Gurcharan Das, writing in the Times of India says
The government presented the free and compulsory education for children bill in the winter session, and we are celebrating as though we had beaten Australia in cricket. We should hail it as a great blow against the curse and shame of child labour. But we are not, and for good reason — we have lost faith in the state’s ability to run schools.
We accepted capitalism and the liberal reforms in 1991 because we thought that as the state withdrew from running businesses, it would pay attention to education. Having abandoned the socialist ideal of the equality of result, we now hoped for greater equality of opportunity, as so many capitalist societies in the West and the Far East have achieved. But this did not happen. Government schools remain unreformed, the gap persists, and a sense of betrayal mocks us.
Gurcharan Das refers to an article titled Primary Education in Rural Areas published in the Economic & Political Weekly a few months ago which proposed a model that is cost-effective, self-sustaining and has reduced scope for corruption, designed mainly for rural India. The model suggests the following:
- State will provide 'free and compulsory educaiton' to all children subject to the limits of its economic capacity;
- Competition ensures better service at lower cost;
- Human beings per se are not avers to learning (education). IN other words, given the proper environment, every child yearns to learn;
- The prime objective of primary level education is to help the child acquire the ability to read and write;
- The state will build schoolrooms around a playground and lease them out to qualified teacher entrepreneurs to run primary schools from standard I to IV according to the curriculum designed and approved by the state;
- The state will continue to support primary education by giving education vouchers to all eligible children which can be used to pay fees in any school of their choice run by the teacher entrepreneurs;
Das makes a strong case for trying out the above model.
School vouchers were first mooted in Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Economic Advisory Council in 2000. They have been tried in many countries with varying degrees of success, as a World Bank report brings out. In India, primary schools are in such distress that we owe it to ourselves to test this idea in at least one district, perhaps in Rajasthan, which is home to the best innovations in education. Through the test we will gain conviction before expanding vouchers nationwide.
We should also be prepared for opposition from vested interests — teachers, bureaucrats, and politicians don’t want to become accountable. But if the test succeeds, it might revolutionise primary education just as the STD booth revolutionised telecommunication. Mind you, the STD meter also started out as a test in one district.
He mentions Rajasthan as a state which is home to the best innovations in education. I am not aware of the innovations that are being tried out there - if any one knows, I'd be very interested in hearing of them.