ByÂ Mousumi Mukherjee:
Imagine this scenario! In the tropical summer heat of Northern India, a classroom full of sixty to seventy children, no electricity, no fan, not even a proper desk, chair or other infrastructural facilities. Imagine another scenario! Heavy rain during monsoons, the entire school is flooded with knee-deep water, no electricity, children sitting on bamboo planks placed across windows of a ramshackle classroom and the teacher standing on a high desk trying to teach these children. How are you going to help these children learn and how can you improve their learning outcome? I have personally visited many schools and classrooms like this. If I had the power, I would invest as much money as possible to improve the infrastructure of these schools. How can their learning outcome be improved without an increase in educational input?
I just read Ashish Dhawan’s article in the Mint about targeting learning outcome and not input in the budget.
I am dismayed to read the superficial analysis of the ASER reports about the poor learning outcome of these children. Much has been already researched and written by scholars about exclusion within the Indian system and upper-class advantage of “family sponsorship” for education. (See: Nambissan 2010, Govinda 2011) Will the learning outcome of students in private and better resourced (mostly English medium) elite schools coming from educated middle-class or upper-class backgrounds be as bad as schools surveyed by Pratham for the ASER reports? What is the big difference between the elite private English medium schools in India and the schools surveyed for the ASER reports? The biggest difference is in their educational input. And, by educational input I do not just mean financial input and improvement in building infrastructure. Educational inputs also include well-trained teachers, well-trained school leaders and parental engagement. How can educational outcome of children coming from disadvantaged backgrounds, (many of whom are first generation learners without the vital support that children from educated middle-class families get) be improved without increasing the educational input?
All good systems of education around the world spend at least 5-6% of their GDP on education. Rather than decreasing budget input for education, the new government should increase the educational budget input to 6% as promised. Also, 50% of the educational budget should be invested in teacher education, school principal/headmaster training, student learning assessments and research and development. In order to attract some of the best students into the teaching and research profession within India, working conditions must be improved. And working conditions especially in government schools cannot be improved within the Indian context without more investment in education. Better learning outcome needs more investment in education.
In his article Mr. Dhawan also advised the new government to adopt President Obama’s “Race to the Top” policy in the US. However, “Race to the Top” policy has been a very controversial and much-criticized policy for funding education, which in many ways followed the “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) policy of the former Bush administration as well as the unjust history of educational funding in the US. In 2009, the “Race to the Top” programme created a fund of $4.35 billion as a part of the United States Department of Education contest, and the government used this to provide competitive grants to states based on their educational innovations and reforms. The United States has been by far one of the most unequal systems of education, where historically educational funding has been allocated based on property taxes. Hence, schools in rich neighbourhoods have historically received more investment in education. Those children who belong to disadvantaged background (mostly children from Black and Latino families) have received poor education due to lack of educational investment. Some of the public schools in the South Side and West Side of Chicago, have remained poor in many ways and public schools in these neighbourhoods suffer from severe lack of educational input. It’s not just that the building infrastructure of these schools are poor, but sometimes one teacher has to teach multiple subjects and also provide pastoral care to some of these children coming from poor, homeless and abusive backgrounds.
Some of these public school teachers were my classmates in Chicago. Throughout my years of study and research in the US, especially in the area of education, I came to know about similar situation all across the country. Educators and educational scholars within the US and around the world have increasingly criticized these policies based on research evidence to show that these policies of funding education have in many ways increased educational inequity within the US, which is also increasing inequality within the larger American society and generating social unrest.
Therefore, Mr. Dhawan’s policy advice to the new government to follow President Obama’s highly unpopular policy of “Race to the Top” is highly problematic in many ways. Firstly, such policy advice goes against the constitutional commitments for equity (equal re-distribution of resources) made by the Indian state. Secondly, educational input i.e. in terms of public investment in education within India has been already quite low compared to most good systems around the world and even emerging economies like neighbouring China. Finally, “Race to the Top” is a policy, which has in many ways failed even within the US context.
Tons of research evidence already exists in the US, based on which educational scholars argue how both NCLB and “Race to the Top” have failed as policies to address the pressing educational problems for the most marginalized students in the US. They have further contributed in increasing educational inequity within the US context. Probably Mr. Dhawan should at least read this news article published in the Washington Post.
Hope that the new Indian government would research well and consult education experts before making budget allocations, rather than being lead by superficial advice to follow the highly controversial American policy, which might jeopardize their own government in the future!
Govinda, R. (2011). Who goes to school? exploring exclusion in Indian education. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
Nambissan, G.B. , (2010). “The Indian Middle classes and Educational Advantage: family strategies and practices” in Michael W. Apple, Stephen J. Ball & Luis Armando Gandin [Eds].The Routledge International Handbook of the Sociology of Education. London & New York: Routledge.