Mihir Sharma wrote in Bloomberg on 15 November 2017  that “Indians’ skills don’t match up. Consider the “Make in India” program. With its growing population, India has plenty of workers. Yet investors commonly complain that they can’t find employees with suitable skills and abilities. Various efforts by the government to create skilling programs have fallen far short of targets — so far short, in fact, that it’s recently abandoned targets altogether.”
The problem, of course, is that Mihir Sharma imagines that all this needs is to increase investment in education. This is the kind of folly of India’s so-called “intellectuals” that saddens me.
What we need is simple: to get the government out of education. The only cases of real success we have seen in India are organisations like NIIT which have generated a vast number of tolerably capable people who support the IT sector. (I do not consider IITs to be a success: rather, these have mangled the high quality students who enter them, with most of them becoming incapable of basic critical thinking and therefore incapable of any innovation.)
And the other example is the For-Profit low cost private school sector in which probably around one third of India’s children – from the poorest levels of society – study.
BUT FIRST, LET’S GET TO KNOW MORE ABOUT JAMES TOOLEY
In my view, no one can understand education without first reading James Tooley’s The Beautiful Tree. He is the Darwin of education, and has illuminated the entire discipline in a manner that none of his predecessors got even close.
Tooley has done the historical analysis of education and found that before governments started intervening in education – first in India and then in England – parents were able to get their children educated very well and at low cost.
Despite my great regard for Macaulay, he is implicated in damaging education across the world through his paternalistic approach by which the government took up a direct role in education provision.
Tooley’s book demolishes a number of myths that are widely prevalent in the field of education. Without first getting rid of these myths there is no hope for reforming education in India.
Myth 1: Parents (particularly poor parents) don’t care for their children’s education
Tooley has found that the fees charged by the low cost private schools are “affordable to parents”. He found that “parents … valued education highly and … scrimp and save to ensure that their children got the best education they could afford.”
Myth 2: Poor parents can’t pay for their children’s education
There is the other myth that poor parents can’t pay for their children’s education. Tooley found that many poor parents can in fact pay for all their children’s schooling, without any government assistance.
He writes in his book that we are “missing an obvious conclusion: If we wish to reach the “education for all” target of universal quality primary education by 2015, surely we should be looking to the private sector to play a significant role, given the clear importance of its role already?”
The poor have found a silver bullet. They send their children to a private school that is accountable to them because they are paying fees.
Myth 3: Government schools are the best we can provide
In a government school, the chain of accountability is very weak. In most cases (exceptions include Singapore and China), teachers have a permanent job with salaries and promotions unrelated to performance. The poor are highly “disillusioned with government schools.”
Myth 4: The government played a great role in educating children in Britain
Tooley has made a detailed analysis of historical records to show that before the state got involved in the UK from around 1870, there was a huge growth of private school enrollment in England in response to the changing demand for labour.
Myth 5: Education should not operate on a ‘for profit’ basis
The low costs private schools across the world that are filling the demand of the poorest of the poor are largely run on a for profit basis. Since they are businesses dependent on fees to survive, they are directly accountable to parental needs. Because these schools are businesses, making a reasonable profit, they provide a pioneering way forward for investor involvement too.
ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
We always need to start by defining the problem and identifying the role of government.
Clearly there is no problem about the children of Ambani not attending school. Or the upper or middle classes. And it may not even be a problem that the children of the poor are not attending school. They are. As mentioned above, data collected by Tooley shows that across the world the poor are sending their children to school even at a high cost to themselves.
All that one can argue is that the poor need additional support from the society because the kinds of schools they are able to afford have very poor infrastructure.
This is a much more focused and targeted problem for a government to solve, as part of its second order functions, as part of social insurance. This does not mean that the government has to fund schools. Funding has to be focused on those who are unable to afford high quality education on their own – through vouchers.
After we are clear about the role of government then other things become clear. For example, is it not the role of government to tell the teachers what to teach. Teachers are professionals and know what they should teach. Further, parents are capable of deciding for themselves what they want their children to be taught.
In a private system, one would expect alternative schools systems to emerge with different accreditation bodies. And that’s how it should be: not a centralized model imposed by a government.
Further, the moment we understand that a government’s role is to be our servant, we realise that it is we – and not the government – who are responsible for establishing schools for our children. As parents we need to take more active interest in what our children are learning.
PRIVATISE ALL SCHOOLS
So the next step is obvious. Since the government has no role in the direct education of children, we need to privatise all government schools. Further, since the government has no role in setting the educational syllabus or medium of instruction for any of the schools, the government must dismantle such bodies like the CBSE or NCERT.
In India only party – Swarna Bharat Party – understands this and is committed to the complete and total reform of India’s education system. The party’s manifesto has details about how this reform will be implemented.
SO HOW WILL THEY BE IMPLEMENTED?
We need to start by focusing on the machinery of government. Without honest politicians and bureaucrats, none of the other policy reforms can be implemented.
But if we do manage to get to honest politicians and competent bureaucrats, then we can start creating a strategic plan for transforming the educational system, based on the broad principles outlined above.
It is very important to emphasise that we are not talking about the existing machinery of government doing this job, for they will totally loot the country and create chaos. We are talking about a completely different approach.
A plan can be created to implement the reforms within three years. It will involve a very systematic and detailed process during which no one is harmed, no teachers are adversely affected, and yet we are able to transition to a completely different system.
The plan would take us from the current situation to the new situation in which we have completely privatised all schools and ensured that the poorest children are funded through school vouchers.