20 July, 2009

Sir, I rise to support the objectives of this Bill completely and wholeheartedly.

Sir, Like many other legislations that we enact in Parliament, it is yet another bill that is no doubt driven by good intentions and will entail significant spending, but it raises many questions and provides very little clarity on critical issues like Education Outcomes, Financing sharing between state and Center, Delivery of Education etc. 

I accept the need, so will the entire country without any reservation – that we must ensure that our children are educated and have access to education. This is the single biggest investment we can make for the future of our great nation. But there is a need to go beyond the rhetoric and vision, into what will make or unmake the goals that we set for ourselves and promises we make to our children. Towards this, I will make a few points in addition to those made by my Honorable Colleagues in this discussion.

Sir, we all will accept that despite all the work of the Kothari commission which was appointed in 1964, with broadly the same set of goals – the country has achieved very little of the goals and objectives set out by the Indian Education Commission of the 1960s. Understanding the ‘why’ of this will be important if we are to make this Bill a success on the ground. I look forward to the Government’s and Minister’s views on what went wrong in the last many years.

Sir, one of the big mistakes we are making is to assume that education is simply about building more schools or simply about bringing private sector into elementary education. That would be naïve. The education problem in our country is more about capacity building through the entire education value chain which includes teachers and faculty as well as School infrastructure – the software and the hardware of Education. This Bill focuses predominantly on the hardware of education i.e., of Schools.

The biggest crisis facing education in India is that the profession of Teaching is on the decline – both in terms of numbers and in terms of the quality! I would urge the Government to focus on this issue in more than a passing way, as it has in the Bill – What is the total number of teachers required ? What kind of capacity for training and developing teachers of tomorrow is the Government going to create? What is he doing to make teaching an attractive profession for upcoming students?

I would like the Minister to shed more light on his strategy on this.

Second is the issue of Government School system itself. Somehow I get the sense that the Minister and Government’s strategy is to use Private schools to increase competition and quality in Government schools. Sir, with the greatest respect to this naïve dream – this is not going to happen as some automatic consequence of private school and investor entry into elementary education. The Government school system needs top to bottom reform and restructuring – starting with Faculty compensation, infrastructure improvement, facilities improvement and creating a cadre of teachers and principles that can do their jobs with sufficient oversight in performance, quality and safety but with no political interference.

Unless the existing government school system is invested in, reformed and modernized – they will suffer the fates that they are already suffering, which is that students are moving to private schools for better quality education. Without fixing the current system, widespread entry of private schools will hasten the demise of the government schools. If you don’t believe this theory, look around you in other areas like Hospitals, Airlines, Telecom – where private sector competition without preparing the Government entity do not result in any improved quality or competitiveness on the part of the Public entity – rather it hastens its decline into irrelevance.

Thirdly, there are ambiguities around the role of Local Government, State and Central government roles in discharging this obligation of universal education – which needs addressing. Many Bills passed by this house have resulted in increased litigation due to broad interpretive and administrative discretion and grey areas.

Sir, in my last three years, I have seen many many Bills – all driven by good intentions but driven by very unclear outcomes - leading to profligate spending with not proportionate outcomes!

Sir, I request the Minister to address these issues to make this dream of universal education a reality and not an empty promise, making this bill another case of ‘When in doubt, legislate!’

Thank you sir.