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Primary education in India: Problems and solutions
The education system in India is overly governed and under regulated. The article discusses the ways by, which some changes can be brought into effect to make the learning process simpler.
IN HIS engaging article Lion's Looks Rabbit's Liver (November 3, 2002) Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar reveals much greater knowledge of the dismal state of my anatomy (clay feet, the liver of a rabbit, knees that seem to turn to jelly) than of anyone's writings. It is a pity that Aiyar entirely spurns the old-fashioned device of quoting an actual sentence or two from the person whose writings is being described.

Nowhere did anyone argue that private tuitions must be banned- because they give the rich an edge, and Aiyar’s attempt at taking Sen's thinking to its logical though Orwellian conclusions is an exercise in which he supplies both his own premise and the Orwellian conclusions. Primary education in India suffers not only from inadequate allocation of resources, but often enough also from terrible management and organisation.

The investigations conducted by the Pratichi Trust have, so far, covered only some parts of West Bengal  a work that is how being extended to neighbouring Jharkhand. The focus of investigation has been specifically on the organisation and governance of primary schools- a neglected subject in much of India.

The findings bring out a very dismal disquieting picture, including a high percentage of absent students, significant absenteeism of teachers as well, discriminatory treatment of children from economically and socially disadvantaged background, and general dissatisfaction of parents. What about the prevalence of private tuition on which Aiyar’s account concentrates so heavily This does emerge both (i) as one of the terrible consequences of the bad quality of school education (we used it as a principal indicator), and (ii) as a substantial side contributor to the continuation of the present dismal state of primary education.

It is hard to miss the terrible record of a school system in which young children have to depend on paying for private coaching (only seven per cent of the children without private tuition could even sign their names in classes 3 and 4 in a sample that was tested). The problem cannot, of course, be solved simply by banning private tuition, or by I proceeding on the mono-cause diagnosis that teachers unions are exploiters that must be quashed. What is needed is a combination of policy reforms. The main focus of the report is on adding to the incentive system in schooling by giving more legal power to the parents-teachers committees, even perhaps making the renewal of school appropriations conditional on their approval.

The reform package must also include a major overhaul of the practically defunct school inspection system, and serious consultation and collaborating action involving the teachers, their unions, the educational planners and the despairing and somewhat terrified tribe of school inspectors. How have the teachers unions reacted to the debates about private tuition. Recently, the government of West Bengal has, in fact, prohibited school teachers, in particular, from being paid for teaching school students themselves, outside the classroom (no general ban on private tuition has been promulgated or proposed). Despite grumbles from some teachers, the teachers unions, to their credit, have not opposed this reasonable ban on double dipping.

Oddly enough, it is the union-bashing  but free-enterprising  Aiyar who unconditionally defends the right of teachers to give private tuition for pay, presumably even to their own students, outside the classroom. Indeed, it is my qualified welcoming of the ban imposed by the West Bengal government on double dipping that led to Ayers charge that I suffer from rank hypocrisy.

Aiyar defends the opportunity that the privileged families enjoy through arranging private tuition, on the ground that all humans have a fundamental right to improve their learning. That fundamental right is not in dispute, her commit- and there is no proposal to given more take that right away. But it is important to understand the harm that the private tuition system does and why the system why the system must be uncompromisingly overcome.
It is more than an indicator. Aside from inequity, the option of private tuition makes the more influential parents less concerned about the quality of normal schooling (since they can always arrange extra teaching for their own children with the help of tutors).So there is an issue here of incentives as well. A change is certainly needed, and the proposed policy reforms are directed at that.

Among other policy proposals in the report, there is strong support for proper mid-day meals in schools (for their educational as well as nutritional benefits), and also for strengthening the new route of Shishu Shiksha Kendras (SSKs). Aiyar emphasises that the Pratichi Trust report found the SSKs to be doing comparatively better than old-type primary schools, but chooses to describe these comparatively good performers as being outside the standard government system.

In fact, the SSKs constitute one part of the standard government system in West Bengal, and also in several other states, such as Madhya Pradesh. There are problems with SSKs too, which the report discusses, but the contrast between traditional primary schools and the new SSKs must not be seen as a confrontation between state-run and privately-run schools. There are plenty of real contrasts to consider.

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