Friday, May 19, 2006

Bad news and good news in education

Judging education achievement of a nation in terms of enrolment is like asking the number of times you proposed to women. Neither give a good indication of final outcomes! Yet it is an undeniable feel-good if we see children in schools. And we do tend to judge education outcomes in terms of enrolment. But the actual culprit may be drop-out rates which we need to address. You will find it elaborated in the Grand Drop-out Party?, an old article of mine.

Ila Patnaik writes about the "un-education" that is being unleashed by the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in What Arjun should focus on.
A series of third party studies reveal a grim picture of how much children actually learn, raising doubts about the effectiveness of the SSA beyond mere enrollment. The ASER study, for example, shows that 44 per cent of children in public schools in Std II to V cannot read simple paragraphs. Nearly 54 per cent children cannot do two-digit subtraction problems. Among older children, 40 per cent in public schools in Std VI to VIII are unable to handle simple division problems.
IF you think the counterfactual is no education for children, you need to read James Tooley's report Private Schools Serving the Poor: A Study from Delhi, India. Read the executive summary to get an idea of what is actually going on in Slum-India. The following is a brief excerpt from Ila Patnaik's article about the study's findings.
The study involved 20 researchers combing 20 sq km of slums in North Shahdara (East Delhi). They report that only 71 out of the 265 schools they found were government schools. There were 19 private “aided” schools, 102 private “recognised” schools and 73 private “unrecognised” schools. However, SSA only concerns itself with the 71 public schools.

Why are people rejecting government schools? Part of the problem might be a greater responsiveness to what parents want. Only 2 out of the 71 public schools were English-medium, and 57 were exclusively Hindi. But parents want their children to learn English. Among private schools, only 55 out of 194 schools were exclusively Hindi. Tooley & Dixon ran standardised tests on 3,495 children, thus obtaining data for 24 children per school on average. In Mathematics, the average score in public schools was 24.5 out of 100. Children in private schools averaged above 40. In languages, the average score in public schools was 14 (English) and 27 (Hindi). The score in private schools was about 50.

I owe my interest in field research to my work with James Tooley on a World Bank project on education in Karnataka. Chuck all reports and expert advice that you hear. Take a brief walk to slums and the better-off rural parts of India. And you will witness the currents of a burgeoning private sector education. And then follow the empirical results. They will make a lot more sense.

Not all is bad news. There is good news that I hear from Delhi. Not many know that there is an arduous licence-permit raj in existence in most cities of India. The objective was to control competition so that existing schools are not "hurt". Delhi was the foremost with 5 year plans for issuing limited number of school licences. Till now. I hear that Arwinder Singh Lovely has lifted the cap on the number of licences. Read about it here. This essentially removes the licence permit requirement. It is a significant step forward to create a competitive market for schooling. I wish this would happen in other cities as well, soon.

Lovely Singh is a pukka politician. When we broached the education voucher proposal to him, he was enthusiastic and said that he would give paanch vouchers free to every girl who is nearing marriageable age or is an orphan! Only a politician can give a vote-bank twist to a market-based proposal.

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