Education reforms are vital for economic growth
Our education system is the main bottleneck in ensuring double-digit economic growth that is achieved when our people find jobs and are productive. But jobs are shrinking due to competition from machines and computers. We will have to improve our educational system so that man can compete with these machines. The public education system, however, produces certificates rather than skills or knowledge. It is necessary to reform it because it is aimed at a large part of society. Teachers in public schools have little incentive to teach since their jobs are secure whether they teach or not. The AAP government has significantly reformed the government education system in Delhi. Yet the high school pass rate for public schools was 72 percent compared to 93 percent for private schools. The situation for public schools in other states is much worse. I will discuss the example of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in this article although the situation is similar across the country.
The UP government spent 25,000 rupees per student on primary and secondary education in 2016-17. This could represent around Rs 30,000 for the current year 2021-22. It is reported that government schools show a number of bogus admissions to get free meals, uniforms and other gifts. In one study, 4.3 lakh of false admissions were detected in 9 districts of Bihar. Estimates for fake students are not available, but let’s assume 20% for now. Government spending per real student would be Rs 37,000 per real student if bogus students are not counted. This amount is spent only for students studying in public schools. About 64% of children were studying at a public school in 2014, according to a survey by the National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO). I estimate that about 55 percent can study in public schools today because parents want to send their students to private schools as their incomes increase. Thus, the UP government spends around Rs 20,000 per student by counting all students in a private or public school.
Half of this amount can be distributed to all students in the state. Each student can receive 10,000 rupees per year in the form of a learning voucher for money already spent by the UP government. This money can be obtained by reducing the salaries of government teachers. About 90 percent of public school spending goes to pay teachers’ salaries. Teachers in public primary schools often receive a salary of Rs 50,000 per month or more against Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 drawn by a teacher in a private school. A 50 percent reduction can be made in the salaries of government teachers. They would still receive salaries at least double that of their counterparts teaching in private schools. This amount can be used to finance education vouchers. Students could pay a fee of Rs 800 per month at a school of their choice, whether public or private.
A survey carried out by the ONSS revealed that the average tuition fee in a private primary school was Rs 417 per month in 2014. This can amount to around Rs 700 today. This amount can be paid by the voucher. In this system, it will become necessary for public schools to attract pupils in competition with private schools. Government teachers will be able to recoup their reduced salaries if they manage to attract students and collect their vouchers. Public schools will be forced to improve the quality of their education in order to obtain their current salaries. Private schools will also benefit, as they could collect a portion of the fees from the vouchers, increase the total fees collected, and invest the money in better education.
Studies around the world have given details of the benefits of implementing the voucher system. An improvement was seen in the results of students who moved from public schools to private schools in the District of Columbia in the United States on the basis of vouchers. The quality of education in public schools improved in New Zealand because they wanted to collect more vouchers. The voucher system has been implemented on an experimental basis in Andhra Pradesh in our country. It was found that the results of students obtaining an education through the voucher system performed better in English and Mathematics. The results in Delhi were better in English but no improvement was observed in Hindi and mathematics.
Girls seemed to benefit particularly from the voucher system. This may be because parents send them to public schools without the vouchers and to private schools with the vouchers. These studies and many others show that the voucher system leads to an improvement in the quality of education. The negative effect of the voucher system is mainly reflected in the increase in inequalities. It has been found in Belgium, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States and other countries that students from poorer households are more left behind and that the richer sections advance by paying fees. additional fees in addition to the fees paid by the vouchers. However, there is a fundamental difference between the situation in these countries and ours.
Students are required to be admitted to their local public school in the United States and some other countries if they choose to attend a public school. This is not the case in India. An article in the reputable Journal of Economic Literature reported no negative impact of coupons in Andhra Pradesh. This may be because richer students can migrate from a medium-grade private school to a high-grade private school, which makes a small difference, while poor students may migrate from a private school. poor quality to a private school of average quality, which makes a huge difference.
Another negative aspect of private schools in some countries is that they allow or even encourage their students to copy and pass exams. This argument does not apply in our country because the board exams are organized under the same arrangement for pupils of private and public schools. We urgently need to put in place a voucher system to put our economy on a high growth path.
(The author is a former professor of economics at IIM, Bangalore)
(The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)