May 10, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we debate whether school vouchers for underprivileged students can help improve the education system in India. We also look at the high domestic violence cases in Bihar due to alcoholic husbands, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Can School Vouchers Improve Education In India?
Among India’s greatest assets is its adolescent population. Some estimates state that 63% of the country’s population is between 20 and 24 years old. For any country, that’s a ripe demographic to extract as much economic benefit as possible. That hasn’t happened yet, certainly not to the extent necessary if the goal of a $5 trillion economy is to be achieved.
What’s preventing this from happening? It’s the country’s education system at large. Putting aside the demand and supply issues, India’s focus has long been on quantity, not quality. Can the introduction of a voucher system bring in the necessary changes in education? Or will it promote unnecessary competition and leave behind millions?
In general, education in India is managed primarily by the state-run public education system. Under various articles of the Indian constitution and the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009, anyone aged between 6 and 14 has the right to be educated.
Until 1976, education policies were determined largely by the states. Then came the 42nd amendment which made education a concurrent subject. From then on, the states and the Centre shared responsibility for the funding and implementation of educational policies. The National Policy on Education, 1986, provided for environmental awareness, science and technology education, and the introduction of traditional elements such as Yoga.
Public education is the primary option for millions of students in India. Based on 2017 data from the Education Ministry, 65.2%, that’s almost 113 million, of all school students across 20 states, go to government schools. These include schools run by state and local governments and the Centre. In urban areas, one example is the government-run Kendriya Vidyalaya, which began in 1965 for employees of the central government.
Private schools have seen a remarkable rise over the past two decades. They currently serve almost 12 crore students. It’s sometimes seen as a sector that will continue to grow owing to increasing urbanisation and a growing middle class. They’re also seen as the best step to impart the necessary skills attuned to the workforce of the 21st century.
Both systems have their fair share of issues, ranging from poor infrastructure to the quality of education. The new National Education Policy (NEP) from the Centre is expected to bring changes to the sector. Approved by the cabinet on July 29, 2020, it outlines a new vision for India’s education system and replaces the 1986 policy mentioned above.
For the NEP, 2020, the question arises as to whether it’ll improve the quality of education and not just increase the number of people being educated. Here’s where the voucher system could come into the picture. Broadly speaking, a voucher system changes how a government funds the education of disadvantaged groups. A government-issued coupon pays for the entire or partial cost of education at a student’s preferred school. The school collects the vouchers and deposits them in their bank accounts which in turn credit the school accounts with the amount.
To put it simply, the money goes to the student, instead of the school. The hypothesis is that the student has the power and freedom. The origin of the modern voucher system goes back to Nobel laureate Milton Friedman and his defence of parental school choice. He said it would spark competition and improve the public education system.
In the United States, school vouchers are a controversial issue, one that’s gone all the way to the Supreme Court. It faces opposition from advocacy groups like the People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Bangladesh’s Female Secondary School Assistance Project (FSSAP) is one example of a type of voucher system. It provides monetary incentives for girls to reduce the direct cost of schooling. Chile has had a voucher system with private education subsidised since 1980.
VIEW: It’s a proven, win-win system
For all the talk about the number of children enrolled in the education system, it’s pointless unless learning results improve across the board. Public education is ripe for reform as results have been far from encouraging. Many states continue to show poor learning outcomes year after year. There’s a lack of consensus on the best plan, but vouchers present the best path forward.
India pumps a lot of money into a system that provides poor quality education. Opposition to vouchers often comes from teacher’s unions. This can often result in the system giving the producer (schools) more power than the consumer (students). In 2007, the Delhi-based Centre for Civil Society (CCS) launched India’s first voucher project. ₹3,600 was given to more than 400 students across 68 local administrative units of Delhi. When CCS tested children who previously went to government schools, they performed better in Hindi, mathematics, and English across all grades.
There’s another similar example. The voucher system was introduced in Andhra Pradesh in June 2019. Titled “AMMA VODI”, it was a kind of school voucher intended for poor parents to educate their children from Classes 1 to 12. Part of this scheme involved financial assistance of ₹15,000 per year directly to the family’s bank accounts. A report on the voucher system in the state showed students who received vouchers spent more time in school. They also performed better in social studies, science, and Hindi.
A voucher scheme is targeted at poor and low-income groups, the ones who need help in accessing quality education the most. Chandrasekaran Balakrishnan from the Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) stated that introducing the voucher system would enable the school governance system to widen access to education. He cites research stating it would increase transparency and accountability from all stakeholders, including the government and schools. He states it’ll be a win-win for both parents and private schools.
COUNTERVIEW: Leaves public schools in the dust
In general, the risks of the voucher system outweigh the proposed gains. Public schools still have an important role to play in India, given the large population. Ultimately, education must remain a public necessity, and not become commodity-driven by market forces. There are other means by which the quality of education can be improved – strengthening school management and better communication to parents on the school’s quality.
There’s another issue with the voucher system. It will be tough for both public and private schools to coexist. Since public schools depend on government funding, there’s a risk of them closing down if they’re unable to attract a certain number of students. It becomes even more problematic when that number is tied to the amount of funding they get or whether they receive funding at all. Government teachers could see their salaries decline. They would have to work harder for much less.
Then there are some practical issues. How fair will the admission process be? If a child previously from a government school goes to a private one, will they be given any kind of support to catch up? Will they be properly integrated? In a country like India, the issue of social integration is prominent. If the Indian education system can call itself successful, it has to be able to assimilate students across different socioeconomic groups.
The common refrain among voucher proponents is a focus on learning outcomes. However, as Disha Nawani from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences stated, a singular focus on learning outcomes isn’t the best approach. It will reduce the teaching-learning processes of any meaningful co-construction of knowledge to a teacher. They’ll feel pressured to make sure a child knows only the basic minimum to pass.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) School vouchers will transform the Indian education system for the better.
b) School vouchers will not improve the Indian education system.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
J&K poll constituencies are being redrawn to favour BJP
For the Left:
Gujarat is no Delhi. Challenge goes beyond ‘development’— contesting Modi’s iconic image
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
Students vs non-tribal groups (Manipur) – The Kuki Students’ Organisation is facing off with certain non-tribal social groups in the state and the people are concerned. As per the general secretary of Kangleipak Kunba Lup, the Meiteis see the Thangjing mountain as sacred. The KSO says that the “valley worshippers” are creating law and order issues in the area. Officials have now beefed up security measures to avoid any escalation.
Why it matters: The hill-valley chasm has been around for decades and despite the BJP-led government claiming to have helped solve the issue, the friction remains. The KSO has banned any non-tribal or valley person from entering the mountains, even if it is for worship. Communal clashes in the region have gotten so bad in the past that there have been instances of 102 people perishing on a single day over the feud.
Admission pangs (Punjab) – The state’s meritorious schools see an 84% vacancy rate in seats. Out of 9,200 seats in all 10 meritorious schools, only 1,475 students have been enrolled. According to Maninder Sarkaria, Project Director, Meritorious Schools, the enrollment rate has been slow due to delayed admissions because of the pandemic. Teachers and parents say that along with the delay, the slashed funding for diet plans and contractual employment don’t help the schools’ cases either.
Why it matters: The meritorious school project was started in 2014 and is managed by the Society for Promotion of Quality Education for Poor and Meritorious Students of Punjab. These schools basically offer exceptional matriculates from government schools quality education for free. It started with 6 boarding schools and 4 were added in 2016-17.
Domestic violence still high (Bihar) – The state government has repeatedly justified their liquor ban by saying that it helped reduce domestic violence. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-21, says that most women in the state face domestic violence, i.e. emotional, physical or sexual, when their husbands are intoxicated. It states that 83% of women whose husbands partake in alcohol consumption face domestic violence.
Why it matters: In Bihar, 40% of married women in the 18-49 age group have faced either physical or sexual violence. This is the second-highest in the country, after Karnataka at 47%. In 95% of those cases, the perpetrators have been the husbands. And in the case of Bihar, the drinking pattern of men plays a major role. It must be noted that only 34% of women whose husbands don’t drink have had to face violence at home.
Goa Civil Code as a model (Goa) – After taking note of a possible move toward a Uniform Civil Code across the country, CM Pramod Sawant has suggested that the states use Goa as a model for the implementation of the code. According to him, around one-third of the state’s population belongs to minority communities and yet, Goa hasn’t had to deal with major communal clashes. This is because of their implementation of UCC.
Why it matters: Goa has been following the Goa Civil Code since its liberation. This means that personal laws – laws regarding marriage, divorce, succession, etc. – are all the same for every community in the state. It stems from the Portuguese Civil Code of 1867 which was around from the time the Portuguese used to rule in the region. As of now, BJP-ruled states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh are looking to implement the UCC.
Government to appoint VCs (Tamil Nadu) – On Monday, the state government tabled a Bill in their Assembly that empowers them to appoint the Vice Chancellor of the Tamil Nadu Dr MGR Medical University. This is the 4th Bill of this kind that has been tabled by the government in its Assembly. At present, the Governor, as the Chancellor of State universities, appoints the Vice Chancellors.
Why it matters: While tabling this Bill, the state government cited the Gujarat University Act, 1949, and the Telangana (Andhra Pradesh) Universities Act, 1991, which allow their governments to appoint the VCs. It also brought up the Karnataka State Universities Act, 2000, which states that the VCs of universities need to be appointed by the Governor with the approval of the government.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
₹10.7 lakh crore – India has a delay problem when it comes to payments. As of now, it is estimated that ₹10.7 lakh crore is stuck as delayed payments to our MSMEs. This amounts to around 6% of India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) for FY 2020-21.