In my previous pieces about RtE, it might have seemed that all I was doing was finding fault with what was done. My arguments ranged from
- Education is not a right. Therefore, the RtE Act is fundamentally and fatally flawed
- Education is not schooling. By focusing on “compulsory schooling”, the RtE Act becomes even more flawed.
- Government control over education destroys education. The RtE Act strengthens government’s stranglehold on education. Hence, the RtE Act is inimical to education.
Having said these, I’ll now move on to the other important part – What should have been done. The policy prescriptions I shall lay out in this article are relevant even today when the RtE Act has been passed.
Step 1 – Repeal RtE Act
It is important to reverse damage already done before launching on corrective action. As I have already explained, the RtE Act is a definite step towards destroying the very foundation of education. Repealing it is therefore the first step in the right direction.
Step 2 – Open all Boards of Education to Private Candidates
At present, it is impossible for a student who does not study in a school affiliated to the CBSE or the ICSE to appear for the examinations conducted by these boards. You might respond with the question “Why don’t these students appear for the exams of the Boards that allow private candidates to write the exams?”
Two points on this issue. The first is the question of what sort of education will be delivered. If you have to score well in the Tamil Nadu State Board examination, you don’t need education. You need drilling. What a criminal waste of 2 years!! I am sure that many people from different states may each think their State Board is worse, but that just underscores my point.
The second is that this is only one step in the process. The next step I suggest will explain the relevance of this step further.
Step 3 – Eliminate all recognition and affiliation requirements for schools
In effect, what I am saying is that free education. Let anyone run a school anyway. I should not need government recognition or affiliation with any Board. This will do a number of wondrous things for education.
- A school will no more need to be run only by a ‘not-for-profit’ body such as a Trust, Society or a Section-25 Company. This move automatically makes education an “industry” on par with others. Investing in education becomes much simpler and creates room for anyone with entrepreneurial capabilities to start a school.
- A school will no more need to invest huge amounts in land and building before it starts off. I could start a school in a rented house and rent out more houses as I grow in size. A large part of the capital investment currently required to start a school completely vanishes from the scene. Thus, the entry barriers that prevent competent people from starting school will vanish completely.
- Combined with Step 2, children will no more be tied to a particular school. They could walk out of one school and walk into another just as smoothly as you could give up your membership in one gym and become a member at another.
- Schools will be free to teach as they please. This means that they could even teach only particular subjects they are good at. A good Maths teacher could start a Maths training institute where children receive excellent education in that subject. Another teacher who is good at some other subject, say Physics, would establish a Physics Academy that would provide excellent education in Physics. Some of these people may even tie-up to offer means by which a student could attend classes on various subjects on the same day and maybe even the same place.
- Parents and children will be free to study as they please. Parents could admit their child in a traditional school if they think that is the best thing for their child. Some else who feels that given his/her child’s aptitude, attitude and interest, a focused education in particular areas and in a sequence of their own choice is better may choose a clutch of non-traditional set-ups that provide specialized education in particular subjects of study. Some others may even engage private tutors, if they could afford it, thus providing for home education.
These are just a sample of the beneficial effects of a move to abolish compulsory recognition and affiliation.
Why will these steps save education, at least at the school level?
They will save education because they release education from the stranglehold of government. They will unleash the power of entrepreneurship and drive choice and quality in education. Providers of education will be exposed to the forces of competition, thus driving them to provide quality education as sought by the customer. Children and parents will no more be “at the mercy” of schools.
What about the poor?
I have a one word answer – charity. I also believe that there are enough charitable souls in this world who will donate for the cause of educating a poor child, all the more so if the child is desirous of and ready to work hard for an education. I am also quite certain that it is in the interests of schools themselves, especially schools delivering quality education and in with a long-term view of education, to set up charities and actively seek contributions from those willing to fund the education of children from poor families. Who knows which spark is hidden in which child? For the sake of churning out that one unbelievably brilliant child who, unfortunately, was born poor but who, if given a good education, would be a great brand ambassador for his/her school, I would definitely start such a charity the day I set up my school. Schools don’t need an RtE to force them to admit poor children. They just need to be exposed to the forces of the free market.
Contrary to what has been done in the form of passing the RtE, the right step to take to re-invigorate education and ensure its widest possible availability at the best quality and at a price that each person is ready to pay is to liberate it from the clutches of government. This will include repealing the RtE, modifying the charters of the Boards of education to allow students to write Board Exams without studying in an affiliated school and ultimately eliminating the requirement that schools require recognition from the State Government concerned and affiliation to a Board of education.