Entrenched interests, wrong ideas

EducationWorld May 05 | EducationWorld

I read your cover story “Why India’s most pro-education budget isn’t good enough” (EW April). There is some homework needed on this argument. It is not the “how much” of spending but the “how” of spending that is important.

In particular I am inclined to challenge your argument that we first need massive investment in education infrastructure and then monitor the quality of spending. My understanding based on empirical evidence is precisely the opposite: First monitor the quality of spending and then invest in education.

Again while it is true that investment is needed in education, it doesn’t mean all investment has to be raised through public funding. Implementing schemes that draw private spending are a better bet because of the better accountability systems they come with. Demand-side financing by the government through education vouchers and tweaking the regulatory system by allowing for-profit and English medium primary education institutions can lead to more investment and better, accountable managements. An esteemed magazine like yours can have a localised rating scheme for schools (like India Today does for business schools) in every city, in fact, in every district of India. Imagine the readership and the good that you will be doing to parents by providing this information! Imagine the competition it will set off among schools to provide sound education!

A few back-of-the-envelope calculations based on Dr. Sajitha Bashir’s study (Government Expenditure on Elementary Education in the Nineties in India) throws up interesting findings. Assume that a state’s budget is Rs.100. Usually about Rs.20 of it is devoted to causes of education. Again, about Rs.10 of the Rs.20 goes towards elementary education. Of it Rs.8.50 is approximately disbursed as salaries to teachers and administrative staff. The rest Rs.1.50 is spent on three items primarily: paying salaries of additional teachers hired during the Plan period; construction of new buildings and classrooms and incentives for attendance of students (uniforms, textbooks etc). Where is the money for quality improvements like teacher training or learning materials that arguably do more for learning outcomes than any other input?

The success of a scheme is often accounted for in terms of meeting the quantitative targets which are usually enrollment figures and not reflective of the quality of schooling. The annual expenditure on instructional/ learning materials per child is in the range of Rs.15-30. Compare this with the expenditure of Rs.88 spent on every child for his mid-day meals to “get” him to school to boost enrollment figures.

Pardon my strong feelings about education reform, but I can’t believe how a set of entrenched interests (like teachers’ unions) and wrong ideas (disallowing markets in education) have deprived millions of children a basic right: quality schooling at affordable rates.

Naveen Mandava
Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

Prompted letters

This is a rejoinder to letters “In defence of Gintara” (EW April) supposedly written by a couple of Gintara parents in response to my letter “Practice-precept gap” (EW March). It is very clear from these letters that the Gintara school management is getting so desperate to get its act together that it prompted parents who are obviously strangers to EducationWorld to pen the “In defence of Gintara” letters. I’m glad you published these letters because the Gintara management is exposing itself by concocting statements which are absurd to anyone with elementary knowledge of pre-school education.

As to Peter Jacob, it is his right to express his opinion but obviously he is unfamiliar with the Koramangala branch of Gintara, which is the one I had referred to. As for Ms. Mamatha Lakshminarasimhan’s charge that my daughter had been enrolled and pulled out of Euro, Kidzee and HeadStart, this is another absurd statement as I do not know her at all and vice versa. The plain truth is that I have never enrolled my daughter in any of these institutions.

I pity Lakshminarasimhan’s scant knowledge of pre-schools. She doesn’t know the basic fact that HeadStart for example, doesn’t admit any child who is less than two and a half years years old and my child is still not of that age. So obviously I couldn’t have enrolled her in any of these institutions when she was 16 months old last year when she attended Gintara. So I challenge this parent to provide proof for these statements and EducationWorld should demand the same.

Also, my two cents worth of advice to you folks is to please check authenticity of the statements made in letters to the editor. Or institutions like Gintara will tarnish the credibility of your high quality magazine. 

Padmaja Nuvuluru on e-mail

Also read: Panel Discussion: ‘Is Indian academia/society ignorant about ECE?’

Camouflaged provision

I read your cover storyWhy India’s most pro-education budget isn’t good enough” (EW April) with great interest. Some of the statistics you have given in your story are truly amazing, particularly your calculation that per capita government spending on education (Centre plus states) is a mere $5.45 per month or 16 cents per day. With this pathetic amount expected to cover capital, administrative and revenue (books, uniforms, transport etc) expenditure, it’s ridiculous to expect India to catch up with Western nations where per capita expenditure on education is at least 100-fold more.

However your calculation that per capita government expenditure on children’s education is $5.45 per month is not entirely accurate. It does not eliminate the large number of middle and upper class children who attend private schools. Therefore the number of children- perhaps 20-25 million- who attend private schools should have been deducted from your calculation. However for the purposes of your calculation you have numbered only children below the age of 18. But the reality is that almost 10 million students between the ages of 18-24 receive large higher education subsidies aggregating to an estimated Rs.20,000 crore per year.

If this unwarranted excessive subsidisation of higher education is factored in, the per capita government expenditure on the education of children (below 18 years of age) will be even less than $5.45 per month — a disgracefully low and carefully camouflaged amount.

I agree with Prof. Seetharamu that this provision must be “at least doubled” immediately and congratulate you for indicating how the Central government can find the resources to do so. 

Niranjan Shah on e-mail

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