Why govt needs to stay in education sector

Call for making early literacy a separate subject; government urged not to abdicate its responsibility in providing education, especially primary education


Geetanjali Minhas | April 23, 2013

Drawing attention to the neglected area of primary education, a primer on early literacy has asked the government to make preschool education available at anganwadis created under the integrated  child  development  scheme (ICDS).

Titled “Why Can’t  Children Read and Write?”, the primer prepared by Rammohan Khanapurkar, research fellow at the Mumbai-based public policy think tank Observer Research Foundation, was released  during a roundtable discussion held here last week.

“India has the largest number of anganwadis in the world (and they) are mainly  focusing on mother care and  child healthcare facilities. (They are) very low on  pre school education. But anganwadis must be used to institutionalise our preschool system to give literacy to children right at the preschool stage,” Khanapurkar said while briefing on the issue.

Releasing the primer, Farida Lambay, educationist and co-founder of Pratham, an NGO working  in the field of imparting education to underprivileged children, said focus now has shifted from merely imparting education to quality education. Parents are not just sending children to schools but are also focusing on deliverables, she said, adding that there is an increased emphasis on quality education, due to which parents are compelled to enroll their children in private schools.  

“It is the government’s constitutional obligation to deliver equitable and quality education. Under no circumstances must the government abdicate the education sector while privatising education,” Lambay said. “In Mumbai, where the ratio of public to private schools is 50:50, enrolment is higher in private schools than government institutions.  But the government must not use this as a pretext to wriggle out of the education domain.”

Significance of govt’s role in education sector
Pointing out that 80 percent of India’s schools   are government-run, Lambay said though the government has allowed NGOs and the private sector to participate in many branches of the sector, it cannot abdicate its responsibility of providing education and let NGOs run its schools.”

Stressing that education is a field of expertise, Lambay said though  the government can bridge gaps in the overall paucity of teachers and infrastructure, as well as introducing modern education practices with the help of NGOs and  experts, its primary responsibility of imparting education must remain intact. “The government has so far failed to give necessary recognition  to early literacy as a separate subject,” she said.

While delivering his keynote address and acknowledging the increasing problems of migration from municipal schools to private ones, deputy municipal commissioner of municipal corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) Arvind Hire said the civic body can provide infrastructure for education but education is not its core subject   area. So the corporation requires collaboration with experts in teaching and learning  techniques.

He said MCGM’s policy of giving out schools for adoption to NGOs has drawn a lot of flak from NGOs and educational institutions. Hire added that the civic body is now working on a broader policy for educational institutions and NGO to come forward and adopt municipal schools.

Speaking on the outcome of common eligibility test (CET) for 2012, JBG Tilak, professor and head of education finance at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, Delhi, said only 1 percent teachers in the entire country cleared the test. CET is an aptitude test conducted by the union government through NCERT for in-service teachers,

According to Tilak, nearly nine out of 10 schools across the world are run by the government, and even in countries with strong private sector education is in the hands of the public/government. But in India, the government share in education is decreasing by the day, while the private share is going up.

Tilak also pointed that ramifications of public-private partnership in education are quite visible now. Emphasising on equity in education in public and private schools, he said only 0.47 percent elementary school  teachers have PhDs or MPhil  degrees. “Despite good salaries under the sixth pay commission, the quality of education imparted is poor,” Tilak said.

Since government is the paymaster in case of teachers, bureaucratic hurdles bring in a hierarchical system, he said. “Teachers feel they are not answerable to the community but  to higher education department officials, whose interest is primarily in administration. In the end, quality of  education suffers due to this  mentality,” Tilak said.



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