Special Issue
Government thrust
to quality
in education
Q: How do you perceive the overall education scenario in the country to be today?
A: The fact of the matter is that even after 60 years of Independence, the literacy rate is 64 per cent. According to the 1991 census, 53 per cent of the people of India were literate. The 2001 census increased the level of literacy substantially by 11 per cent points, making it 64 per cent. This means that by 2011, when the next census will take place, it is very likely that this will go up by another 15 per cent points. So, I imagine that by the end of 2011, it will be somewhere between 75 per cent and 78 per cent, which means that if we can go by these figures, India will achieve whatever kind of literacy that we are talking about by 2020-2021.
You need to set up models of public-private partnership
(PPP), which do not pressure the private sector to set up entire institutions on their own.

One of the biggest issues in education in India today is disparity in the quality of education — between rural and urban, as well as between government and public schools.

That’s not quite true. In the US, the public school system is the state school system and it is not very good. It depends on which school you are in. If you are in a school in Harlem, the quality of that school is very bad. If you have a school which is in one of the suburbs of the United States, like a suburb of New York, it’s going to be pretty good. It all depends, quality differs.

By and large, the public school system is not that good. So, therefore, that’s why a large part of the income of families goes into educating children in private schools, which are exceptionally expensive. But that’s the model. You cannot replicate the model in India, since a large segment of the ordinary people do not have the means to educate. So you cannot have a private school system which caters to higher income levels. When your GDP per capita is low, you cannot have a private school system.

But in Britain, the neighbourhood schools are very good.

Germany too is exceptionally good. But the point is, again you are talking about huge investments in the education sector, which in turn means enough budgetary support. So the problem is, where you want the state school system to be strong, you need huge finances. India doesn’t have that. Where you want the private schools to be strong, you need the GDP per capita, which is also not there, because that is only limited to a very small percentage. So you are really caught between two schools.

So what you then need to do, and that is how we are approaching — if you have a Right to Education Bill, and you ensure that quality education is imparted in these government schools, which are neighborhood schools, then you are starting to develop a substratum of human capital which will move up the ladder, once the Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan is put into place in the 12th Plan.

Along with this, you need to set up models of public- private partnership (PPP), which do not pressure the private sector to set up entire institutions on their own, but, through public-private partnership, allow unique models for private management and private infrastructure to come into the school sector. This will not be as expensive as the American system, and have a school system which does not require the kind of demands as the British system.

So you’re dabbling in something on the lines of the PPP model?

Absolutely. I will give you a small example. Supposing, I were to say there are so many dysfunctional municipal schools (I think the figure in Delhi would be 60-80). Dysfunctional means nothing is happening out there but you have land. When you set up a school enterprise, the most expensive thing is land. If you were to tell the private sector, ‘Okay, this school is dysfunctional but we will give you the land on a 99-year lease or a 30-year lease,’ so then you set up a school.

So the most expensive part of the capital cost is taken care of. So, with this concession that we are giving you, because your input costs will be much less, you then serve the state purpose by teaching the students, who were in that municipal school and who were not being taught, free of charge.

Have you moved forward on this?

Yes. I have taken these models. Or there’s another model. You tell the private sector, ‘You build the infrastructure. You set up a school wherever you want, buy the land and construct the building — we will pay you on an annuity basis in the next twenty years the cost of that building. So you don’t go to the Finance Ministry for finance. You get that finance from the private sector.’

And then, you tell them, ‘you admit students, and we will pay you what we spend on a student in a government school.’ Take for example Kendriya Vidyalaya. We spend approximately Rs 13,000 per child. So we pay them that Rs 13,000 per child. So, your running cost is taken care of. Your capital cost is taken care of by us, making payments on an annuity basis. We don’t go to the Finance Ministry; we tap private capital. And the incentive for the private sector is that in most of these schools, if they were run by the government, the attendance rate would have been 50 per cent, but now he is able to have an attendance of 90 per cent, so he earns money for those extra children he has in school.

That also helps in our social objective of getting more children into school. And we pay our teachers Rs 20,000 a month, plus house rent allowance and other benefits, which is not done by the private sector. So, he will bring down costs for running the school, increase attendance by getting more money because he will get Rs 13,000. So he can make a profit and we are saved the problem of having to go to the Finance Ministry. And so, you have another model. This is taking meeting after meeting to put into place.

Government school teachers are paid very well as compared to private school teachers, yet the results of government schools are not good.

You cannot blame the government teachers. There is no concept of continuous education in the teaching profession. Technologies have changed. So, one, they need access to technology. Which government schools have technology? They are not trained in those technologies. Our national curriculum framework is not catering to the needs of the contemporary economy.
So, whereas the private school system has a modern curriculum, the state school system does not. So if you do not empower the teachers, do not have a programme of continuous training, do not have physical infrastructure which is modern and a national curriculum which is contemporary, how, then, do you expect them to impart quality education?
So, what we need is regular training of the teachers?

See. India has no choice. If 88 out of 100 children do not get quality education, we have a national problem on our hands. A mega problem, which we will not be able to deal with. And we have a great advantage today because of the demographic deficit in various countries. If we are able to build the human resource base here, we will cater to the needs of India, as well as the global community. So we will be producers in the world in the field of education.
There are 50
per cent vacancies all over India of teachers in the states. So, whose fault is it? Ultimately, the primary responsibility in the education sector is that of the state.
In terms of teachers, opinion is uniform that 90 per cent of them are not qualified to teach — one reason why we produce poor doctors, poor teachers, lacking in quality…

Why is that? Very simple. States have stopped recruiting. There are many states (and I do not want to name them) which recruit party cadres and bring them as teachers. Some of them don’t even meet the basic standards of Class XII. They are part of the political system.

There are 50 per cent vacancies all over India of teachers in the states. So, whose fault is it? Ultimately, the primary responsibility in the education sector is that of the state. The state has not spent the kind of money over the years as it should have spent. In education, two-thirds is spent by the state and one-third by the Central Government. We are trying very hard.

The kind of investments we have made in education since 2004, no government has ever made in the history of this country.

What are you doing about improving the quality and standards of education?

Well, under the Right to Education Act, we have a provision which says that if a teacher does not have the qualifications provided under the NCT, and if it is not acquired within the next three years, he won’t have a job.

What about schools? Are you going to start a system of their accreditation?

We are setting up a whole accreditation system. There are two aspects to accreditation. One is the physical infrastructure. That’s easy. The quality of that infrastructure — how many bathrooms the school has, how many classrooms, how many blackboards — easy.

The difficulty is the quality of education in terms of its content. We need to have a Quality Council to determine for us, as an independent agency. I have taken some briefings already on that issue, and hopefully, we will come up this year itself with an accreditation policy within the school system. We may even request the state governments to set up these accreditation entities, so that the child knows what school he is going to, both in terms of its physical infrastructure as well as the quality of education imparted. That increases the choice of the child.

Please remember, in education, it is the choice of teacher, not of society. And the more things you do to increase those choices, the better it is for education.

But it tells you we need to set up a transparent accreditation system… Not just accreditation. For example, I have given a direction that all colleges and all universities, within the next three months, must have their own websites, which tells us how many teachers they have, who are these teachers, their photographs, their qualifications and what is the physical infrastructure. All this is now mandatory.

What happens is people go for inspections. The faculty which is teaching one institution is then transferred to another institution. Often, standards are not met and this kind of cheating takes place. Once you have a website, it is very simple and very cheap also. And they have to prepare it, and it is part of the regulations of the UGC, and they have to do it within 90 days. And now, we know which teacher is teaching what, and we can do an inspection and know what’s happening. And those who don’t have the faculty will be dealt with under the law.

Are you setting a vision statement for education for the next five years?

It’s not necessary. We know what we have to do. The Ministry of Science and Technology was a ministry of ideas. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is a ministry of implementation of ideas. We need not now relook many of these things, because lots have been said about it and there is no time to waste. The vision is clear — to have a child who is imparted with quality education and who, in terms of education, moves in life to become a good responsible citizen of this country.
We are setting up a whole
accreditation system.We need to have a Quality Council to determine for us, as an independent agency. I have taken some
briefings already on that issue, and hopefully, we
will come up this year itself with an accreditation
policy within the school system.

So there are really no problems?

As I said, we need to communicate with people, to have a dialogue with people. At this point in time, we spend billions of dollars to send our children outside. And there are lakhs of people who would like to go abroad but who do not have the financial wherewithal to actually fly abroad.

So, if those institutions come here, it is a win-win for both. For the institutions, they can educate more children, and for us, we don’t have to send people abroad to get quality education. And at half the cost, because the input costs are much less than they are abroad, faculty costs are much less, and now with the ICT revolution, you don’t have to fly faculty everyday — you can have your courses taught through video.

So we need to change the mindset as we move forward in education. I had a meeting with IITs. I said, ‘you people should be sharing faculty. You say we are short of faculty, we cannot deal with expansion. So, till you get more faculty, why don’t you share faculty? Why doesn’t one teacher in, say, IIT Kharagpur teach all the students one course throughout the IIT system? Be it in Chemical Engineering or Bio-Sciences. And they are all connected today.’ So they said, ‘yes it is a very good idea.’

So, we need to think of ways and means, till we get good faculty, we should cut our costs and do innovative things.