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ASER 2013: Enough of Outlays, Get Started on Outcomes NOW

Learning Achievements, School Choice

Kumar Anand

Senior Associate, Research

Centre for Civil Society

The ninth Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) was published last week. ASER is an annual household survey to assess children’s schooling (both public and private) status and basic learning levels in reading and arithmetic, among other things. With the number of children surveyed at 569,664 from 15,941 villages of 550 districts, the sample size of ASER is larger than that of the NSS survey rounds.

Some of the important findings of ASER 2013 are:

  1. School Enrollment: Enrollment figures for children (age group 6-14) have been 96% or more since 2009, touching 96.7% in 2013. Private school enrollment stood at 29% in 2013. The number has been rising consistently from 18.7% in 2006.
  2. School Attendance: School attendance of children varies across the country. Overall, children’s attendance in government school has gone from 74.3% in 2009 to 70.7% in 2013 in primary schools and from 77% in 2009 to 71.8% in 2013 in upper primary schools.
  3. School Facilities: Facilities (available and usable) like drinking water, toilets, kitchen shed, library, etc. have been steadily improving over the years. While only 47.2% of government schools had useable toilets in 2010, in 2013 that number stood at 62.6%.

These are encouraging numbers. All these are inputs to achieve one thing and one thing only – providing quality education to children. But this is where the good news ends. The signs of success/failure of whether these efforts have been translating in providing quality education or not can also be found in ASER – in their surveys on learning outcomes.

The most worrying aspect of ASER 2013 continues to be the falling learning outcomes. As the report notes, “For a variety of reasons, close to 78% of children in Std. III and about 50% of children in Std. V cannot read Std. II text as yet. Without immediate and urgent help, these children cannot make progress in the education system. Grade level teaching of the syllabus cannot be done effectively unless the basic skill of reading with understanding is in place. Without this fundamental skill, the child cannot progress in other subjects either.”

The figures below shows the level of reading competency over the last five years for government and private schools separately.

Figure 1: % Children in Std. III who can read at least Std. I level text

Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

Figure 2: % Children in Std. V who can read at least Std. II level text
Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

As is evident from the figures above, the learning levels have consistently been falling in government schools while it is holding steady in private schools. The condition is equally grim when it comes to competency in basic arithmetic, as seen in the figures below.

Figure 3: % Children in Std. III who can at least do subtraction
Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

Figure 4: % of Children in Std. V who can do division


Source: ASER 2013, India Findings

As seen in figures 3 and 4 above, performance of both government and private schools have declined – more so for government schools than for private schools.

Learning outcomes have been accorded due importance in various policy documents and government initiatives of recent times like the 12th Five Year Plan document’s chapter on education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) guidelines for 2014-15, Economic Survey 2012-13 chapter on Human Development, etc., but there is no PLAN that takes on the issue of learning outcomes head-on and on a war-footing.

Is it the lack of resources that is causing these falling competencies? The evidence says otherwise. Not only has the total general government expenditure (Central and State governments combined) been rising, their share as a percentage of GDP and as a percentage of total expenditure has been rising as well.

Figure 5: General Government (Central and State Governments combined) expenditure on education (in Rupees billion)
Source: Economic Survey 2012-13

Figure 6: General Government (Central and State Governments combined) expenditure on education (as percentage of GDP)
Source: Economic Survey 2012-13

Also, PAISA Report of 2012 finds that per student allocation have also increased from Rs 9367 in 2010-11 to Rs 11509 in 2012-13.
Thus we see that there has been no lack of commitment to excellence in education on the part of governments as far as resource allocation is concerned. However, steady fall in learning outcomes as seen in figures above begs the question – What are we doing wrong?

Yamini Aiyar over at the Accountability Initiative notes some important learning from their flagship PAISA survey over the years. They found that planning, budgeting and decision making are not related to learning outcomes. They also found that the entire elementary education planning and budgeting system is extremely centralized resulting in a mismatch between school level needs (even of the most basic things like inputs) and actual expenditure. Outputs and outcomes are far removed from any influence of parents or schools.

The dichotomy that exists between the centralised system of service delivery and the increasing focus on learning outcomes makes it almost impossible to get the desired results. Some pertinent questions raised by ASER and PAISA reports points in the direction that simply increasing outlays every year is not the answer. They have been highlighting that an outcomes based system requires autonomy and innovation at the school level.

What better way to have the autonomy with parents and students than by granting them the independence of going to a school of their choice? And what better way to encourage innovation and competition than to let many schools (private) bloom by removing the roadblocks in their setting up and functioning?

A major rethink of our outmoded ways of imparting education is necessary. Why not let parents and students decide who can best meet their needs?

For a quick summary of the ASER 2013, read this or see this.

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Education 2025: eight building blocks

School Choice

Rishi Vashistha

Manager, RTE Portal

Centre for Civil Society

Ashish Dhawan, Founder-CEO of Central Square Foundation, shared eight aspects that could become the starting points of education in the future.

1. Assessments: Assessments are a key portion of education. We should not shy away from participating in global assessments. Goals can’t be set up without looking at an international benchmark, and therefore, we should participate in assessment studies like PISA and TIMSS. We should aim at being at least in the middle rankings in the next ten years.

2. Ratings: We should institute a national level assessment test (something like NAS) and have census-based assessments at the state and survey-based assessments at the national level. States should aspire to move up the ladder in this ranking. Also, we should understand that student assessment is the bedrock of school assessment, and we should be able to give feedback to the parents.

3. Teacher Education: We need to seriously fix teacher education. The 13000 odd teacher education institutes in India are the worst public institutes in India. We need to shut down the bad ones and establish good institutes. The budget (investments in training and developing teachers, not salaries) should go up.

We can learn from China, which has only 66 dedicated universities for teacher education, one or two for every province.

4. Leadership: Teachers and principals account for 2/3rds of the school leadership. We could think of setting up a separate entity to impart training to and develop leadership abilities in teachers.

5. Early Childhood Education: While Delhi has started a kindergarten system (with 50,000 children against a need of around 250,000 seats at the moment), we need to make serious investments in early childhood education. RTE needs to extend downward to age 4, which is where compulsory schooling should begin.

Again, the China example with 95%+ school enrolment at age 4 is a good one!

6. Secondary School/Skills Education: Corporates and voluntary organisations could be involved in a big way in the secondary and skills education sector. Skilled, enthusiastic and committed manpower from the Corporate world could engage in designing curricula, sharing knowledge and imparting communication and soft-skills training to the young adults.

The example of Germany, which despite having the lowest college enrolment rate among developed nations, is still the powerhouse of Europe. Finland, China, Mexico and many other countries also benefit secondary school children with vocational and skills training from the Corporates.

7. Public-private partnerships (PPPs): We should promote more and more public private partnerships. In addition to making it easy for Corporates to come forward and work with the government, one should also start looking at the aided-school model as a PPP and slowly develop it into a great model of work.

8. Technology: We should befriend and exploit technology as much as possible. India still need 12 million teachers. It is only natural that we are not going to get that many great teachers. Therefore, we need to look into technology that could create personalised learning for every child. We need to rethink school design.

Ashish was delivering the dinner talk at the fifth annual School Choice National Conference organised by Centre for Civil Society. To know more, visit: www.ccs.in and www.schoolchoice.in.

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More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools

School Choice

Author(s): Benjamin Scafidi, Jim Kelly

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

November 2013

Executive Summary
This report uses the results of a survey administered to Georgia parents of K–12 private school scholarship recipients to address three questions:
• In choosing the private school education best suited for the overall needs of their children, do parents primarily focus on the results from standardized tests administered to students attending the school or do they rely on a variety of factors, including student safety, class size, classroom discipline, religious education, high school completion and post-secondary success, and a greater sense of community?
• To enable parents to make informed choices regarding  the education of their children, what information  should private schools provide to them and to the  community at large?
• If state and local governments empowered parents  to educate their children in the public or private  schools of their choice, and parents were able to  secure relevant information relating to those choices,  would a more efficient “spontaneous education  order” arise?We address those questions in light of the following:
• Frustrated by the failure of many local public school  districts to educate their students adequately,  parents, politicians, and policymakers are  considering alternative systems for the delivery of  K–12 education in America.
• American youth, their parents, and educators are  facing a wide range of social and cultural challenges  that add great complexity and uncertainty to the  K–12 education mission.
• The implementation of K–12 school choice programs  (e.g., tax-credit scholarships and vouchers) in many  states is producing a large number of parents who,  for a variety of reasons, have transferred their  children from public to private schools.In 2013, Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, Inc. (GOAL), a tax-exempt, nonprofit student scholarship organization operating under Georgia’s Education Expense Credit (i.e., tax-credit scholarship) law, asked the parents of scholarship recipients to complete a survey pertaining to the reasons they chose a private school for their children and the information about private schools that they deem important to the school selection process.The results of the surveys completed by 754 GOAL parents indicate they have a variety of reasons for transferring their children from public schools to private schools and that they rely on a wide variety of information in evaluating prospective private schools. Key findings from the survey include:
• Surveyed parents were overwhelmingly satisfied with their private school choice, with 98.6 percent of parents being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their decision to send their children to a private school using a GOAL scholarship.
• The top five reasons why parents chose a private school for their children are all related to school climate and classroom management, including “better student discipline” (50.9 percent), “better learning environment” (50.8 percent), “smaller class sizes” (48.9 percent), “improved student safety” (46.8 percent), and “more individual attention for my child” (39.3 percent).
• Student performance on standardized test scores is one of the least important pieces of information upon which parents base their decision regarding the private school to which they send their children. Only 10.2 percent of the parents who completed the survey listed higher standardized test scores as one of their top five reasons why they chose a particular private school for their child.
• Parents desire a wide variety of information to help them decide where to send their children to school, including, but not limited to, the student-teacher ratio (84.2 percent), school accreditation (70.2 percent), curriculum and course descriptions (69.9percent), college acceptance rate (61.3 percent), and the availability of religious instruction (56 percent). In contrast, only 21.5 percent of the parents listed “the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic makeup of the student population” as being important to their school selection process.
• Parents desire to be informed education consumers, with about 93 percent of parents indicating they would be willing to take three or more time- consuming steps to obtain the desired information.
• Contrary to the assertions of some school choice opponents, low-income parents, single parents, African-American parents, and parents with less than a college education are willing and able to be informed and active education consumers on behalf of their children.
• Because they risk losing students to other K–12 schools in the educational marketplace, private schools have an incentive to voluntarily provide the information desired by parents. Based on the survey results, the failure of a private school to provide information would (79 percent) or might (20 percent) negatively impact a parent’s decision on whether to send his or her children there.

By providing parents with private (e.g., tax-credit scholarship) or public (e.g., voucher) funds for the education of their children at the private schools of their choice, it is possible to create a spontaneous education order.

In a spontaneous education order, empowered parents would seek information about private or public schools in their communities. In turn, to remain competitive, private or public schools would need to publish or otherwise make available the information sought by parents. And, rather than implementing onerous “rules of organization” that are used to perpetuate and micro-manage a government run K–12 education monopoly, public officials would institute minimum “rules of just conduct,” which would protect the spontaneous education order from anti-democratic practices or tangible threats to child safety.

The adoption by many states of tax-credit scholarship or voucher programs is the first step toward building a pro- parent and pro-family spontaneous education order. To build on that important development:
• State and local officials and private schools should consider the reasons why parents are choosing to transfer their children from public schools to private schools.
• Parents should inform private schools about the information they deem important in making their decisions regarding the schools to which they send their children.
• Non-profit education foundations, policymakers, parents, school choice advocates, researchers, and associations of private independent schools should (1) communicate on how to build online platforms for the publication and sharing of information about private schools that parents deem important to the school selection process and (2) reach consensus on those minimum rules of just conduct that are necessary to prevent private schools from engaging in anti-democratic practices and to prevent private schools from creating environments that lead to tangible threats to child safety.
• Given the low priority parents place on standardized test scores in choosing the private schools best suited for their children, public officials should resist the temptation to impose national or state standards and testing on private schools or demand that private schools publish “report cards” emphasizing test score performance.

To read more


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Policy experts brainstorm education system

School Choice


Tribune News Service

School Choice Campaign, the flagship programme of Delhi-based think tank, Centre for Civil Society, today organised the 5th Annual School Choice National Conference (SCNC) on the theme “Education 2025:  Student First” at the India International Centre here.

The daylong conference, deliberating on the changing paradigms of education system in India and the innovation and planning needed to reach Vision 2025, was attended by over 100 leading educationists and policy experts.

School Choice Campaign, a campaign launched in 2007, aims to bring about the much-needed reforms in India’s education system towards a school choice model that brings affordable and quality education to all children.

On the occasion, representatives from civil society organisations and the government, along with school leaders examined whether today’s education system is equipped to meet the growing aspirations of young India; how to provide education with equity; and the role of technology in classrooms of the future.

Ankur Shah, head of sector strategies and education portfolio lead at the Acumen Fund, said: “With a view to ensuring accountability, efficiency and equity in the use of public funds and to catalyse the education market for affordable education, the Centre for Civil Society aims to focus on building robust funding models, supporting coalitions, reducing entry and expansion barriers for private colleges, improving RTE implementation and generating evidence for policy making.”

Harsh Shrivastava, CEO, Centre for Civil Society, said that through the School Choice Campaign, “CCS hopes that by 2025, the difference in learning outcome between the government and private schools is minimised so that students and parents are able to get the best education possible.”

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School choice should not be just for special needs students

Global news, School Choice

Those who read The Examiner’s July 16 cover story, “DCPS forcing special needs kids into unfit public schools,” might not realize that approximately the same number of students in D.C. attend private schools using school vouchers as attend private schools through placements due to a severe learning disability.

Both programs ostensibly serve the same goals — allowing private providers to meet the needs of D.C. students whom the public sector cannot educate to the standards of parents or federal law. Yet these two programs could not be treated more differently.

About 1,700 students in the 2012-13 academic year will attend private schools in the District because of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The program, which since 2004 has given vouchers of up to $7,500 for low-income students to attend a private school of their choosing, costs about $14 million per year and is funded out of a separate congressional budget line item that does not take a dime away from DC Public Schools.

Similarly, about 1,700 students will attend private schools this year through a placement program for students with extreme learning disabilities. At a cost of approximately $110 million (about one-tenth of D.C.’s billion-dollar budget), students with physical, intellectual or emotional issues will attend special programs in private schools to cope with their extraordinary learning needs.

One of these programs is extremely controversial. The other one people barely know about. Can you guess which is which?

If you picked the Opportunity Scholarship Program as controversial, you’re right. The OSP has been under attack ever since its initial enactment, and every yearly reauthorization has come with a fight. The Obama administration has staked out a position that “the Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students.” Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently commented that “we remain convinced that our time and resources are best spent on reforming the public school system to benefit all students.”

The teachers unions share this sentiment. In 2009, the National Education Association argued in a letter to Congress that “Vouchers are not the real solution. Pulling 1,700 students out of a system that serves 65,000 doesn’t solve problems — it ignores them.”

Yet, although they oppose the public funding that puts 1,700 poor students into private schools, neither the Obama administration nor the teachers unions has made such arguments about the private placement of 1,700 special needs students.

Learning disabilities cut across all economic and social strata. Rich and poor, black and white — physical and learning disabilities can affect anyone. This produces a large, broad-based and politically influential constituency to look out for special needs children. And this is a good thing.

But the defenders of vouchers are all low-income parents. They do not have the same political clout as those advocating choices for special needs students. As a result, they do not have nearly the same spectrum of choices that middle- and upper-class parents have, and they are much more likely to have their children clustered in the lowest-performing schools in the United States. This is a bad thing.

Opponents of public funds going to private schools can get away with pushing poor parents around; they cannot nearly as easily get away with pushing around the parents of students with special needs.
This differential treatment is simply hypocritical. If voucher opponents don’t think public dollars should end up in private schools, they should oppose it for students with specials needs with the same vigor as they do for poor students.

The Examiner, 23 July 2012


500 schools under PPP mode set to come up

Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), School Choice, School Management Committee

In a move to provide “high quality” education to children at the block level, the Centre has initiated efforts to set up 500 model schools in public-private-partnership framework across the country.

The schools, proposed to be opened under the Human Resource Development Ministry, will operate Classes VI to XII with minimum infrastructure and facilities of standards available in existing Kendriya Vidyalayas.

The ministry has invited applications from private entities including corporate houses to participate in the implementation of the programme. Selection of private partner will be done through bidding at each block to be identified for the opening of the schools.

As per the scheme, the schools will be affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).  In exceptional circumstances, affiliation by other national boards may also be considered.

However, irrespective of whatever board the school is affiliated to, it will have to adhere to all the norms of the CBSE with reference to infrastructure, teaching resources and pedagogy, an HRD Ministry official told Deccan Herald adding. The model schools were so far being opened through the state governments in the blocks, identified as educationally backward under the central scheme, launched in 2008. While the opening up of schools in 1,942 blocks covering 22 states have been approved since 2008, only 438 model schools have become functional, according to the ministry.

A total of 6,000 model schools are to be opened at block level with 3,500 in educationally backward district through state governments. The remaining 2,500 schools are to be set up under PPP mode in blocks which are not educationally backward.

As per the scheme, the private entity could either be a trust or a society or a not-for-profit company.

An entity running at least one CBSE school from where at least two consecutive batches have passed out from Class X will qualify for up to three schools. Those who have not come up to the board examination level will qualify for one school.

A private entity, a track record of running educational institutions for five years, will also qualify for opening three schools if it has capacity to make an interest-bearing deposit of Rs 25 lakh for each school, which will be released in three annual installments after commissioning.

“A corporate entity would be eligible for one school for every 25 crore net worth, subject to interest-bearing deposit of Rs 50 lakh each of up to three schools and Rs 25 lakh per school thereafter,” the ministry official said.

The land required for setting up the school and its infrastructure has to be provided by the private entity.

The government will contribute to recurring cost on per capita basis for the students sponsored by it. Besides, additional 25 per cent support will also be provided in respect of sponsored students towards capital cost.

“The initial period of the contract for such provision of quality education would be 10 years for each school, which is extendable as per mutual agreement,” a ministry official said.

Deccan Herald, 10 March 2012


India: Education experts pitch for major changes in RTE Act

School Choice

Report by Rashmi r Parida; New Delhi: The goals of the Right to Education (RTE) Act are unrealistic and unachievable in its entirety education experts and policymakers said at a conference here today, and endorsed the need for more dialogues with civil society, government agencies and educational service providers to bring the landmark legislation to fruition.

There is an imperative need to look afresh into the RTE Act, iron out its ambiguities and focus on outcomes rather than inputs to achieve the objective of providing compulsory primary education for children in the 6-14 age groups, the panellists said at the conference.

The third annual School Choice National Conference, titled ‘Catalysing Education for All: Intention, Innovation, and Implementation’, was organized by Centre for Civil Society (CCS) at India Habitat Centre.

Setting the tone of the discussion, Mr. Sudhir Mankad, former Chief Secretary of Gujarat, spoke of the Gujarat government’s efforts to negotiate the challenges of implementing the Act. The state has made provisions to grant recognition to private schools based on the learning outcomes, rather than focusing on infrastructural norms (Clause 19). He also spoke of the government’s attempt to reduce irregularities in granting recognition by creating independent review committees made of educationists and members of civil society.

Elaborating, he said the RTE provides that schools can enroll children not less than six years in age at the entry level and thus qualify for reimbursements from the government. “But the fact is that in many states, children get enrolled at the age of five. That means these schools will be deprived from government reimbursements under the RTE Act,” he pointed out.

“This problem can be sorted out by a simple administrative order. It should be of little concern whether children get admitted at the age of 5 or 6,” said Mr. Mankad, who had earlier worked with the Union Ministries of Finance, Agriculture and Human Resource Development. ”

Mr. Mankad, who runs PRATHAM chain of low budget schools in Ahmedabd, said the Gujarat government spent, on an average, spent Rs 700-800 per month on a child in a government school while low budget schools spent only Rs 100-300. “The provision of 25 per cent reservations in unaided schools would tempt them hike their fees,” he apprehended.

He commented on the poor state of education provided by governments, saying that although the government owns the largest number of primary schools in India, unless they increase accountability and ownership, the quality of education will continue to deteriorate.

Earlier, delivering her keynote address, Prof. Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, of Institute of Education, University of London, said the RTE Act betrayed misplaced emphasis on inputs rather than outcomes. “There is no evidence to suggest that students being taught from para (untrained) teachers will be getting a poor quality of education as compared those being taught by qualified teachers. Also, para teachers are spending more time in classrooms as compared to regular teachers,” she said, quoting reports.

Emphasising the importance of evidence-based policy making in education, she said, “Policies should not be made on the basis of somebody’s hunch, ideology or political expediency. This may be the case with regard to the RTE. The causal relationship in the education sector needs to be carefully analysed.”

Mr. Dilip Modi, CMD of Spice Communications and former president of ASSOCHAM, said the RTE Act was a ground-breaking legislation, but it was marked by lack of clarity on the mechanism to implement the PPP model in education sector.

“ASSOCHAM did a survey for private equity investment in education, and it revealed that venture capitalists were willing to invest from 500 million to one billion dollars in KG-Class 12 sector, the central point of education,” he said.

Mr Modi said the needs to be debated and monitored whether educational entrepreneurs are willing to invest in real estate or in education. “But the bottom line of the debate should be students, who are the most important stakeholders in the RTE.”

The conference deliberated on a wide spectrum of issues in four broad areas: ‘Implementation of RTE: One Year After’; ‘Secondary Education: Renewed Objectives’; ‘Public Private Partnerships: Building sustainable models’; and ‘Disruptive Innovation in Education: Looking to Technology’.

Prof. James Tooley, who teaches Education Policy at the University of Newcastle and runs a chain of low cost private schools in Ghana, said there are two lakh private schools in India that provide education to six crore children. If these schools are forced to shut down under the RTE Act, where will these children go, he quizzed.

Mr. Sem Haokip, CEO of Society for Promotion of Tribal Welfare and Development, an NGO working for promotion of education in Nagaland, described the RTE as a legislation that held no incentive for “people like me running small private schools to provide education to tribals in the face of insurmountable odds.”

The RTE Act is very prescriptive and has not taken into account ground realities in rural and tribal areas and urban slums. “In our place, library is a luxury, electricity is a luxury, playgrounds and potable water are luxuries. The RTE Act is a ploy to kill initiatives of people like us.”

Mr. Michael Latham, Regional Director at the South Asia, Centre for British Teachers (CfBT), emphasized the need to strengthen School Management Committees, which could effectively monitor accountability of schools and focus on each child’s development.

“There is need for individualized learning and channelize the exponential growth in information. In addition, there is an imperative need to promote the concept of classroom from anywhere, anytime,” he said.

The conference provided an opportunity for the government and all other stakeholders to take stock of the RTE and the challenges and pitfalls that bedevil its implementation. It also pondered over international models that hade innovated government expenditure on access to private education as well as feasibility of Charter Schools and School Vouchers.

Most of the panellists were unanimous in their contention that the RTE Act needed to be revisited, debated de novo and carefully amended in order to make it effective and a real game-changer.

About School Choice Campaign

School Choice Campaign (SCC) advocates policy reform ideas to improve quality and access to education especially for the poor. By working with policy makers, education experts and grass root level activists, SCC is focused on:

· Expanding choice and competition through school vouchers;

· Pedagogical and operational autonomy to government schools;

· Converting state funding to per student basis; and

· De-licensing, deregulation and decentralisation

SCC work spans across seven states- Delhi, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Bihar. CCS has entered into long-term partnerships with 250 NGOs in these states to take the message of school choice to the people, politicians and policy makers.

India Education Diary, 21 December 2011

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India education: The chain school

School Choice, School Vouchers

NEW DELHI, India — In a typical Delhi slum, sewage overflows from the drain alongside the street and scraps of colored paper and empty bottles tumble in the foul wind. Here and there, a spindly boy in threadbare briefs fetches water from the hand-pump and a baby, her eyes blacked with kohl, plays happily in the grime.

It’s not an easy place to live. But even here, Ramesh Singh, a bicycle rickshaw driver, opted to send his son, Dhiraj, to a bare-bones private school when a pilot program for school vouchers gave him the chance several years ago.

“You saw when the teacher tested him,” Ramesh said. “He finished class three in government school, and he can’t read anything!”

Rich or poor, Indians are abandoning the country’s disastrously managed government-run schools in droves. Only about two-thirds of India’s school-age children attend classes at all, and the fierce competition for places at private institutes means that waiting lists are enormous and it’s difficult to win admission to any without pulling strings.

More discouraging still, because of its demographics India will need to build another 250,000 schools to meet its goal of universal enrollment by 2015. But that means there’s a big opportunity, as well, some investors believe: India could well be the first country in the modern world where the business of educating kids from kindergarten through high school is, well, a business. Meet the would-be chain store of education: the Indus World School (IWS).

The school that Ramesh chose for Dhiraj, called R.S. Public School in homage to the legacy of Eton and Harrow, was not part of IWS or any other big corporation. When I visited the place, the paint was crumbling off the concrete walls. Its barred windows give it an aspect more penal than pedantic, and the children in the courtyard were forced to squint and shield their eyes against a fine grit whipped across the compound by the wind.

Still, at $6 a month, it cost less than the voucher that Ramesh received as part of a pilot program run by the Center for Civil Society, and the teachers actually showed up for work. Corporation-run chain schools would institute higher standards — perhaps even pioneering the franchise model in education.

“India needs entrepreneurs and organizations who are willing to build a scalable execution model of schools,” said Satya Narayanan, chairman of Career Launcher. “In terms of numbers, these could translate into a chain of hundreds of schools over a five to seven year period.”

With 14 schools in operation, mostly in second-tier cities but also including five rural schools, Indus World School has made a good start.

Earlier this year, the company secured second round financing from Gaja Capital Partners and sold an additional, undisclosed stake to Housing Development Finance Corp. for around $10 million — suggesting that the snowball is beginning to roll downhill. According to Narayanan, IWS hopes to operate 75 schools with over 40,000 students in five years time, which could pave the way for a wave of followers.

According to the entrepreneur, at least a dozen of India’s large corporations are discussing similar ventures or investments. But the blue ocean market — 250,000 schools! — means he won’t need to worry much about competition for bodies.

Nevertheless, Narayanan aims to make sure innovation isn’t limited to the business model.

The company is steadily developing its own intellectual property for the curriculum, with a focus on age-appropriate linkages to career aspirations and higher education goals — music to the ears of middle-class Indian parents.

And the connection with Career Launcher — a test prep and college admissions advisory company that serves 100,000 from 225 outlets — ensures that IWS understands its target customers and their goals.

Can for-profit chain schools really step in where the state has failed — especially for students like Dhiraj Singh, whose parents can’t afford to pay more than a pittance?

Studies of tiny, grassroots private schools and school vouchers suggest that the answer may be yes. So far IWS, like most elite Indian schools, offers scholarships for only a few hundred students. But the gathering momentum of the country’s recently passed Right to Education law (RTE) could free up funds for private players.

“The RTE needs to be given an operating framework from the current ‘intent’ state,” said Narayanan. “We can contribute immensely to [uplifting the poor] in just a generation if we can implement RTE smartly!”

Global Post, 24 October 2011


Hostile research against independent schools

Access to education, Global news, Private schools, School Choice

In a comment piece headed ‘Only the demise of independent schools will please Gillard’s educrats’ (The Drum, 17 March 2011) I argued that Australia’s cultural-left education establishment wanted to undermine and weaken non-government schools by denying them proper funding and by destroying their autonomy.

I also suggested that the vehicle to be used to achieve such ends was the funding review chaired by the Sydney businessman David Gonski and initiated by Prime Minister Julia Gillard when she was education minister.

Yesterday’s release of four research papers commissioned by the Gonski review proves that I was correct. Instead of providing independent and balanced advice about the current state of Australia’s education system, including how government and non-government schools are funded and recommended alternatives, the papers reveal a deep-seated antipathy to non-government schools and a desire to restrict their growth and to micromanage them by imposing increased government regulation and control.

The paper Schooling Challenges and Opportunities by The Nous Group best illustrates this one-sided, ideological agenda to deny parents school choice and to make it more difficult for non-government schools to exist.

The first thing to note about The Nous Group’s report, instead of acknowledging the right of non-government schools to operate, the beneficial impact of such schools and the right of parents to be supported, is that the report adopts a hostile and antagonistic approach.

The report’s Summary argues that it is apparently “unusual” to have such a large and successful non-government school sector, that only well-off parents with a “high level of disposable income” can afford such schools and that competition and a situation where some schools can select their students are unacceptable.

Those responsible for The Nous Group’s report also adopt a cultural-left view of schooling, one where low socioeconomic status (being working class, migrant or Indigenous) leads to educational failure and where those students with “better-resourced parents”, with “high aspirations, cultural capital and social networks”, are guaranteed success.

Ignored is that Australia has a high degree of social mobility, in part as a result of our education system, that there are many other reasons why some students succeed and others do not, such as motivation, ability and school culture, and that it is wrong to penalise some students simply because they are lucky enough to have successful and aspiring parents committed to giving their children a good education.

It is no secret that the Australian Education Union, led by Angelo Gavrielatos, is opposed to funding non-government schools and that one of the AEU’s most forceful arguments is that the existence of non-government schools leads to the residualisation of government schools.

The Nous Report mirrors the AEU’s argument when it states that giving parents the right to choose where their children go to school leads to a situation where, “Put simply, if the schools that can select the students who are likely to do best are allowed to, the schools that cannot choose (mainly the government sector schools) are left with a student body that is less supportive of good performance for each individual student who remains”.

The argument is also put that government schools perform as well, if not better, than non-government schools if you take into account the fact that government schools have more disadvantaged students, compared to non-government schools, and are not as well-resourced.

Ignored is the research by Europe’s Ludger Woessmann for the OECD and Australia’s Gary Marks, that argues that non-government schools outperform government schools in areas like academic results, tertiary entry and completing Year 12 even after adjusting for the socioeconomic background of students.

Both Woessmann and Marks also argue that the reason why non-government schools, on the whole, outperform government schools is because such schools have a more disciplined and academic school environment, greater autonomy and flexibility at the school level and such schools also better reflect parental values and aspirations.

One of the central tenets of a cultural-left view of education, associated with what is known as the sociology of education movement and academics like Pierre Bourdieu, is that education, instead of providing a social mobility, reinforces disadvantage.

As a result and argued by the one-time education minister and premier of Victoria, Joan Kirner, education must be reshaped to be “part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change, rather than an instrument of the capitalist system”.

While not suggesting that The Nous Report endorses Joan Kirner’s view of education, in arguing that one of the main tasks of Australian education is to bring about “equity of outcomes” it should be obvious that the report’s writers, as previously stated, share a similar cultural-left view about the purpose of education.

This cultural-left view of schooling explains why The Nous Report, in suggesting how Australia might improve its performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, focuses on improving the results of under-performing, low SES students.

Ignored is the fact that the reason why Australia was one of the few countries to experience a decline in recent PISA test results is because we now have fewer numbers of students performing at the top end of the scale. To admit this and to focus on increasing the number of high achievers runs counter to the left’s view that meritocracy is bad and that such students do not need any support as they are already advantaged.

This cultural-left view of schooling also explains why The Nous Report argues that government funding should be re-directed from non-government schools, supposedly, that are privileged and the preserve of the top end-of-town, to government schools.

Denying non-government schools control over enrolments by limiting “autonomy over student selection” and forcing schools to enrol greater numbers of disadvantaged students also demonstrates further evidence of the report’s cultural-left agenda.

Add the report’s recommendation that non-government schools should be more closely integrated into the state system, on the basis that competition is unacceptable and that all schools must be embrace “collaboration and joint initiatives”, and it should be clear that instead of being independent, objective and balanced, The Nous Report advocates a particular ideological agenda; one that is clearly hostile to Catholic and independent schools.

The Drum, September 1, 2011


Favored child? School choice within the family

School Choice

Authors: Chumacero, Romulo and Paredes, Ricardo

We study school choice within the family, analyzing how birth order, gender, innate talent, and family financial restrictions impact the parents´ decision to prioritize the education of one or more of the children over the rest. We find that parents, particularly from lower income homes, are more likely to select more prestigious, higher cost schools for their eldest child, male children and the most talented children. This behavior may explain part of the positive “male bias” in learning and may have a relevant impact on income distribution among family members.

For full length paper click here.

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