In the budget last year, the central government allocated 42,000 crore rupees to school education. The major part of this allocation is spent on teacher salaries. A World Bank study reveals that on an average 25% teachers are absent every day in government schools and every year, the cost of teacher absenteeism is around 8000 crores rupees to India. Moreover, the size of private coaching industry in India in 2015 was estimated to be around 2.5 lakh crore rupees. In metros, 87% of primary school children and up to 95% secondary school children attend private tutoring. In rural areas, around 30% school children go to paid private tuition. The private school expenditure (by parents) is not even considered here! In spite of all the enormous expenditure, learning still remains an urgent challenge. Pratham’s survey has repeatedly revealed that in rural India, around 50% grade-5 children did not have grade-2 level literacy and numeracy skills.
The demand for school voucher system, where public money directly follows the child rather than schools or teachers, is getting momentum. In the school voucher system, the school that the parents and students choose gets the funding. School vouchers are coupons that can be redeemed for educational services by schools. However, I feel we should go even further by allowing parents to let their children learn anywhere they want. It could be a government school, a private school, a private tuition or it could even be homeschooling. Instead of focusing on every child is actually going to school, the government could focus on ensuring that every child is learning. The government can ensure this by developing and regulating standards to monitor and measure learning. The government can evaluate whether a child has mastered certain concepts and skills in a particular subject. This need not be age or grade specific. For example, a 10-year old girl could very well be at level 5 in Mathematics, at level 3 in Language and at level 7 in Music.
It’s time we shift our paradigm from ‘getting children to school and teaching them at grade level’ to ‘children mastering concepts and skills’. This could also include skills that are currently not in the curriculum.