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DEMOGRAPHIC STRUCTURE AND THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF PUBLIC EDUCATION

Finances & Budgets, Global news, research

Author: Poterba, J.M
This paper examines the relationship between demographic structure and the level of govemment spendingon K-12education. Panel data for the U.S. states over the 1960-1990 period suggests that an increasein the fraction of elderly residents in ajurisdictionis associated with a significant reduction inperchild educational spending. This reduction isparticularly large when the elderly residents and the school-age population are from different racial groups. Variation in the size of the school-age population does not result in proportionate changes in education spending, so students in states with larger school-age populations receive lower per-student spending than those in states with smaller numbers of potential students. These results provide support for models of generational competition in the allocation of public sector resources. They also suggest that the effect of cohort size on government-mediated transfers must be considered in analyzing how cohort size affects economic well-being. Click here to read more.

NBER Working Paper 5677, July 1996

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The Wide Gulf Of Dissimilitude

Access to education, Reservation of seats

Why Do They Squirm?

Children from poor homes are perceived to be unhygienic
Speak crudely; can’t speak English and slow down the pace of the class
They’ll be humiliated around rich kids as they can’t afford expensive school trips and school uniforms
The richer parents will end up paying higher school fees
They will have to attend PTA meetings with lower-class parents
***

The gloom at the Sharma household, in an unauthorised southwest Delhi colony, lifted last month. Four-year-old Daksh had finally made it into a private school. “After three months of doing the rounds at over 30 private schools, he’s in. I still can’t believe it,” says Komal Sharma, his relieved mother. Turned away by every school—one demanded Rs 50,000 to admit him, it took a letter from the ministry of education for Komal and her husband, a commercial vehicle driver, to get Daksh enrolled. His school is less fancy than the G.D. Goenka and DPS on her wishlist, but Komal says, “At least he made it to a private school. The dreams we have for him can’t sustain in a government school.”

For parents like the Sharmas, the going may now get a tad easier with the 25 per cent reservation for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) at the nursery and class 1 entry levels in all private schools. Vatsala Mamgain, a mother of two who sends two children to an elite Delhi school, knows all too well what a good education can do. Her father, the oldest of nine, was responsible for the whole family. He’d benefited from a similar opportunity in a top private school. “The door that his education opened for him makes me believe that while there will be issues in having children from different backgrounds study together, the alternative is so much worse,” says Mamgain. Agrees Meena Vaidyanathan, a Tezpur-based social entrepreneur, whose 10-year-old son attends a school with children from mixed-income groups. “I too studied in a school where my classmates were kids of local shopkeepers, door-to-door salesmen, while we were middle class. That proved to be a great leveller for me.” In Calcutta, TV writer Mousumi Choudhury, whose son is in class 9 at a private school, has strong views on elitism. “It is our collective responsibility to extend a good environment to underprivileged children,” she says. Though there’s positivity aplenty, many wonder how gadget-loving, mall-trawling kids will cope in a mixed group. “I didn’t like the expression on my daughter’s face when I explained the reservation issue to her. She wondered how EWS kids would speak English. But kids are so adaptable, I wouldn’t worry,” says Gurgaon-based Shirani Mehta, who sends her two children to an expensive international school in Delhi.

But for every positive opinion, there is a blunt, less empathic one in opposition. “We pay Rs 1.8 lakh p. a. to send our daughters to a private school. If the reservation comes into force, the school management will end up taxing us more. So, ultimately, it is the middle class who will pay through the nose,” says Jayati Saha, of Hyderabad, adding: “I’m also concerned that the language these children speak might affect my daughters.” For a large section of the middle class, it’s a class divide that simply cannot be bridged. There are stories of the rich boycotting schools that admit EWS students, unsavoury whispers about poor children being “thieves”, “unhygienic” and “bad company”. And there are other niggles. Not a few middle-class parents Outlook spoke to felt an EWS child would feel inferior and “humiliated” around rich children. “I am not against the RTE,” says a mother of two daughters studying in an elite school in Delhi, who asked not to be named, “but poor children would just feel uncomfortable attending elite schools. Instead of giving them 25 per cent reservation in private schools, why can’t the government allot them 100 per cent in government schools? Or, if they want them to attend private schools, then organise afternoon shifts for them,” she says.

With the Supreme Court verdict, class wars—between parents, the schools and the students—are being waged out in the open in many metros. “It’s really not that hard to include EWS children in the private school system. The opposition to it just shows the medieval mindset of the rich schools and parents,” says Kiran Bhatty, national RTE commissioner at the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. It’s really our attitude that need a rethink, feels Delhi’s Sanskriti School principal Abha Sahgal. “We are not doing anyone a favour by including EWS children in our school. Yes, they need extra support, but we work at removing their inhibitions and confusion. And then watch their confidence levels soar—we even have EWS students who have been shortlisted for the Student’s Council this year,” she says. Her school has had seats reserved for poor children since its inception, and she says the results have been heartening.

But the majority of Indian schools have not taken kindly to being “pushed” into taking in non-paying poor students. In Hyderabad, private schools are lobbying against the court judgement and say they will demand a review. And then there’s that old don’t-infringe-on-my-land sentiment. Professor K. Narender, Department of Communication and Journalism, Osmania University, says, “If the reservation is 25 per cent today, tomorrow the percentage might go up. Where will the middle class go then?” Many schools say there are real problems and there is no point in hiding behind a veil of equality. At Delhi’s elite Shri Ram School, where poor students have attended classes for the last four years, principal Manika Sharma admits the success rate is minuscule. “It’s a big challenge for the teacher community. There is a glaring disparity, right from tiffin boxes down to language, school trips. We’re trying, though, by giving them extra support and holding classes on health and hygiene and social skills.”

It’s to be expected that throwing in students from different income-groups together is likely to throw up umpteen issues. “Rather than shy away from them, teachers, parents and children have to be sensitised on the socio-cultural issues arising out of gross income disparities,” says Aruna Sankaranarayanan, founder-director of Prayatna, a community helping students enhance skills needed in the mainstream classroom. “There is such a hypocrisy in rich schools opposing this when they claim they are not running a business! Then they shouldn’t be resistant to charity, right?” asks Madhav Chavan, founder of Pratham, an organisation working to educate the underprivileged.

Madhu Bala isn’t concerning herself with such debates. She can’t afford to. Her daughter Nabya has to be packed off to Ryan International School every morning from their two-room home in Jahangirpuri, north Delhi. A homemaker, Madhu began holding tuition classes to supplement her husband’s income after Nabya bagged a seat via the EWS quota. They now have to shell out Rs 400 a month for the private van that takes her to school, in addition to fees for uniforms and textbooks. “My daughter asked me for a new watch the other day and I told her frankly that we can’t afford it. These problems will grow as she gets older and mixes more with rich children. But at the end of the day, her academic base will be strong. That’s all that matters,” Madhu says. Nabya has her shot at a better education and a brighter future. Will the millions like her all over India get theirs?

Outlook, 30 April 2012

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How to fulfil the RTE promise

Access to education, Finances & Budgets, Quality, Reservation of seats, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan

Centre must fund the states, but let them identify the students who need help

After the Supreme Court judgment on the constitutionality of the Right to Education Act (RTE), the onus is now on the government to design a transparent, fair and accountable method to implement the 25 per cent reservation in private schools for economically and socially disadvantaged communities. Instead of reservation, perhaps the initiative can be called 25 per cent inclusion seats or 25 per cent opportunity or state-sponsored seats. A general estimate is that anywhere between 2.5 to 7 million poor students would benefit in the first year of full implementation. And this number will double every year thereafter for eight years. A large number of poor children’s future is thus at stake in the proper implementation of the 25 per cent opportunity seats.

From the multitude of consultations and discussions that have taken place over the last two years on this provision, there are certain ideas that should help fulfil this promise of inclusive education.

First, the central government must directly pay for the 25 per cent opportunity seats instead of relying on state governments to reimburse schools on a state-by-state basis. State governments have already been pointing out that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) funding they receive from the Centre does not include the cost of the 25 per cent seats in private schools. Instead of including this cost in the SSA budget, which would vary widely from state to state, it is far more convenient and straightforward for the Centre to take this responsibility directly. The amount to be paid should be decided by state governments as per the costs incurred in providing education in state schools, and this would be different from state to state. The payment should be from the central government.

The central government should adopt a uniform criterion for adjusting the reimbursement amount from year to year. The current state RTE rules differ widely in re-calculating the amount for future years. Some states offer to revisit state expenditures every two years and re-calculate the reimbursement amount, while others suggest adjusting the first year amount by the rate of inflation for all future years. It is better to have a uniform national rule about re-calculating the reimbursement amount.

Second, the Centre should create an independent special purpose vehicle to manage the reimbursement, which could be called the India Inclusive Education Fund. The central government would commit to make contributions but more importantly, it would raise extra money from corporations, foundations and individuals. These non-government funds could be used to bridge the gap between the reimbursement amount calculated on the basis of the actual per-student cost in government schools, and the fees of private schools. Private schools would be free to raise their own funds to bridge the gap through donations, charity events like music concerts, cultural fairs and other annual events, but they would also get support from the fund. The fund could also offer inclusion awards for schools that do well in social integration and holistic learning of the 25 per cent opportunity students. These awards could help cover a part of the gap for private schools as well as incentivise them to take the challenge of inclusion more seriously.

To assure schools that they would be reimbursed on time and in full as per the process outlined by the fund, the Centre should include its contribution in the annual central education budget and transfer that amount to the fund on April 1. The Centre should calculate its liability as equal to the amount paid out by the fund in the previous year and deposit that amount on April 1 in the fund’s account. The cost adjustments for the current year as per the national uniform rule should be made by August, and the Centre should then deposit the corresponding amount on September 1 to meet its full obligations for the academic year.

Third, the definition and identification of qualified candidates under the 25 per cent should be left to state governments. Some states have suggested that they would issue student cards to those who qualify and that this student card would then be used by schools to determine eligibility. Some states may issue smart coupons or vouchers or biometric cards. There is certainly a need for experimentation to decipher better methods of identification. After some years of experience, we may evolve a commonly accepted method across the states.

The verification of qualified candidates should be done by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), its state branches and affiliated NGOs. The NCPCR should have the powers to take action against states that have significantly high rates of identification errors of omission and commission in order to keep the pressure on the states to improve their identification processes and technologies. The NCPCR may require that the failing states contribute to the fund in proportion to the degree of their failure.

Many more details and processes need to be worked out for the effective implementation of the education opportunity seats, but the above forms the foundation of a structure that will help fulfil the RTE’s historic promise.

The writer is president of the Centre for Civil Society, Delhi

Indian Express, 23 April 2012

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Smart idea: Govt school to give e-lessons in Hindi from today

ICT, Technology

Chandigarh Relocating all the students from Government High School, Kajheri, and a few students from other government schools in its neighbourhood to its wi-fi-enabled premises, the Government Smart School, Sector 53, is all set to teach students with e-content in Hindi medium from Monday.
The new date — April 23 — for the inauguration of the school has been fixed after four postponements.

The curriculum has been prepared by various government school teachers in collaboration with the State Institute of Education (SIE). All the lesson plans have been designed from lifting content from NCERT books.

Despite the school building being ready since July last year, it took the department nearly a year to complete the technical arrangements and plan the curriculum.

The entire campus of the high school is wi-fi-enabled, and classroom teaching will be taken up by referring to e-content (e-lessons) on projector screens in all classrooms.

The UT Administration had tied up with a city-based computer networking company for developing the digital podiums which have been placed inside each classroom.

The podium has an in-built laptop screen, microphone and a connection with the projector. It will be used by the teacher who will display the audio-visual content on the projector screen for the students through the podium laptop.

Officials indicate that relocating the students from neighbouring areas to the smart school will help in balancing out the high pupil-teacher ratio in the other schools, including Government High School at Badheri and Government Model School, Sector 41.

No new admissions will be made in the school for the current academic session. “Here, we primarily wish to fulfil the purpose of RTE’s concept of neighbourhood schools. The students whose parents would opt for changing the school would be placed here,” said DPI (schools) Sandeep Hans.

The inauguration of the school was first scheduled for November last year. It was then postponed to December due to imposition of the model code of conduct for the Municipal Corporation polls. Later, it was rescheduled for January 14 and then for April 4.

The Education Department aims at setting up 18 more smart schools in the city in the current Five-year Plan.

Indian Express 23 April 2012

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RTE Act can be a model for the world: Kapil Sibal

Government run schools, Quality, Right to Education

The RTE Act is an opportunity to break gender, caste, class and community barriers that threaten to damage the social fabric of our democracy and create fissures that could be ruinous to the country, writes Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal.

The Supreme Court judgment upholding the constitutional validity of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act has once again focused public attention on education. While there has been enthusiastic praise of the judgment from most, there continues to be veiled criticism of the provisions of the act from some.

Not withstanding the obligations cast on private educational institutions by the RTE Act, the major responsibility for universalizing elementary education, without doubt, lies with the state. Universalizing access and retention, bridging gender and social category gaps in enrolment, and improving quality of elementary education are the primary focus of government’s interventions through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

The provisions relating to private schools in the act do not mean that the Central and state governments are absolved of their primary responsibility of providing infrastructure and facilities, and an enabling environment to meet the objectives in the RTE Act. More than 90% of households in the country will have to continue to enrol their children in government schools – even after children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections obtain 25% of the seats in preschool/Class I in private schools every year.

The provision for admitting 25% children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in private unaided (nonminority) schools is an attempt at affirmative action and social integration. This provision in the RTE Act will enable schools to ensure that their student bodies contain different types of children, so that each student brings something new and different to the school community, thereby enriching and adding value to it, and consequently creating a more democratic learning environment. The RTE Act is a modest effort to bring about social integration.

It’s undeniable that this means a major transformation for private schools. It is true that transformation does not take place on demand. Recognizing the difficulties involved in making the change, the act has adopted a “gradualist” approach, and provides for admission of children from weaker sections at entry stage only.

With children admitted in preschool/ Class I moving up, and a new cohort entering the school each successive year, the school will gradually have a more diverse population spread across all classes.

At this pace children will have the opportunity to grow up together and create bonds; bonds that will survive social walls. Progression at this pace will also allow schools to develop professional capacity to respond to the intellectual and emotional needs of children from diverse backgrounds. Children from adverse living conditions can bring rich experiences of coping with life, and sharing these experiences with well-off children can be invaluable. It is this mixing of children from diverse backgrounds that may change the character of the school in many positive ways.

It is possible that in the initial years, some children from disadvantaged households may face difficulty in coping with the curriculum, especially if they are first-generation schoolgoers. But many children from disadvantaged groups have shown that, given a facilitative environment, they can cope with the curriculum as well as, and often, even better than other children.

Indeed, statistics show that increasingly it is children from relatively poorer households who gain admission into IITs. In the sports arena too, it is largely children from poorer households who have excelled. Many schools managed by charitable and religious trusts already have a policy to admit a large number of children belonging to disadvantaged groups – without any compromise on quality.

The long gestation period provided in the act would enable the schools to put in place institutional structures to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised. It is not going to be easy but can be done.

The concern on the issue of financial implication on managements may be genuine in several cases. However, the per-child expenditure by many private schools, especially in rural areas and small towns, is lower than that in government schools. Reimbursement provided by government, therefore, will be adequate to meet the costs of educating children from weaker sections in such schools. But states must put in place open and transparent systems, preferably online, for reimbursement in a timebound and efficient manner.

It is, however, true that some schools in metros have per-child budgets much in excess of those in state schools. These schools would have to find innovative ways to meet the gap. Philanthropic individuals, charitable trusts and corporate funding may be some ways out.

The Times of India, 20 April 2012

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Sibal’s RTE non-solution: focus on 7%, ignore the rest

Access to education, Right to Education

The proof of the pudding is always in the eating. So one is amused to read that Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal thinks that the “Right to Education Act (RTE) can be a model for the world” when it hasn’t even been rolled out good and proper.

The truth is no one can know how the RTE will ultimately work, for everything depends on how it is implemented. Given the kind of hash our governments have usually made of even simple schemes, one has to keep one’s fingers tightly crossed on this one.

But before we look more closely at Sibal’s boast, it is important to acknowledge one basic point: the very existence of the RTE is an admission of failure of the Indian state in its most basic duty for over 60 years.

In discussions on the role of the state in mixed or capitalist economies, it is often said that the state must get out of business, and instead focus on core social services like education and health.

In India, we seem to be taking the opposite route – of the state trying to hold on to business at any cost (the UPA’s official policy is it will always hold 51 percent in every public sector company, be in banks, or oil, steel or coal companies), and letting go of education – where it now wants private sector schools to take on the burden of educating the poor with 25 percent reservation.

Sibal incongruously argues that the “the provision for admitting 25 percent children from disadvantaged groups and weaker sections in private unaided (non-minority) schools is an attempt at affirmative action and social integration.” If that is so, why give minority institutions alone the right to refuse “affirmative action and social integration?” when they are the ones most in need of it?

The problem with the RTE can thus be summed up thus: when 90 percent (Sibal’s estimate) of households “will have to continue to enroll their children in government schools even after children belonging to disadvantaged groups and weaker sections obtain 25 percent of the seats in pre-school/Class I in private schools every year” where is the RTE even trying to address this larger issue?

This is quixotic. If you can’t fix 90 percent of the system (it’s 93 percent, according to private estimates) where no worthwhile education is delivered, why focus on the remaining 10 percent? Is this not an attempt to solve the problem from the wrong end? Or an attempt to pretend attempting a solution by shifting it to someone else’s shoulder?

On the other hand, the RTE could actually end up destroying the low-cost entrepreneurial schools that came up in response to the failure of the public schooling system to deliver the goods.

What makes this doubly dangerous is that this small group of private schools already caters to 40 percent of schooling demand in the country.

As an article in India Today points out, “That government schools are of poor quality is evident from the fact that 40 percent of school-going children in India attend private schools, which constitute only 7 percent of the schools.”

The future looks dicey: the 7 percent which caters to 40 percent of school-going children will now have to reserve another 25 percent – which means 7 percent of schools will cater to 50 percent of the school demand!

But even assuming the government has touching faith in these private schools to do what is really its job, is the RTE an instrument for empowering these schools or debauching them?

Manish Sabharwal, Chairman of TeamLease, a firm that offers temporary hires to companies and institutions, is clear that the RTE will damage private schools beyond repair. And he gives five reasons why: it will lower capacities, as many private schools will opt out, it will result in higher costs, reduce competition, increase corruption and create more confusion in the education.

According to Sabharwal, the “RTE timetables the extinction of 15 lakh ‘unrecognised’ private schools where parents pay something to avoid something that is free (state schools, that is)…RTE unleashes rules that lead to higher costs, corruption and confusion. This hostile habitat will halt the explosion of education entrepreneurship and blunt competition that creates quality.”

Sabharwal’s logic: “If the central government can’t make up its mind if 24 percent or 42 percent of India is poor, how will a block education officer decide which child is poor? In reality, they will auction their poverty certification to the highest bidder. RTE empowers BEOs to convert every school into a personal ATM. Not all, but most will.”

In fact, what is meant to promote inclusivism, will end up pushing up costs all around – defeating the very purpose of universalising education. While Sabharwal clearly says that the RTE will lead to higher school fees since “the central and state governments don’t have the Rs 2 lakh crore needed for fair implementation,” Pratap Bhanu Mehta, writing in The Indian Express, confirms that the Act will unfairly burden the lower middle class.

“The serious problem with the RTE is not 25 percent reservations. There is no expropriation insofar as schools are being compensated to some degree. But the court’s vague homilies on burden-sharing skirt a fundamental issue of fairness. In funding by taxation we usually adopt progressive taxation. In the current scheme there is a real danger that a proportionately much larger burden may fall on relatively lower middle class parents than rich ones. The argument for exempting minority institutions seems bogus,” says Mehta.

An article in Outlook magazine captures the sense of disquiet among middle class parents of private schools who fret that their fees will go even higher when they have already been raised to unaffordable levels to enable higher salaries for teachers.

Sabharwal would concur: “RTE essentially mandates a huge rise in school fees. It micro-specifies salaries, qualifications and infrastructure. Delhi schools that don’t pay a minimum of Rs 23,000 per month to teachers will not receive recognition and specifies that primary teachers must have a two-year education diploma; this means that 33 percent of teachers have to be fired,” he wrote in The Economic Times.

Surely an Act that would require (reality will surely force a rethink) the firing of 33 percent of the resource in shortest supply (good teachers) is seriously flawed?

The hole at the heart of the RTE is that there is no pipeline of supplies of good teachers to enable it to work.

At a time when the latest results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) suggest that “learning inside Indian elementary schools (primary and upper primary) are a national scandal” (read here), one wonders if the RTE is really the answer to our education and empowerment problems or something that will compound these issues.

Firstpost, 23 April 2012

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