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Times Of India Published An Open Letter To Smriti Irani, Here Are Some Questions For The Writers

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By Mousumi Mukherjee:

These questions came to my mind after reading Ashish Dhawan, Anu Aga & Amit Chandra’s open letter to Smriti Irani about five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class.


My first question is what they mean by “mediocre” and “world class”? Which system of education is “world class” according to them? What are the distinct qualities of this system compared to current system in India and is it practically possible to implant this system within India? Moreover, it is not quite clear what is the evidence based on which the authors of the letter are drawing conclusions to make the first two important suggestions for reforms. Rather than taking any normative stand myself about each of these issues, I would like to ask the authors of this letter about the evidence based on which they are making these policy reform suggestions to the new government. Please enlighten us on what basis these suggestions are made:

1) Dhawan, Aga and Chandra write: “our education system currently suffers from an apparent ‘Licence Raj’ that restricts entry and operation of private players. Even policies such as RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). These norms have led to the shutdown of a large number of affordable private schools that serve low-income students. The government must deregulate school education and treat government and private schools as equal partners in solving India’s education crisis.” Yes, there is enough research evidence to show that the Indian education system is already highly privatized and that leads me to ask my first question. But, if the ‘Licence Raj’ is so restrictive about entry and operation of private players, then how are 40% of school students and 60% of college students enrolled in private institutions? Also, it is not quite clear what’s the evidence based on which the authors are drawing this conclusion that large numbers of low-cost private schools are shutting down and the reason is because of “Licence Raj”. Can these authors show some concrete evidence about drawing this conclusion? If low-cost private schools serving children of low-income parents are shutting down because of “Licence Raj”, then how are new-age expensive corporate schools for the children of rich people mushrooming in most Indian metropolitan cities and even small towns. And, why is there no official data or record available about these new-age corporate schools? If these low-cost private schools for the poor children are really shutting down, according to the authors of the letter, then is there any hidden global and local market dynamic at play? Will further deregulation of the education market really solve the problem of low-cost private schools shutting down? Finally, its not clear on what basis the authors are making this statement that RTE neglects the fact that the private schools are large part of Indian education system? In fact, the RTE actually mandated 25% of the seats in all government recognized private schools to be reserved for children from low SES background.

2) Dhawan, Aga and Chandra write: “it is important not only to invest more in education but to do so more strategically. Central government should invest more resources in teacher education and development, principal training, ICT in education and assessments. It is also critical for the ministry of human resource development to rework its results framework document (RFD) to include student learning outcomes. Furthermore, a portion of the budget allocation to states should be contingent upon the adoption of progressive education policies and improvement of outcomes. There is an opportunity to create version 2.0 of the central education budget that shifts focus from inputs and outlays to outcomes and impact, while holding states accountable.”

Any sensible Indian citizen and parent would agree on the need to improve teacher education and student learning outcome. Especially since most of the sector is already privatized and the onus of the failure of the system falls squarely on the shoulders and future of these masses of hardworking Indian parents, who often depend on the material success of their children for their own “private social security” in old age. However, can the authors explain what they mean by “progressive education policies” within the Indian context? The suggestion of the shift of focus in budget from “inputs and outlays to outcomes and impact” is a much-used global discourse about education reform in contemporary times. But, what is the actual input or public investment in education within India compared to other countries in the world, especially since the market for education has been historically highly privatized as cited by the authors themselves?

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  1. Aastha

    Hi hater,

    Please do understand that the authors of this article had only the benefit of the school going kids of India in mind. It is not hidden that very many schools have shut down due to non-existent backing from the administration. In the wake of this, if the authors ask for a little relaxing of the licencing guidelines of private schools, I do not think any sin has been committed and I fail to understand why you would be incensed at the suggestion.

    Your second argument did not make any sense to me whatsoever. The teachers have been a massive failure, and yes that is household knowledge. So what is it that you are trying to say?

    Looking forward to a more unequivocal discussion,


  2. Aniket Baksy

    1. Data on schools being shut down, or schools that will be shut down isn’t that hard to find. The RTE is pretty clear that those schools failing to meet its input-centric norms- specifications regarding playground sizes and numbers of classrooms- will be shut down. This is bureaucracy that is shutting these schools down.
    For further information, the advocacy campaigns carried out by the National Independent Schools Alliance ( and the Centre for Civil Society (CCS) are good starting points. The fact that the RTE doesn’t give a thought to the nearly 6 lakh students studying in unrecognised schools is probably what the authors mean when they say that the RTE “ignores” the fact that a large fraction of India’s students are in private schools.

    2. The fact that the majority of schools coming up are for the neo-rich and are expensive, elitist and corporatist in their outlook towards education is an outcome of crony politics, wherein the rich and powerful are able to set up “trusts” and thereby get around the rules and regulations in starting a school (see here for the list of rules in Delhi NCR. ) These Private Schools thrive at the expense of the newly rich middle classes, while the poorer sections are doomed to depending low quality Govt Schools (for quality assessments, read the ASER report 2013 at and the private unrecognised sector, whose learning outcomes are far better than Govt Schools (ASER and Tooley and Dixon ( As a result, it’s pretty clear that bureaucracy has throttled the growth of private schools, except for the ones run by the rich as businesses, the DPS’s and International Schools.

    While deregulation isn’t a solution to everything, the fact remains that over-regulation counters every other helpful measure the Government tries to do. Instead of focussing on learning outcomes, a Government that specifies norms every school must follow restricts the ability of entrepreneurs to invest in education and disincentivises the entry of actual educators into a business they perceive as corrupt and fraught with bureaucratic hurdles. While some regulation is necessary, the levels we have today are unsustainable and in fact, quite unnecessary. Excessive regulation may in itself be the outcome of strong bargaining by powerful teacher unions in the public sector. The Private sector offers better outcomes at around 33% lower costs (

    3. Your assertion that most of India’s student body is in the Private Sector is factually incorrect. ASER 2013 states clearly that while the fraction of the Indian Population in Private schools has risen drastically, it is still at only around 29% of total enrolments (as 0f 2013). ASER is a nationwide survey and hence is representative. That being said, I agree with Aastha that your point appears unclear. Indian teaching quality has failed to keep pace with new paradigms in teaching at the international level. There may be many different points of view regarding the nature of the new progressive forms of education we require, but I believe that the exact nature of this is NOT what the letter stressed- the letter stresses that individuals having different needs must be taught through experimentation and through locally suitable methods, not via a centrally determined set of archaic rules (such as the no-detention rule in the RTE). The letter appears to suggest that a shift from rote learning and memorisation towards progressive problem solving as a means of teaching is necessary. On this, read–stiglitz-makes-the-case-for-a-return-to-industrial-policy-in-developed-and-developing-countries-alike. Inputs into education in physical terms are clearly abysmal in India- around 3.5% of our GDP. In human capital terms, it’s probably even worse, as documented in the ASER report wherein resources for teacher training are diverted to infrastructure construction and consequently, into the pockets of contractors and sub-contractors.

    4. On mediocrity, the authors stand vindicated by the fact that Indian students consistently fare worse than foreign counterparts, including Chinese and South-East Asian nations, on international standardised tests. See Kingdon’s paper here:

  3. Mousumi Mukherjee

    There is no hate word in these questions. Questions are not considered as hate in any language, culture or society. They are signs of deep interest in important matters of PUBLIC interest. There are no first or second arguments above, just questions based on the arguments the authors make. The questions have been asked for ALL (not any particular socioeconomic class, caste, tribe, ethnic group, religion or sect) Indian school-going and not-school-going children and their parents in mind, since inclusive and equal access to education has been the constitutional mandate of India according to Art 29 (1) and by the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory education to the children of 6-14 years of age as a Fundamental Right. Also, the recent Right to Education Act 2010 mandated the education and inclusion of 25% children from underprivileged background in all private schools.

  4. Mousumi Mukherjee

    Thanks Aniket! That’s a good response. Well argued with evidence! One correction for you. Please note that the assertion about private school being large part of the ecocystem is actually made by the authors of the open letter, not me. “RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). ” So, thanks for correcting the mistake in the open letter by providing evidence from ASER 2013 report. I was asking questions based on what the authors of open letter stated.
    I also appreciate the fact that you provided solid evidence to show that public input into education in India is abysmal compared to other countries, while emphasis in the open letter was to “shifts focus from inputs and outlays to outcomes and impact,” though I do agree student learning outcome needs to be improved. But, is it a sound policy advice to a new government to improve outcome and impacts by shifting budget focus from input where inputs in education is already so abysmal as you stated with evidence?
    I also appreciate the fact that you acknowledge “deregulation isn’t a solution to everything” and the problem of crony politics “wherein the rich and powerful are able to set up “trusts” and thereby get around the rules and regulations in starting a school” while schools for poor are shut down by “bureaucracy”.
    The education environment in India is complex. The problem of unrecognized private community-based schools for the poor that have been shut down is genuine. But, what is the quality measure of these schools? Were all unrecognized schools following “the new progressive forms of education” you say Indian students require?
    Regarding the question whether the private sector in India provides better learning outcome or the public sector, there are noted scholars who are doing rigorous research in this area and it appears scholars have not reached a conclusion yet about this issue of better learning outcome of private schools. The work of these scholars challenges the evidence you provide from NISA :
    “Our study finds no consistent benefit of attending a private school,” said Amita Chudgar, assistant professor of educational administration. “The main implication is to recognize that the debate is not settled regarding public and private schools.” – See more at:
    Also, “Srivastava’s work showed that while low-fee private schools may allow some lower socio-economic groups access, they also seemed to contribute to a schooling arena further segmented by social class, and that the corrupt practices, which low-fee private schools often relied on for official recognition by government departments of education, raise serious questions about their quality.”
    So, it seems that the research evidence in this matter is not strong enough.
    Lets hope the authors of the open letter and policymakers are reading these questions and comments along with the evidence carefully to make well though-out policies in the future by consulting with range of field experts and research scholars in this area and not just news reports and advocacy from specific interest groups.

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