Monday, June 19, 2006

Education Voucher - a policy statement

NCERT Director, Prof. Krishna Kumar, has resolutely rebuked the voucher system of funding education on several grounds. He claims that vouchers may in fact be ‘sold’ for cash by needy parents. Firstly, vouchers do not involve cash transactions. The parent in whose child’s name the voucher has been issued deposits the voucher in her school of choice. The school’s bank debits the government for that amount on admission of the child. Eleven countries, so far, have adopted the voucher system in some form or the other. Many of those vouchers have catered to populations with similar demographics as India. Countries, however, have not faced a problem where the poor sell their vouchers for cash. To tackle malpractices, one would have to evolve mechanisms and implement them in a way that makes the system foolproof. Secondly, poor parents in India are realising the importance of good education to life. They are willing to impinge on their meagre resources to provide education for their child. In the slums of Sangam Vihar, Delhi, parents are spending almost 40% of their earnings on education even when there are free government schools in the vicinity.

Vouchers are a means to funding education for the poor so that they can choose the education they want, whether it is private or government. They make good education accessible to the poor who have long been captive consumers of ‘free’ government education. It is undeniable that education is intended to prepare one for life’s complexities. But one must not forget that the poor, just as the rich, view education as a great economic leveller. In that, they intend to secure well paying jobs with their education. To deny them a competitive edge on a level playing field is as sacrilegious as ‘not preparing them for life’. We cannot deny the fact that the state has a duty to guarantee ‘good quality’ education. The government has been fulfilling its duty by building schools that provide ‘free’ education for the poor. On an average city governments spend close to Rs. 1000-1700/- per child per month on education. But the quality of that education is debatable. According to the ASER report, almost 60% of children in government schools in Std. V could neither solve simple division problems and 40% could not read level-2 paragraphs. By guaranteeing these children access to a better education outside government schools, the government is guaranteeing them social and economic justice and, an opportunity to rise above their economic limitations. That achieves more social justice than building more and more mediocre government schools.

In the current scenario, there are several impediments for opening schools. Which is why we have so few schools in India, approximately, 0.95 million. So, for vouchers to be a successful model, it is important to encourage new schools to be opened. Not just government but private. In a voucher system of funding, the funds directly go the students (the actual beneficiaries) and not to the schools. In such a system the government has a larger role to play to ensure that all schools (government and private) publish their performance reports and make it accessible to the public. By providing better information about school quality to parents, they will be enabled to make an informed choice. Independent agency evaluations of schools and the subsequent publishing of reports will, in the long run, also create accurate quality benchmarks for private schools thus making them more competitive to provide better services.

The voucher system is not intended to phase the government out of education completely but to enhance the quality of education that it guarantees.
source:Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Employment exchanges spend Rs 20 crore to fill 902 vacancies

Ila Patnaik
NEW DELHI, MAY 2:Amid May Day celebrations, here’s a wake-up call from the government’s employment exchanges. A recent report on these exchanges in Delhi shows that in the last five years, only 902 of the 5 lakh candidates who registered have got jobs through them. The 902 placements were made at a total cost of Rs 20 crore—in other words, each placement cost the government Rs 2.3 lakh.
The report on the State of Governance in Delhi, by the Centre for Civil Society, covers the 20 employment exchanges in Delhi from the period 2000 to 2004. The 250 government officials who work in these exchanges made 123 placements in 2000, followed by 48 in 2001. The number rose to 138 in 2002, but after a spike in 2003 to 426, placements fell to 167 in 2004. On an average, every staff member barely managed one placement a year.

The blame, of course, doesn’t lie with the staff. In an era where government enterprises manage their own recruitment work, there is little that comes the way of employment exchanges. The exchanges are not meant to cater to the private sector.

The Directorate of Employment that runs these exchanges was initially set up at the end of the Second World War, in July 1945, to resettle returning soldiers. They mainly tapped public sector undertakings.

But today the Staff Selection Commission, the Railways Recruitment Board, the Banking Service Commission and other recruiting agencies do the job for PSUs. Only stray cases of lower-level jobs are routed through these exchanges.

Plus, registration with these exchanges is no mean task. One has to have been a resident of Delhi for at least three years—the proof of residence can either be a ration card issued at least a year ago, or a name in the electoral list. In addition, a certificate of educational qualification from an institution in Delhi has to be provided.

The problem is not restricted to Delhi. According to the Annual Report of the Ministry of Labour, 2005-06, the Directorate of Employment runs 947 exchanges across the country, with a total staff strength of 2,527. The data on placements made by all exchanges is not easily available, but what is available is no different from Delhi’s.

For example, statistics from the Visakhapatnam District Employment Exchange show that in 2001, while there were 82,871 live registrations for technical and unskilled jobs, the number of vacancies was 246 and placements 67. In the clerical category, while the live register showed 1,51,933 candidates, the number of vacancies notified during 2001 were 112 and placements were 50.

Some would say it is a blessing then that the money budgeted for the Directorate of Employment—Rs 3,666 crore in the Tenth Plan—does not get spent entirely. In the Ninth Five Year Plan the Delhi government was able to spend only Rs 2 crore of the Rs 3.5 crore available.

Others point out that if Delhi spent an additional Rs 4 crore on building infrastructure every year instead, it would have more than the 200 jobs employment exchanges come up with.

But if experts are questioning the very need for such employment exchanges citing these figures, the government is intent on redefining their role to find more work for the staff and computerisation for better information flow. The Delhi government is even planning a new employment exchange building at Daryaganj, expected to cost Rs 265 lakh, apart from a Rs 250-lakh project to build a computerised system to help registration.