Education Reforms – Government’s Agenda

July 16th, 2009

Round Table Discussion – ‘Education Reforms – Government’s Agenda’ by Mr. B.S. Baswan – Director IIPA; Mr. Shahid Mahdi – Former Vice Chancellor Jamia Millia Islamia University; Prof. Jagmohan Singh Rajput – Former Director NCERT; Ms. Rupa Chakravarty – Principal Suncity World School chaired by Dr. Kavita Sharma – Director India International Centre & Former Principal Hindu College; in India International Centre, 40 Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 3.

HIGHLIGHTS

Dr. Kavita Sharma
  • What is an exam? It is a measure of one’s learning achievement. Board exams are an attempt to set normative standards for the entire country. On the one side, we have Operation Blackboard and on the other, we have computers. Making everyone appear for the same evaluation is not feasible. The emphasis needs to shift to the institutions – the facilities, infrastructure, quality of teachers, equipments etc. We must, therefore, first evaluate our schools before we evaluate 14-15 year olds.
  • We need to accord more self-worth or self-esteem to our teachers. The system of teaching has been degraded economically, societally and the community stake in education is zero.
  • Today’s students are unsure of what they want except a degree from a prestigious college for raising their marketable worth or for obtaining lucrative marriage proposals.
  • Community involvement must be encouraged, because anything that the community has no stake in will not function.
  • Affiliated colleges are a bane; how can one make a centralised curriculum in affiliated colleges? Affiliated colleges, in my opinion, are a colonial feature and bane of the educational system. In fact, you may be shocked to learn that some universities like Bangalore University and Osmania University, Hyderabad have as many as 400-600 affiliated colleges under them. One can well imagine the appalling level of standards under such an arrangement.
  • Why do we need a public-private partnership to begin with? One can say that public sector – which is really synonymous with the government, as we use it – may not be particularly delivering the goods, so to speak. At the same time, an unbridled private sector is not an unmixed blessing. I think there has to be caution in what we are doing.
  • Frankly speaking, school education is very uneven. At most places, we’re still struggling for washrooms and blackboards, while at other places we have fully air-conditioned facilities with computers and the latest technology, videoconferencing and you name it, it’s all there. Where are we going to find a mix of the two? We certainly cannot have one section of the population zooming far ahead and another continuing to languish. Whenever we talk of public-private partnership, this is something we need to keep in mind, whether at the school or the college level.
  • On the one hand, we have these very elite schools; for some colonial reasons, we call them ‘public’ schools, but they are actually private schools. And on the other level, we have the mass of schools where teacher absenteeism, lack of physical infrastructure, academic infrastructure, lack of teaching equipment, lack of teleological techniques, lack of ownership by the community, etc.
  • As far as higher education is concerned, in a way PPP already does exist. We have private colleges affiliated to universities and having traveled as a UGC member in committees that inspect these colleges, I can vouch for the fact that the private colleges are no better than those run by the government.
  • The Yash Pal committee says that basically we need a transparent governance mechanism and not an over-regulated system. Today, if one wants a peon, one has to ask permission from the UGC to employ a peon. On the other hand, if one starts a course, one has to go through so many channels that one just forgets about it. Curricula don’t get revised for 25-30 years; we are all aware of those ills and hence need not go into all that.
  • Prof Yash Pal does give a comprehensive and holistic evaluation of the higher education structures, strategic and expansions; steering this expansion and assuring autonomy of universities, interdisciplinary work and so on. There are about 8 or 9 things listed.
  • Prof Yash Pal says that these details will be worked out. But the details are what will make or mar what we do. What will be the organizational set-up of this body? How will it take decisions ranging from medicine, engineering, vocational education; all the vast range of educational areas that it needs to cover? I am assuming it will have people who will be able to start it, be able to take those decisions, and will be qualified. He says it is not going to be a coordinating body between the various 13-14 regulatory bodies that exist today. But unless there is another model in his mind that will emerge, this is bound to become a super overarching body whether we address them by their present terminology or not.
Mr. Shahid Mahdi
  • How can they equalize it at the exit point? A certain testing is required for the university entry. One cannot totally escape exams at whatever stage or nomenclature. The main issue is not whether to have board exams or not, but the outcome of what you are teaching.
  • We should not freeze our thinking if our consensus is that the Xth board exams should be abolished. Banning exams instead of improving schools is barking up the wrong tree. We can start with CBSE; in MCD, the schools are from 1-5th standard and then from 6-12th standard. What is happening is that the weakness of 1-5th standard is passed on. We have to assess the input and outcome at different stages. In India, we deal with huge size and vast numbers.
  • The weakest link in the chain is not the infrastructure, not books, or curriculum up to Class V; it is the teacher and not even the salary. It is the problem of the prevailing class-oriented mindset. Children from slums are regarded and treated as the scum of the earth and the teacher does not connect with them. This dimension needs to be underlined.
Prof. Jagmohan Singh Rajput
  • The boards of 1960s and 1970s; they were headed by real academicians. The directorates of education were headed by academicians. Today, if one finds out who heads the Textbooks Corporation or a Board of School education, complete non-academicians crowd the scenario. This change has to be taken note of by learned colleagues assembled today.
  • The Kothari Commission has recommended, “The Commission has recommended that a few selected schools be given the right of assessing their students themselves and holding their own final examinations at the end of Class X, which will be regarded as equivalent to the external examination of the state board of school education.”
  • It was mentioned in the Kothari report – those who want to appear may appear but would certainly need the existing systems. There is lot of work to be done before this option is exercised and people should not suffer because of this. What will happen to the recruitment procedure where Class X is the qualification? Will they be treated at par? This will not happen.
  • About the Xth board, the Kothari Commission has something to say. It says: “The Central Board of Secondary Education should conduct some high standard examination at Class X and XII and it should be open to students of recognised schools to appear in these at their own will and get a certificate.”
  • We need a thorough scrutiny of the system of evaluation and assessment and an academic and professional resurrection. Boards will not be able to improve unless and until the schools improve which in turn, will not improve until the teachers improve and are allowed to improve.
Ms. Rupa Chakravarty
  • To enforce learning; to establish students’ knowledge, skill and intelligence; to be able to gauge students’ understanding and intellectual ability; to help in ‘fair selection’ of stream; to check if teachers are teaching and children are learning; to be able to gauge managerial skills, multitasking; What is the outcome of examination? It develops an aversion to learning.
  • A child is thus traumatized psychologically when pressurized about his/her marks/performance. They are just made to mug up the portions instilling fear in them that they would get lesser marks if they don’t do it this way. Will this fetch them marks?
Mr. B.S. Baswan
  • I would personally stay with the Class X but I would go along with the Kothari report as highlighted by Professor Rajput. People should be allowed to appear for an examination as often as they like and today’s technology permits this.
  • Allow kids to appear again and again and if today’s technology permits this, I believe it is feasible for certain examinations.
  • Personally I believe that the idea of insisting that a person do B.Ed. is a waste of time and money, and a hotbed of corruption. We can interview teachers, have extended interviews; as it is, it happens that many teachers can’t teach. This is a serious problem, especially with those qualified in B.Ed. colleges; it is almost certain that they won’t be able to teach.
  • I would suggest removal of all barriers to entry and the sub standard schools will come in. If you have regulation and you tend to be both corrupt and inefficient, why don’t you leave this to peer bodies? NAC is a voluntary accreditation; if you make NAC compulsory, NAC’s reputation will be similar to that of the AICTE and UGC. If you want to keep NAC on its toes and remain efficient, don’t insist on compulsory legislation.
  • The objective of our national education policy should be to bring more and more people to higher education. Let’s not worry about the results; if we have to reach a higher enrolment ratio of 70%, we should have that much of highly educated people. Our whole system of board evaluation or policymaking should be one to enable us to find those students who move up and filter them to further move up, not to obstruct them and push them down.
  • The weakest link is the teachers. Teachers are not teachers but have become terrorists of our times. They try to terrorize students and that is the reason the students are scared of exams and boards. I think we should teach the teachers to be humans first.
  • Rajiv Gandhi’s vision of Panchayati Raj, it should be delegated powers to appoint teachers and also be given the authority to promote or fire.
  • There is an increasing difference between the teacher and the taught because of the electronic world. So pastoral care and the concern and interface of the teacher and the taught are issues that need to be addressed when we reform our education.
  • I personally feel that the government should not be the sole custodian of equity. We have to give an example of our own track record.
  • Education is a good profession, there’s a lot one can do but any country that depends on the state is doomed. It is not fair to expect the government to solve all your problems. But the question is as a student and as a teacher of public policy; public policy is geared towards supporting interest groups and not the public at large.
  • The fact is that the government today is passing a number of illegal orders, which can or probably will be struck down. It suits the political class because they claim they tried to do it but the courts did not agree to it. But coming back to the question of the private and the public sector, we held the view that regardless of the government, we would subsidise 25% of the students. There are two methods for this; one is cross-subsidy, which we felt would be disastrous, because then those who are being subsidized will be reminded by the other children that they (the non-subsidized) were paying for their education. This has a traumatic effect on young children. We said that we can give scholarships, be very discreet. All of us who have contributed in our own ways would not like anyone to know who the donee is and we would not like them to know who we are. But having said that the question arises: how do we ensure access, equity and quality?
  • In PPP, the concessionaire or the private party has to be allowed to make money on a consistent basis. Even the basic premise of having trusts and other bodies doesn’t make sense; we need to go in for more Sector–25 companies.
  • Education is a big market. We are shy of calling a spade a spade. I would go along with the National Knowledge Commission rather than with the Yash Pal committee; I appreciate Professor’s Yash Pal’s stand on an overarching regulator but we need to move beyond the mindset of the government doing everything.
  • Cross-subsidy becomes unavoidable in case of technical education; we can have a cross subsidy that the market can bear.
  • The overarching regulator was recommended first by the NKC and then by Professor Yash Pal. Obviously, the way the UGC, AICTE, the DEC, the Bar Council, the Medical Council are run leave a lot to be desired both in terms of professional ability and probity. If we do get an overarching regulator, it should not fall victim to the same disease. We must make sure that whatever the regulator does is done in a totally transparent and quasi-judicial manner and whatever the regulator decides, the whole world must know.
  • A critical factor is teachers both in the PPP model and the regulatory model. Unless something is done about teachers, we are going to have a major problem.
  • I think it is time we recognise profit-making. I am not even talking about the Section 25 because under Section 25 they only do skullduggery.
Dr. Y.S. Rajan
  • We have to recognize some profit will be made if some private investor comes in. As far as parents are concerned, they will invest because they expect returns on investment. Unless we recognise this, we cannot address this issue. Let us take it that they will make profits.
  • The way the grants- in- aid institutions are run, fiefdom and slavery is rampant in every state. They are threatened that their grants would be cut off if they don’t do what they are asked to do, forcing them to struggle. Many good schools and colleges are perishing. If we have a continual struggle, we cannot have PPP in which case we say that we can go our separate ways. We have to ensure that the grant of money from the government should not become a kiss of death. The other side of it is that the private sector cannot say that it will garner all the money. That is where openness should prevail.
  • Framework the one and only one criteria should be autonomy and autonomy alone. Unfortunately, in our country autonomy grinds to a halt when it comes to a particular individual because he does not want to pass it on. There will be exceptions but the autonomy has to go down up to the teachers’ level.
  • There should be no one single regulatory structure; let there be guidance, let them give lot of data, new ideas, skills etc.; let all that come because we need a body like that but not for any control or regulations. If regulation is done, there will be corruption.
  • The private sector is often seen as an exploiter. Let us be very clear – the private sector will go in where it sees opportunities to make a profit. To my mind, to label the private sector as anything more or less because of this motivation is fairly amusing to the entire private sector.

  • We agree that education is social infrastructure. If we can handover airports to private sector to run and manage, I think we can certainly entrust education as well to the private sector.
  • India has become the largest exporter of students in the world. Our students spend anywhere from 4 to 6 billion dollars a year and there are many Indian institutions that have gone overseas to set up campuses, a situation that is farcical. I went to see the Dubai Education City where the IMT has a campus in the Dubai Education City; 95% of the students are from India. This is not internationalisation; this is off-shoring students from India to come to Dubai because you have a better regulatory environment that exists in Dubai.
  • I think there needs to be a very pragmatic approach to tapping India’s potential in the education industry. But we will not be able to do that unless we reorient our thinking paradigm on what we think about education. How do we think about education, the role of the private sector? Coming to PPP, I don’t think the private sector needs the government at all because India is a market that is consumer-financed. People pay their own way for education.
  • What the private sector really desires is autonomy to function the way it wants. We don’t want to go to the government asking for subsidies. We don’t want grants, subsidies, assured revenues, or ROI. The private sector is really crying out saying that they should be left alone. India has seen hundreds of examples of enormously successful industries when they were left alone; the biggest example is the IT industry, which became a world-beater.
  • We do need a regulator for education so that the consumer is not exploited. But to have regulators who regulate the choices that the consumers can make is bad. The consumers are smart enough to know to which school or college they should send their children to; they are smart enough to discern what money they should pay.
  • As far as the three words of quality, access and equity are concerned; I think quality has to be self-regulated. There is no regulator that lays down rules for providing quality of X standard. All that the regulator says is that if one says that one is operating quality Y then one has to make sure that one actually does operate at quality Y.
  • With the Sixth Pay Commission, the private sector is forced to pay based on a government diktat on what the government feels the right salary structure should be. Thus, the expense structure of all private sector educational institutions, the P&L ratio has gone completely haywire after the implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission report. On the other hand, when the government controls a scarce resource, which is land, its policy today is to auction that land.
  • It is like saying that you are going to auction a resource and then going to cap the amount of money that you’re going to earn; the result is that you are not going to obtain the capacity. Even if you get the capacity, this will be the capacity of the lowest denominator because the person’s first objective will be how to exploit the system because now the capacity is restricted and you are going to make money by all means that are known or unknown, being in the license raj.

 

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