In my previous piece, I had focused on how education is not a right. This time, I shall take another fundamental problem with the Right to Education Act. Many people might not know it, but what we commonly recognise as RtE is actually called ‘The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009’.
As per The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009,
Every child of the age of six to fourteen years shall have a right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education
The simplest thing that we can infer from this is that as per the RtE Act, education is synonymous with schooling. In simpler terms, education is schooling and vice versa. Frankly, this error alone shows the RtE Act to be a document that demonstrates the complete intellectual vacuity of the people who drafted it.
What is education and why do we need it?
Education is a process of gathering knowledge, skills, values and attitudes. Education involves the grasping of concepts and principles and learning to apply these to tackle the wide variety of challenges we face in our life. Learning to bake bread is as much education as learning to solve partial differential equations is.
We need education because an education can help us achieve more in life than we would without an education. Armed with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that a good education can confer on us, we can lead a more fulfilling life. The effects of a good education can be felt on the professional as well as personal front.
An education with a sharp focus on particular areas can make us an expert in those areas. Such expertise, if valued by others, can even help us develop a career in that area. For instance, an education focusing on what the human body is and how it works can help a person become a medical professional. An education focusing on creative expression in the written form can help a person become a novelist by profession.
What is schooling?
Schooling is just a particular way of delivering education. A school is an establishment that puts together the people, materials and educational methodology required to offer an experience leading to education.
Is Schooling essential for education?
Frankly, it is not. Education can just as well happen at home. The growing home-schooling movement in the US and its off-shoot in India is proof of that. At one level, one can even say that schooling is a very inefficient method of education because it lumps together students of varying capabilities, levels of development and different learning methods into “classes” in which the same instruction is given to every student. The inevitable outcome of a classroom environment is deteriorating standards as the education is progressively dumbed down to the level of the slowest students.
The advantage of schooling
The main advantage of schooling is the cost, especially in comparison with better options. While the best form of education might be personal tutoring, it is so expensive that most people cannot afford it. Schooling allows for far higher economies of scale by dividing the process of education into many stages and grouping together many children at each such stage into a class. Further, a set of tutors may cater to multiple classes in a single day by framing and adhering to a time-table. Thus, the cost of tutoring is defrayed over many children, thus making it possible to offer education at prices much lower than for personal tutoring. This advantage in fact makes a school a viable business proposition where entrepreneurs could earn a profit by delivering education.
The disadvantage of schooling
Schooling (as it exists today) is a capital intensive business. Huge investments need to be made to set up a good school. As per today’s estimates, that could be anywhere from Rs. 15 to 25 Cr to cater to around 1200-1300 children. Even these figures assume that land is available at a cost of Rs. 4-5 Cr. To make it even tougher, merely pouring a lot of money does not make a good school. The quality of a school depends on the quality of the people running the school and the people structuring, organising and delivering the education. Every bit of this costs a lot of money. All this makes a school a very long gestation project. A well-run school can take around 7-8 years to pay back the investments made in it. A poorly managed school can be a drain for a long time to come. It takes a person with a lot of commitment to education and a very strong stomach to start and run one.
The Fallacy of the RtE
The Right to Education Act should actually be called the Compulsory Schooling Act. All it does is to declare that every child should compulsorily attend a school. In doing so, it assumes that such a step automatically guarantees that every child gets an education so that it may legitimately be called the Right to Education Act. Talk of the mother of all fallacies.
What else could have been done?
To answer this question, let us address a very basic point – Why does a huge proportion of our population not receive education? As an additional point, why does a huge proportion of those who do receive education receive substandard education?
The answer lies simply in the fact that we have chosen schooling as the primary, or rather the sole vehicle of delivering education. To be a little more explicit about it, schooling has been thrust upon the people of India as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to get an education. Not just schooling but an entire educational establishment consisting of schools, colleges and universities has been thrust upon us. Even worse, this entire establishment is a part of and is controlled by – guess who – no prizes for guessing – Government.
Doubt what I say? The CBSE, the ICSE, various State Boards of Education, the Departments of Education of various state governments, a chain of government schools, a vast network of private aided and unaided schools (compulsorily) affiliated to one or the other of these boards – this is our system of “education” at the school level. The UGC, the AICTE, Universities, affiliated colleges – this is our system of higher “education”. I wonder which part of this is not controlled by government.
Now here’s what could have been done – You could have freed education from the clutches of government. You could have disbanded all the bodies mentioned above (and many more not mentioned above). You could have completely eliminated government’s stranglehold on education. You think I am nuts? I’ll explain my position in my next article. For the moment, I’ll stick to the consequences of such an action.
The consequences of implementing my idea
Very simply, no one who needs an education will have to go to a school. People can get an education through whatever means they please. To some, it would mean home education. To others, it would be learning through apprenticeship. To yet others, it would indeed be studying at an organised set-up like a school or a college.
In the absence of government control, the free market would throw up a variety of solutions to meet the educational needs of people belonging to various strata of society. The super-rich would engage private tutors to educate their children. The rich would send their children to high-end private schools. The middle class would send their children to more modest establishments charging them as much as they can pay. The poor would send their children to schools run by charitable institutions founded by philanthropists (I am quite sure there would be many in a free society who would donate to such causes). Those who can’t do any of this would still be free to study on their own or focus on developing skills that would make them employable.
A good number of people would not even go to schools to get an education. They would go to establishments that offer education but do not fit into the category of schools. These would be establishments running out of apartments and other rented premises. Before you deride these as “sweat shops”, please bear in mind that what they are sweating out is their assets. The better they sweat their assets out, the more likely it is that their service continues to be offered.
Many others would educate themselves on their own based on educational materials available on the market. This would include books, educational CDs, distance learning programmes, etc. The poor who cannot afford to buy these could educate themselves through books obtained on a hand-me-down basis. Some may choose to harness the power of the internet to educate themselves or their children.
Certifying agencies would crop up on a for-profit basis because there would be a crying need for each person to demonstrate what he/she knows and how well. No more CBSE or ICSE Board Exams to be written when you complete X or XII standard after going through 12-16 years of schooling. You would be able to write these certifying exams at various points in time in the year, meaning at a time and place of your choosing. That in turn means no more exam pressure than you put on yourself because you want to perform well in the certifying exam. Not just that. Fast learners could write their exams earlier while slow learners could write it later. No bright student would need to be held back because other slow learners in his class aren’t able to cope. No slow learner needs to suffer the anguish of being labelled incompetent or dull just because he takes a little longer to learn. You wouldn’t be required to attend a single day of school either. That also means that parents and children are no more at the mercy of the school. Attend a school only if you think it is worth it. Don’t like a school? Walk out today. Enough people will welcome you/your child with open arms.
Rating agencies would crop up to rate schools, non-school established education providers, certifying agencies, etc. The ratings would indicate the quality and reliability of the service being offered (because these are the critical aspects). Competition between educational establishments would now also be on the ratings they get from such agencies. There would also be multiple rating agencies competing on their respective credibility.
A common allegation thrown at a free market in education is that schools would fleece students and offer them substandard education. This allegation is laughable because as outlined above, on a free market, parents would be free to move their child in and out of any school whenever they pleased. They or the schools to which they move would be answerable to no one but themselves. One school delivering poor quality or high cost education is an open invitation to a more competent person to set up a good quality and/or lower cost school and attract dissatisfied customers of the poorly run/expensive school. Further, on a free market, the entry barriers that today prevent people from starting schools would be completely absent. There would no more be a need to have land and building of your own or on 30 year lease to start a school. All it would take is a rented apartment and you could be in the business of education. You could even rent out class-rooms from established schools and colleges outside of their working hours and offer your education (I’ve been doing precisely this for 11 years now. So don’t tell me it’s not possible).
All this, however, would mean elimination of the power of the establishment over our lives. That does not suit the establishment, does it? No wonder then that they passed the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.