Education World recently had their cover issue on Why India’s most pro-education budget isn’t good enough

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My response to their article printed in their magazine is over here .

I reproduce it here for your thoughts.

I read your cover story ‘Why India’s most pro-education budget isn’t good enough’ (EW April). There is some homework needed on this argument. It is not the ‘how much’ of spending but the ‘how’ of spending that is important.In particular I am inclined to challenge your argument that we first need massive investment in education infrastructure and then monitor the quality of spending. My understanding based on empirical evidence is precisely the opposite: First monitor the quality of spending and then invest in education.

Again while it is true that investment is needed in education, it doesn’t mean all investment has to be raised through public funding. Implementing schemes that draw private spending are a better bet because of the better accountability systems they come with. Demand-side financing by the government through education vouchers and tweaking the regulatory system by allowing for-profit and English medium primary education institutions can lead to more investment and better, accountable managements. An esteemed magazine like yours can have a localised rating scheme for schools (like India Today does for business schools) in every city, in fact, in every district of India. Imagine the readership and the good that you will be doing to parents by providing this information! Imagine the competition it will set off among schools to provide sound education!

A few back-of-the-envelope calculations based on Dr. Sajitha Bashir’s study (Government Expenditure on Elementary Education in the Nineties in India) throws up interesting findings. Assume that a state’s budget is Rs.100. Usually about Rs.20 of it is devoted to causes of education. Again, about Rs.10 of the Rs.20 goes towards elementary education. Of it Rs.8.50 is approximately disbursed as salaries to teachers and administrative staff. The rest — Rs.1.50 is spent on three items primarily: paying salaries of additional teachers hired during the Plan period; construction of new buildings and classrooms and incentives for attendance of students (uniforms, textbooks etc). Where is the money for quality improve-ments like teacher training or learning materials that arguably do more for learning outcomes than any other input?

The success of a scheme is often accounted for in terms of meeting the quantitative targets which are usually enrollment figures and not reflective of the quality of schooling. The annual expenditure on instructional/ learning materials per child is in the range of Rs.15-30. Compare this with the expenditure of Rs.88 spent on every child for his mid-day meals to “get” him to school to boost enrollment figures.

Pardon my strong feelings about education reform, but I can’t believe how a set of entrenched interests (like teachers’ unions) and wrong ideas (disallowing markets in education) have deprived millions of children a basic right: quality schooling at affordable rates.