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

Posted on June 16, 2014 in Education, Specials

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?