become world-class?

In recent times a few leaders, notably the ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam and current President Pranab Mukherjee, have laid stress on improving quality of education and research in India. Kalam, in his interaction with students across the country, emphasised the point that India needs to engage in quality education and research at various levels. Mukherjee also highlighted upon the dire need of improvement in quality of education and research in higher education institutions. The major concern Mukherjee expressed about is India’s failure in creating world-class institutions. Keeping in view the fact that the government has established IITs, IIMs, NITs and central universities, and has made available substantial funding for research, Kalam’s and Mukherjee’s concerns raise several questions. The most important is what fails Indian institutions improve their quality and ranking, especially in terms of quality research output. The answer could be the lack of scope for creativity and innovation in our education system.

Unfortunately, India does not have many quality institutions to offer undergraduate education. Then there are a limited numbers of career paths unlike in developed countries. The students graduating from schools have the aim of enrolling themselves in those limited number of institutions offering professional degrees, primarily in medicine and engineering. They are under tremendous parental and social pressure to join these institutions in the country and that too in a few selected disciplines where placement is more or less assured of. For example, to get admission in an institution like BITS Pilani, almost 1.5 lakh students register to compete for a few thousand seats every year. Getting admission into IITs is equally competitive. The students need to work very hard, forgetting about any other activities during the last two years of their schooling.

Once they are selected for admission, it is almost like achieving the goal in life and many of them lose motivation. This is further aggravated as many of them do not know how to handle freedom in the hostel life, away from the watchful eyes of their parents and also knowing that the placement cell of the institute would take care to arrange a good job

r them at the end of their studies. In a number of cases, due to parental pressures, they target to get admission in a branch that will fetch them a fat salary at the end of their study. However, due to their rankings in the admission tests, they get admission in some other branch, which de-motivates them.

There is another category of students whose expectations about the institutes become very high due to the hype created by the media and the society at large, but after joining they find that the quality of infrastructure is ordinary and the academic system not challenging enough—again de-motivating them.

The situation is further aggravated as the quality of teaching at all levels (elementary, secondary and tertiary) has not improved over the years. The existing teaching-learning process at the undergraduate level is not up to the mark. We still follow the age-old techniques of teaching, have failed to understand the impact of technology on young minds and have not reoriented our teaching methodology to attract them towards the subjects. We are not growing inquisitive minds. Encouragement to independent thinking, which contributes in innovation and research, is missing. The undergraduate education does not prepare students to get attracted to choose research as a career option. Many students, who are genuinely interested in research, do not think that proper environment is available in Indian universities and go abroad.

For any academic institution to go up on the ranking scale requires to be research-focused and for that it needs to have a large supply of quality research scholars at PhD level. In the absence of sufficient number of genuinely interested and motivated research scholars, the universities are unable to produce excellent research outputs. Moreover, since in most Indian institutions research has been linked to career growth, people tend to prefer easy-going researches which require lesser creativity. There are a few social-related reasons for not being able to attract students towards research.

Hence, if the Indian institutions aspire to produce high quality research and also to enter into the list of the best in the world, serious efforts have to be made at

rious levels. Starting from school education, the course curriculum needs to be redesigned so as to create inquisitiveness in the mind of the students, which will only happen if research component is introduced at the elementary levels. This is a long drawn process. To improve the supply of good quality students for research, undergraduate education has to be strengthened. The social mindset will only change if the PhD scholars are compensated well and their efforts are adequately recognised.

AK Sarkar is senior professor, Dept of Civil Engineering;

SK Choudhary is associate professor, Dept of Humanities and Social Sciences. Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani. Views are personal

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