I had been invited to present a TED Talk last December under the auspices of TEDx Kumaun, a series of TED Talks organised by the rural development NGO, Central Himalayan Rural Action Group, (Chirag). The talks were held at the Himalayan Village Sonapani resort near Satoli village in the picturesque Kumaun Himalayas on the 12th and 13th of December, 2010.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It was biting cold (but we had all come well prepared with our woollens, having been forewarned by our host, Madhavan). The talks were spread over two days and on the first day, we had the talks inside in a nice hall. On the second day, the weather was good and Madhavan's decision to hold the talks out in the sun turned out perfect. The weather was cool, but the morning sun kept us all warm. If you look carefully at the bottom left of the picture of me speaking, you can spot the Nanda Devi Range in the background!
The title of my 18 minute talk was Education for All - More of the Same or Something Different? The organisers will be putting up the video of the talk on the web. I will link to it as soon as it is up.
Here's what I said in my talk. I have taken the liberty of paraphrasing it and adding a bit more detail for the blog than was possible in the talk.
Providing a quality education for every single child in the country has been a national goal right from the time we gained independence, but it has been a constantly shifting one. In 1950 we wanted to achieve it by 1960. In 1960 we weren’t anywhere close to the goal. Subsequently, our targets have shifted many times. In 2002, we launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and set ourselves the target of achieving the goal by 2010. Today, we hope to achieve it by 2015 – but it is doubtful if we will be able to do so by 2015.
Over the course of the past 60 years, as our timelines have shifted, a good part of two generations of children have lost out on getting an education. We need to ensure that yet another generation or two of children, those born in the 21st century, will not be condemned to a life without education.
At the moment, we are plodding along slowly, doing more of the same. We don’t seem to have any sense of urgency to achieve the goal of Education for All in a timebound manner.
We spend more and more money on education every year hoping that will help us reach our goal. In 1966 the Kothari Commission recommended that we spend 6% of GDP on education. Although we have aspired to that expenditure goal since then, we have never been able to spend more than 4.3% of GDP on education till date. Every year our politicians and educational policy makers seem to believe that that we can “somehow” manage to allocate and spend 6% of GDP on education the next year. But our finance ministry knows only too well the difficulties of doing so given the Government’s limited resources and multifarious responsibilities and pressures.
We are extremely caught up with the means to achieve Education for All. Government schools and non-profit private schools are seen as the only acceptable means to achieve our goal. There’s strong resistance to private sector involvement and for opening up education to for-profit entities. Although the means we’ve tried for the past 60 years haven’t worked, we continue insist on them. The means seem to have become more important than the end.
Our focus has been on ensuring enrollments. But we still have quite a bit to do after 60 years. The Net Enrolment Ratio is 96 for classes I-V, which is not bad, but it is much lower at 70 for classes V-VIII and even lower at the Secondary Level. We haven’t yet paid enough attention to improving the quality of teachers and teaching in both Govt schools and Private schools.
The Right to Free and Compulsory Education was first discussed during the Consitutent Assembly debates, but it ended up being a Directive Principle of State Policy in 1950, and not a Right. The Act was finally passed in 2009 and the intent is indeed very good, but there are a lot of grey areas and challenges in implementing the act. Can we implement and enforce the Act quickly and fully in both letter and spirit, or will this turn out to become another shifting goal to be achieved in some distant future? Only time will tell.
Our focus has tended to be on inputs and outlays rather than outcomes. We continue to talk about ensuring enrollments, attendance and completion of schooling. We don’t pay enough attention to the learning outcomes at the end of schooling, and improving the quality of teachers and teaching in both Government and Private schools.
Although we are aware that the targets we set are unlikely to be achieved in the expected timeframes, we continue to set targets. When we get around to reaching the goals eventually, yet another generation or two of children would have lost out. This More of the Same approach has gotten us this far, but it is now time to try something different to achieve the goal of ensuring a quality Education for All in a time bound manner.
What can we do differently if we are to achieve our goal of ensuring a quality education for every single child by 2020? I would like to present four ideas before you today. Two of them require action on the policy front and two of them are ideas that civil society and the media can act on.
I will describe each of the four ideas in subsequent posts.