While India can boast of having the
system in the world,
reality is that India is facing a severe shortage of
skilled human resources. The reason for such a contrasting
situation is the
extremely low quality
of primary, secondary, and college-level education in India. A
possible way-out from this situation is privatization of the
education system, which is predominantly public at present.
Privatization of education has the potential to improve the
quality of education as well as to reduce the cost. However, to
ensure access to education for all, the government must design an
effective transfer-payment system.
Although India’s national literacy rate currently exceeds 75%, a study by
a voluntary organization, finds that only 53.4% children in
Standard V can read a Standard II level text, and that nationally
there has been a decline in the children's ability to do basic
study by NASSCOM
finds that 75% of technical graduates and more than 85% of general
graduates are unemployable! The problem with the present Indian
education system is that it is delivering a huge quantity of
output, in the name of educated populace, with poor quality.
This alarming situation is due to the unavailability of skilled
teachers, the lack of determination among the existing teachers to
teach effectively, the poor physical infrastructure, and a low
level of parental input toward their wards’ education. The
deteriorating trend in the educational system continues largely
because of the lethargy and mismanagement of the public schooling
system which accounts for nearly
80% of all schools.
Despite many efforts from the government to revitalize the
public education system, the quality of public education is
dwindling. Consequently, enrollment in private schools, colleges,
and universities, is on the rise. For instance, a
finds that in the city of Hyderabad, 73% of families in slum areas
send their children to private school. A general realization is
that the return on investment in the private schools/colleges is
much higher as compared to the government schools and colleges,
with some notable exceptions.
reason this is possible is the difference in approach between the
two. The public education system – following a top-down approach –
is accountable only to the government machinery. So even if the
teachers in public schools don't deliver a good quality education,
they don't suffer themselves because their jobs are secure.
However, in the case of private schools – run through a bottom-up
approach – the management and the teachers are directly
accountable to the respective parents. If they fail to deliver an
expected quality of education, the parents would react. They might
even pull out their wards from the school. This implies that the
teachers’ performance would affect the schools' income and
reputation. Consequently, the teachers would lose their jobs. So a
private school has to deliver a good quality education. In fact,
they do it better than majority of the public schools.
Another issue is the cost of education. Most of the public schools
are richer than their private counterparts in terms of total
expenditure (on record, at least) and incur a much higher
expenditure on the teaching and administrative staffs’ salary. The
private schools, on the other hand, are thrifty about
infrastructure and, in general, pay much lower salaries to their
staffs. Thus, on average, at a fraction
of the expenditure of
a government school or college, a private institution can provide
a better quality of education than the public institutions.
Thus, private schools can provide a better education at a lower
cost. So privatization of the primary and secondary educational
systems can help ameliorate the situation by improving the quality
of education while reducing the cost. But given India's poverty
status (roughly 80%
of the population lives
below the national poverty line), only a few parents will be able
to afford the cost of private education. Hence, one can't advocate
for a blanket privatization of the entire educational system
without taking care of the cost. However, given the present
scenario, an alternative system which provides a better education,
without over-burdening the poor parents, needs to be put in place.
Now the question is: What this system should look like?
best solution, of course, is to fix the public education system.
But with the track-record of the bureaucratic administration in
India, it does not seem realistic to hope for such a positive
change. One realistic way, I think, is to gradually privatize the
schools and maybe the colleges, too. The government should take
care of the educational expenditure by disbursing to the
parents/guardians the cost of their wards’ attending schools
through transfer payments rather than funding the schools and
colleges directly. This way, private agencies will run the
institutions, and the parents will be able to afford the cost.
Since the parents will have a control over the money, they can
decide whether or not to send their wards to a certain school or
college. This keeps the benefit of the public education system –
affordability – intact while bringing in the efficiency – high
quality and low cost – of the private system.
challenges of introducing such a system will be manifold. First,
the government needs to make sure that schools exist in every
locality. Left to the entrepreneurs themselves, they may fight to
open too many schools in high-income localities where the students
will be better compared to the low income localities. So the
policy makers must ensure that low income localities also get a
due share of the schools. The government must direct and
incentivize the program so that marginalized areas are not left
second challenge is to ensure quality. Although the private
schools, in general, are better than their public counterparts,
but relying too much on them can also be costly. The quality of
the private schools also varies significantly. While some of them
may provide a good quality education at a reasonable cost, others
may end up becoming money-making machines without caring for the
quality of education. So the government should come up with an
effective mechanism to determine, monitor, and control the quality
of education in the private system.
Another challenge to implement this mechanism is to come up with
an effective transfer-payment system. This has to take into
account the cost of education in a given locality, the frequency
of transfer-payments, and a proper utilization of funds disbursed.
The policy-makers should make sure to issue the payment checks on
a regular basis to families that have school-going children. If
the checks or vouchers are not regular or enough to cover the
costs, then again, the poor will suffer more. The government must
develop a policy framework so that a higher efficiency can be
achieved without losing the poorer section of the population.
Thus, privatization of the country’s education system, coupled
with a well-tailored transfer-payment system, can help improve the
quality of education in India and reduce costs for parents.
Shahidur Rashid Talukdar is a graduate student at Texas Tech
University, USA. More of his writings can be found on his blog: