Why the wisest thing Gujarat could have done for its students was to deviate from the Right To Education act.

Posted by    | Mar 31, 2014 in Governance



We are fond of quoting the fact that India is a young country with young aspirations. It’s no mean fact that India is projected to become the youngest country in the entire world by 2020 . A third of the country is below the age of 18, while another third is in the age group 18-35 and is projected to decide the fate of the nation in the upcoming election by constituting 50% of the total voting population of the country. While issues like wide unemployment and low employability remain keyto this segment, perhaps the wholescale destruction of the Indian education systemandthe upcoming demographic disaster is not getting as much attention as it deserves.

There are two main programmes for evaluating learning outcomes in Indian schools. The first is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment conducted every three years. India participated in the 2009 round and came last in Science and second last in the world in Reading and Math. Other Asian countries like China and Korea led from the top. Experts estimated that an Indian Class VIII student is at the same level as a South Korean Class III student in math abilities or a Class II student from Shanghai when it comes to Reading skills.

Such abysmal performance should have sent the alarm bells ringing in the Indian education system, but the Indian government did the only thing they seem to know best, refuse to participate anymore in such surveys andsaying “the tests don’t conform to our sensibilities”. No doubt the exposure of the utter failure of the Indian education system while the government is trumpeting acts like Right to Education (RTE) doesn’t appeal to the sensibilities of the United Progressive Alliance. As the popular saying goes, there remains a difference between acts and action.

Thankfully, a second annual survey, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is available to assess the performance of a school system which seems to be focused on acting like an ostrich burying its head in the sand after sensing upcoming danger. ASER evaluates student performance and its latest 2013 report (released by Montek Singh Ahluwalia), shows that only 54% of Class V rural school kids could even read at a Class II level in 2010. This number further deteriorated to 47% in 2013. So not only are our kids the last in the world, they are getting worse and rapidly so (perhaps a good time to start an imaginary dilapidated country with which we compare ourselves against and feel better). The numbers are even worse for government schools (50% versus 41% of Class V kids being able to read at the Class II level in 10 versus 13 respectively) and only the maintenance of learning outcomes by private schools tempers the utter disaster that is the Indian education system.

The reason behind this disaster is something every Indian can understand easily, the concept of “paisa vasool” or accountability & incentives. In other words, Peter Drucker’s advice of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is worth listening to. UPA’s RTE focuses on building and infrastructure standards but misses on one thing the education system is setup for “learning”. In addition, it also forces well performing, low cost private schools to shut if they don’t measure up to infrastructure standards set up by Delhi’s babus(estimates are upto 18 lakh children will see their private schools closed due to RTE. There is no focus on learning outcomes in an Act which claims to provide education. As Willima Wadhwa, Director, Statistics of ASER Centre puts it, “both incentives and accountability are completely missing from the public school system” .

The contrast is stark when one looks at states like Gujarat which deviated from the RTE Act, and gave 85% weightage to student learning outcomes and only 15% to inputs like facilities and teachers’ qualifications. The impact in terms of outcomes is stark, with the percentage of Class V students reading at the Class II level or above rising from 46% to 51% in four years (as opposed to the reverse trend at the national level). Additionally both government and private schools are improving by laying focus on learning outcomes rather than peripheral infrastructure.

Full Report

It’s important to note that lack of adoption of solutions which focus on outcomes is putting the future of the entire nation at peril. It’s time the middle third of the country (18-35 age group) takes focused action to ensure a future for themselves and the younger third of the country.It’s time to move away from symbolic legislation which proclaims to educate, to a system which puts its money where its mouth is and focuses on schooling not just school buildings.