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Economic growth must precede education growth

Education, Private schools

17-03-2014

The Financial Express

Christopher Lingle is currently visiting professor of economics at the Universidad Francisco Marroquín in Guatemala; adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney; and research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi. He also operates an independent consultancy advising clients on economic and political risk in emerging market economies. During his recent India visit, he discussed with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary the education scenario in the sub-continent and why economic growth must precede education growth. Excerpts:

What should be a government’s role as far as providing education is concerned?

Let’s understand that providing education in-the-name-of-the-poor is nothing but public-sector waste. Private education providers can serve the poor much better than government. The government should turn to, say, a voucher system to allow private providers compete with public schools. Believe it or not, formal education is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for economic success. People are not poor because they are uneducated, people are poor because they do not have jobs. There are not enough jobs being created because there is not ‘enough’ fresh capital investment and investment in infrastructure that can allow incomes to rise. The fault lies with the government that has been unwilling to undertake economic reform that would encourage more investment.

So you mean economic growth must precede education growth…

Of course, consider the Industrial Revolution—imagine the factory-owners in England telling the workers, “No, you must be educated before you enter the factory gates!” The Revolution would have simply died down. Poor countries, many opine, must grow richer so that they can afford to educate their people.

What role can the private sector play in educating the poor?

Many observers do believe that the private sector has little to offer in terms of reaching the UN Millennium Development Goal of ‘education for all’ by 2015. Often, unregistered or unrecognised private schools are thought to be of low quality. But James Tooley, the professor of education policy at the University of Newcastle, found from a two-year study in India and some African countries that these assumptions are not entirely correct. Private schools, Tooley argued in his paper that he published with Pauline Dixon of Newcastle, can play and are playing an important, if unsung, role in reaching the poor and satisfying their educational needs. They note that there is considerably higher student achievement in private schools than in government schools. In fact, they studied schools in Hyderabad and found that mean scores in mathematics were more than 20 percentage points higher in private unrecognised and recognised schools than in government schools. Similar was the case as far as the students’ knowledge of the English language was concerned.

What are your views on the Foreign Education Providers Bill that has been hanging for quite some time now?

Why do you need foreign universities to come to India, set up campuses and start teaching Indian students? First, make it easier for the Indian private sector to provide education within the country. Let the foreigners come later.

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