Saturday, February 11, 2006

A personal note on school boards and schooling monopolies!

Most of our lives is occupied by these four factors in various proportions: pride, money, love and the skill of learning. Each is further framed by the context of people and issues that it addresses. As much as lack of money and love hamper our life, an absence of pride/ achievement/ self-satisfation can lead us to an unfulfilled life. And today, it is not only what you learn but how good are you at learning that could set you apart. Here is my take. How much of the education doled out in schools leads to an increment in the contribution of those factors to our lives? I am afraid little and there is huge room for improvement. A privileged few do have access to them but not the majority. But more on it later.

Let me concretise my take through an example of each.

Money is my favourite unschooled subject so let me start with it. Financial literacy or more concretely concepts like compound interest can be far valuable than the exact location of Ganges on the map of India. Pride - the pride of building something or even teamwork with complementary skills of people. Love - an idea of it starting from why to love or how to love and the different kinds and no, sex education is not all about love. The skill of learning! There are good and bad ways of learning and more importantly, individual learning styles. How does one acquire knowledge of them? Ultimately what you may retain from your schooling is the art of learning. My guess and challenge is that the essence of what is taught in schools in India can be taught faster and better, and you don't need all of it. This leads to a Pandora's Box about competitive examinations, parents' aspirations and etc. But let me keep the message simple.

The very subject of education will elicit a different operational concept in your mind. And what I have elaborated may be proved wrong or unsuitable! But there is only one way to test it. It is unjust to subject students to your belief of schooling. You need choices of schooling to evaluate your option of schooling.

What does that imply for public policy?

For me, school boards are one of the worst forms of territorial and state-mandated monopolists in India. Each has a well-defined territory, near-exclusive rights to customers and high entry barriers for competitors. Most schools are hugely constrained by the state and lack of options to affilate to a school board. No wonder there is no competition among school boards to better their schooling services like curricula and pedagogy, and set benchmarks of performance. Neither will you have heard of them testing their own tests and using feedback from past tests to improve the design further. As far as I know, you cannot set up a private board for schooling in India. The ISC board gets away with it because of their minority-status. All grant-in-aid schools except of minority status have to affilate to the state board. If you set up a private school and refuse to follow any of the school boards, you will not be granted recognition. Which implies that your transfer certificate will not be valid. There are a few exceptions but they are far and between.

There will be bleeding-heart concerns for the poor. I agree they matter. But you cannot always solve a problem at its point of location. One should think of indirect ways of addressing the problem and which though invisible matter hugely. Schooling quality because of competiton among boards would be an important factor in decreasing the drop-out rate in government schools.

The point is simple. Deregulate schooling board sector in India.

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