Swaminomics pushes the voucher idea

Following is from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Columnists/SA-Aiyar-An-open-letter-to-Kapil-Sibal/articleshow/4653435.cms.


Back to school: An open letter to Kapil Sibal

14 Jun 2009, 0031 hrs IST, Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar


Dear Kapil Sibal,

… for truly inclusive growth we must focus on improving basic education for the poor and historically disadvantaged classes. Poor people send their kids to government schools, but hardly any teaching takes place there, and the teachers are protected from disciplinary action by powerful trade unions. No chief minister dares antagonize these unions. Richer students supplement schooling with private tuitions, but this is unaffordable by poor students, who end up functionally illiterate after years of schooling. Lakhs of crores spent on education are wasted.

School vouchers can be one way forward. Parents can get outright grants per child in the form of school vouchers, which are redeemable only for expenses in a government or private school. Vouchers will empower poor people through choice in schools, just as democracy empowers them through choice in politics. Competition with private schools will improve government schools, just as competition from private airlines and banks have improved service in government airlines and banks.

But teachers’ unions hate competition or accountability, and oppose school vouchers. They also point out that the results of school vouchers in western countries have been mixed. In some states in the US, voucher students perform no better than those in government schools. In Sweden, on the other hand, voucher students fare distinctly better.

But in those countries, government teachers actually teach. This, alas, is not the case in India. And so desperate urban slum families are pulling their children out of free government schools and sending them to private schools, at great financial sacrifice. These private slum schools are hardly of high quality, yet are better than government schools having highly qualified teachers but little teaching. The very fact that slum-dwellers are sending kids to private schools in large numbers is the best evidence that private schools are better, whatever may be the experience in the US or Europe.

In Delhi, the Centre for Civil Society has started a small project offering school vouchers worth Rs 3,600 per year to 408 children. An independent evaluation shows that voucher children perform better in standardized tests than comparable children in neighbouring government schools; that parents find the teaching and infrastructure better in private voucher schools than government schools; and that over half the poor beneficiaries will be forced to send their children back to government school if the vouchers are withdrawn. This shows that vouchers are badly needed by the poor, and yield better results too.

The Delhi scheme is tiny. Some chief ministers have sought other ways to try and scale up vouchers. In Rajasthan, the former BJP government sought to persuade government teachers to start private schools, for which students would be given vouchers. Unsurprisingly, this failed to find many takers.

So, Kapil Sibal, let me propose an alternative. You should launch a pilot project, making funding available to states who are interested, and scale up after removing the inevitable glitches. The project should offer school vouchers to urban children of disadvantaged minorities — Dalits, tribals and Muslims. Only urban areas have multiple schools within walking distance of every locality, and that is a necessary condition for real choice.

Teachers’ unions will oppose this idea too. But their opposition will be muted since the benefits are limited to a small, historically disadvantaged section of the population. Besides, the idea will be supported by vote-banks of Dalits, tribals and Muslims, all of whom are wooed by politicians. Chief ministers will find it worthwhile to take on trade unions only if they are compensated by support from substantial vote banks.

In the Delhi scheme, activists spread information about vouchers in areas with 12 lakh citizens, of whom 1.2 lakh applied for vouchers. The vouchers were awarded through a draw of lots to a lucky few. Although only 408 children benefited, the project enthused over a lakh households, a number high enough to qualify as a vote-bank, and so interest politicians.

Teachers will see this as the thin end of the wedge, and launch agitations. One form of compromise could be to offer vouchers at least to girls from Dalit, tribal and Muslim families. Even the most cynical unions may feel ashamed of denying benefits to the most oppressed gender among the most oppressed classes.

Kapil Sibal, your new government is committed to affirmative action for the historically disadvantaged. This can be an excellent launching pad for school vouchers. Do not waste the opportunity.

I have written about this approach in the past. I think its time has come. An interesting fact not mentioned in the above article is that in many private schools teachers are paid less but the students do much better. A good example is the Sarasawti Sishu Mandirs. (Lets us ignore the religious organization behind those schools.)  So pumping money to primary education is by itself not enough; nor is the the "Right to education act." What is needed is the "Right to Choice of Education."

I slightly disagree with the suggestion that this has to start in the urban areas. i think pilots should also be done in rural areas as the fact that government will be providing vouchers might actually encourage private organizations to open schools in those areas. With PMGSY the private schools in rural areas may even provide transportation.

1 comment June 14th, 2009

Children Education Assistance and Reimbursement of tution fee

Following is based on recommendation of the 6th pay commission; see http://india.gov.in/govt/paycommission.php. Its effective 1st Sept 2008. As per a report in Dharitri the Orissa government is also planning to implementing it for its state employees.

The above numbers can serve as a benchmark for the state and the country to aim to provide for similar amount for every child’s K-12 education. They can start with kids with BPL parents, making it part of R & R, requiring every organization with more than 20(?) employees to provide to all their employees’ children, etc.

1 comment November 3rd, 2008

Right to School Choice – New Indian Express reports progress in Orissa

Following is an excerpt from a report in New Indian Express.

Amid mixed reactions, the ambitious "school choice Campaign" kicked-off in the State recently, involving both the gram panchayats as well as civil bodies in the districts.

The campaign advocates school vouchers to empower the poor to choose and demand better quality education for their wards.

The voucher of specific amount would be issued directly by the Government to parents’ instead of schools to fund child education at a school chosen by them. If a parent is dissatisfied, he can enroll his ward in another school.

The aim is to ensure greater accountability on the part of teachers’ and increase efficiency of the school. The Centre for Civil Society, which has launched this mission here along with 15 other states in the country, claimed to have achieved good progress after it was first floated here on June 19.

"Our intervention in the last four months has shown remarkable changes in people’s awareness level about the concept as the disillusionment with Government schools is widespread," maintained state coordinator of the campaign G B Dalai.

While sensitising the Government holds the key to its success, he said, Orissa Primary Education Programme Authority has evinced keen interest in the model and is willing to fund parents in some pockets on a limited scale under a pilot scheme.

The Orissa campaign plans to reach out to more than 2.5 million parents across Mayurbhanj, Balasore, Kendrapada, Khurda, Gajapati, Sundargarh, Koraput and Balangir. Across the nation, the organisation claimed, it has gained grounds in Delhi, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra among other states.

… District coordinator Trilochan Moharana said, more than 30,000 signatures have been collected and 13 citizen groups formed to spread the campaign message.

October 31st, 2007

School Choice

This is something I have talked about in various forums earlier. Its great that it is gaining momentum in India. I will now follow it more closely and cover its progress. To start with, today’s Statesman has a report on this. Following are some excerpts.

PARALAKHEMUNDI, July 30: The New Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society inaugurated the “School Choice Campaign in Gajapati district” at a function at the Town Hall here. …

Dr Mishra said the programme was meant to create awareness among the people about the need for a student to be able to study in a school of his/her choice.

There is an obvious disparity in the education system where the rich have the option but a poor child has none whatsoever.
The school choice campaign being organised in nearly eight states has plans to collect 10 lakh signatures, to highlight the issue.
“Crores of rupees are being spent in the name of education but when it comes to real evaluation of results, one finds that pass results are poor, drop-out rates abominable, corruption galore, misappropriation of funds and no accountability.
Why should the bureaucrat decide how education funds should be spent and should they bear no responsibility for the failures,” asked Dr Mishra.

Despite the progress of projects such as the Sarva Sikhsha Abhijan and National Child Labour Project, results are not up to the mark.
After the meeting, Dr Mishra said they have found out that the government investment in education is about Rs 5000 per annum, per student.
The money is being spent in the form of infrastructural development, books purchase, teacher recruitment , purchasing of materials and so on.

Spending is decided by government officers who are unaware of the ground realities.
Had the same money been handed over to the parent or the guardian, giving him or her the choice of school, there could be rapid transformation in the system.

However radical or antagonistic the proposal may be, it is fast catching up and the Delhi-based CCS has been trying to make the government understand that the money is best given to the guardians in the form of vouchers.
If 1,000 students are selected from a particular block and given Rs 5,000 each year for their education, it comes to Rs 50 lakh per annum, he said.

This is bound to encourage good schools to come up in the block.

These can be an alternative to locally run government schools where the poor people are forced to study because the government is investing money on them.

July 31st, 2007


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