Self-Reliance or Laying Foundation to Privatize Indian School Education

In a recent address to the nation during lock down our Prime Minister made an appeal for becoming “self-Reliant” that is able to produce and deliver local goods and services to its citizens. This applies equally to education for all children. Delivering a service, like education, requires a capable state, especially given the scale and complexity of its large and diverse population. Building state capability involves a process of learning to do things on one’s own.

State capability is about getting things done in the government, and by the government, by ensuring effective implementation that is responsive to local needs, but also about being able to design and conduct reforms.

However, the World Bank’s STARS project, a $3 billion project to improve education in six Indian States namely Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan has the mistaken understanding that state capability should be built by giving a larger role to non-state actors and by increasing the use of technology.

Both these premises are misguided as they do not contribute to the capability of the state to deliver better education. The reason is that there are some preconditions for effective governance within the public sector that must be met before either technology or non-state actors can be useful.

The administration must be equipped with adequate physical, financial and human resources. An overburdened bureaucracy with vacancies and without basic equipment cannot be expected to be effective. Unfortunately, in the education sector we are short of that level in all areas.

Why is the STARS approach to build state capacity flawed is explained by Sh. Ram Pal Singh, President, All India Primary Teachers’ Federation. He said that first of all, it fails to address the basic capacity issues: major vacancies across the education system from District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), district and block education offices, to teachers in schools, remain unaddressed. Without capable and motivated faculty, teacher education and training cannot be expected to improve.

Sh. Ram Singh has communicated teachers’ and Civil society perspective, just before World Bank cleared the program, to the Chief Ministers of all the six states and World Bank Officials to have consultations and dialogues with involvement of different actors before moving ahead with the STARS program, but the reply from the World Bank received by the Federation is very discouraging.

He also stressed that outsourcing basic governance functions by “expanding private initiatives” and “reducing government tasks” will not make education “more relevant to local needs” or “democratically promote people’s participation by empowering local authorities” as stated in the project document.

If we want DIETs, block and community resource centres, and schools to be atma nirbhar (self-relaint), we need to enable them to develop their own capability to reform themselves. Outsourcing, an over-reliance on measurement by standardized assessments, and an excessive use of ICT will not get us closer to an Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)

“In its current form, STARS is bound to fail to deliver its core objective: to reform the governance architecture in order to improve the quality of education and will make education a saleable commodity” said Sh. Singh.