The Education Puzzle

This is a Guest Post by Ashutosh Tosaria. Ashutosh spends his time solving the puzzles that the education sector is muddled with. In his spare time, he works with an organisation which supports initiatives which seek to strengthen the elementary education sector in India.

Every child in school, getting quality education. The simple statement packs in itself many questions and confusions, some of which I would try to highlight here.
Let’s look at the supply chain of schooling. As is true with supply chains elsewhere, school education also lends itself to a demand and supply side relationship. Between the demand and supply are a host of actors, institutions that provide education or support provision of education. All of this is governed by rules (both said and unsaid) and choices, which shape processes and the quality of the service on offer.
The demand for education comes from children and parents. Civil society too can be counted with these two but for the moment lets just focus on the real beneficiaries or rather the first tier benefeciaries- children and parents. Often, this demand is made amidst serious information asymmetry. How good a school is, what is it that my child is doing in the school, why is education important at all? These are some questions that help a parent decide if he/she wants to send the child to a school. Choice of school is slowly becoming a reality for parents in rural India, thanks to the spurt in low cost private schools that dot the landscape. On one hand we have the government schooling system which offers (almost) free education (there are certain costs incurred by parents) and on the other a private school that charges a fee and is mostly staffed with unqualified teachers. No doubt that the government school system is often found crumbling but the choice of a private school is made based on notions because kosher information is missing.
Now lets look at the supply side, which is dotted with autonomous, under funded private schools and reasonably well funded but non responsive government schools. The latter is situated in an byzantine education support system that fails to be the watchdog, leave aside being a support system. The constraints for a private school are related to unavailability/costs of funds, unviability of sustaining the business at human salaries (for employees) and absence of academic support. The quality of education in such private schools is no where close to comfortable levels. A lot of these schools are unrecognized and offer the owners a good opportunity to rob the parent and squeeze the teachers to make whatever ‘profit’ that is possible. The government school system does not offer much respite. Their are pockets of excellence in villages and districts but delivering quality in learning is still a long way away for most. Unionization of teachers, vested interests of education babus (from cluster to state level) and indifference of the elected representatives makes it difficult to hold anyone accountable. One could go on and on about what doesn’t work or what does but we would leave that for a later day and jump to the important constituent of this chain- the teacher.
A teacher connects the child to the world as well as connects the school to its audience (parents and children). Drawing the idea of a keystone in a distribution system (from another post i saw here), a teacher in many ways is the keystone in the system. She anchors many the classroom and manages the expectations and demands of various stakeholders of the education system. strong anchors go a long way in keeping things nicely coupled and ensuring robust flow of services.
What is needed to ensure a secure and efficient supply chain?
– Informed participation (the recipient knows the quality and the provider is responsive)
– Transparency (resources and contraints are identifiable, practices are questionable, solutions are possible)
– Responsibility (the buck should stop where it’s supposed to)

4 thoughts on “The Education Puzzle

  1. Taking your last three points on what is needed to ensure a secure and efficient supply chain, my question is, HOW do you do each of these?

    or in other words, do we have some examples (of existing practices, organisations) enabling the three things?

    1. 1- The parents should get as clear a picture as possible of what is going on in a classroom. Assessment is being used by school systems across the globe for this purpose. We need to be careful to to use assessment for two purposes- ascertain the status (how are school blocks, clusters, districts etc. placed) and for improvement (teachers get a real time picture of their practice and the students’ responsiveness). I have read that some states in US do this effectively but very few local examples. Assessment for improvement in teaching practice can be seen easily but informing parents about the school and their child’s well being/progress in it is not very common.

      2- Transparency is easier in low cost private schools but is still a dream in the govt school system. Some ideas- Reinvigorating the school inspection system (without the mindless inspection raj); treating a school as an autonomous unit- giving it the leeway to decide use of resources and holding it accountable, in other words focusing on school based management of inputs, processes and outputs; publishing school level report cards with use of resources, practices etc. for the community; giving forums to teachers to problem solve and interact.

      3- Take education closer to those for whom it matters the most- students and parents. Until and unless they understand what is going on and muster the courage to question buck passing would continue. A very good example is working in Madhya Pradesh- Shiksha Protsahan Kendras by Eklavya. The community seems to be responding to the experiment, but its just one of a few such initiatives.

  2. It is worth struggling to solve this puzzle!!

    If we really talk about the rural and remote locations and the everyday struggle that people face, in terms of financial crunch/Rozi-roti/livelihoods and also considering the fact that many of the “parents” who would now be taking a call on sending their kids to schools are themselves illiterate, it is tough to assume that they really would have the luxury of choosing a school in the first place, and choose it on the parameters like quality of education in these schools, teachers, infra etc.

    Just a thought!!

    1. Your use of the word luxury is apt here and that is the nemesis we have to tackle. I would not put choice (picking a school) as the most pressing concern because many villages still don’t have private schools and hence no option. I was trying to emphasize the availability of information to assess and question what is going on, be it a government school or a low cost private one. People do make choices in their lives, be it which crop to grow, which phone to buy etc etc. and they do so because they seek information and somebody gives it to them. The struggle here is to present whatever indicators are necessary in a form that is grasped by most, if not by everyone then atleast by the collective.

      The example that i mentioned- SPKs in M.P. do some of it. SO, a dadaji would come to the government teacher and say ‘mera bada beta 6th me hai aur apna naam nahi likh pata aur chota beta jo 2nd me hai (aur subah SPK jata hai) woh mera naam bhi likh leta hai.’ At one time, 20-30 parents took their bullock carts and went to the another village to check what was going on in their SPK. They came back and told their SPK caretaker ‘bhai waha to bachhe khub shor macha rahe the, yaha udaas kyo rehte hai.’ Small tipping points like these might topple the problems.

      Prajayatna, organization based in Bangalore, is one organization that has actively sought parents’ involvement in education. Read about them here-

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