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

No comments: