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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Five alternative frameworks in education policy

There has been much interest in scaling up programs like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the midday-meal program. At the same time, the recent measurement of what children know, done by Pratham has shown a large-scale failure in what students actually know.

I wrote a column in Business Standard today where I describe five alternative frameworks of education policy:

  1. Do Nothing,
  2. Augment Purchase,
  3. State Production But Do No Harm,
  4. State Production While Damaging the Private Sector and
  5. Ban Private Participation

With higher education, we are on the 5th (ban). With elementary education, we are now veering from the 3rd ("do no harm") to the 4th ("damaging the private sector") by new efforts at having State-enforced quotas in private schools.

I argue that internationally standardised test scores need to be made the foundation of education policy, as opposed to efforts like SSA which have concentrated on spending more money on public sector education. The choice of which of the five frameworks is best should be based on which appears to deliver adequate test scores in a cost-efficient manner.

Our loyalty needs to be with the interests of students instead of the interests of the existing producers of educational services. There is an innate conflict of interest in the control of education policy with incumbent educationists.


  1. If you see a class barrier in getting into Doon School, then my main response is: this is partly because there isn't enough competition in the school industry.

    I have just one simple example which makes the point: NIIT. NIIT does not turn away students based on class. If we had a more open, competitive framework where it was easy to start schools and the State gave money to parents thus empowering power people as customers, we'd see more of NIIT and less of Doon School.

    There will always be a few clubs, but in a competitive market, the hotels will get through.

  2. A second aspect that I would like to emphasise is the loaded word "social justice". It means different things to different people, and is just one big red herring that takes the discussion away from rationality.

    I find it is enormously more productive to focus on the tangible goal of getting kids to gain high scores on reading, writing, arithmetic. That's a problem where we won't get distracted into all sorts of philosophical discussions about the word `justice'. We're discussing education, which is about learning, so let's measure the learning, and set about winning on scores in an objective fashion.


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