Education is the sector, which gives the highest return on investment for a country. The current education surveys paint a dismal picture of the manner in which we are preparing our future citizens. However with every new government, there comes new hope and therefore we hope that the new government of India will look at reforms in education which will power the country into the 21st century. Some of the points that should be stressed include:
Creating competition: Currently it has been noticed that any schools tend to fleece the parents by putting unnecessary demands and hikes in fees and parents have no choice but to comply. Naturally, the complaints combined with populism results in legislations such as fee control – which hurt everyone -the schools, the teachers (who get pay cuts) and eventually the students as innovations come to a halt as the focus of school is purely on cost control. Instead of trying to curb the schools the government should create an environment to increase the supply of school so that parents have a choice and the resulting competition will push up quality. In such a scenario – to attract the best of capital and minds to the sector, the government could also permit education models, which allow return on capital models in education without any scope for profiteering
Better PPP participation: The task of educating the millions of the country cannot be done by the private or government sector alone. There is a trust deficit between the government and the private sector, which needs to be bridged. If the two can join hands with their respective strengths, the country can become the knowledge hub of the world. The government tends to announce “well meaning” schemes in education but they are mostly poor in implementation. Therefore it needs to involve the private sector in implementation of schemes at the local level with clear outcome parameters defined. Else there is a danger that automation will take over the majority of jobs which our 19th century designed education systems is designed to create.
Encourage education startups: The current education system is broken. How can something, which was designed to produce workers and conformists for the assembly line work for the disruptive times of today? The solutions are not going to come from the current institutions or the government but through education startups, especially Edtech. However, the school and college acceptance of new products and services is slow.The government should give income tax and GST exemptions, SEZ type facilities for such solutions providers which are involved in up skilling, giving services to schools as the cost of the tax is passed on to the students. Furthermore, such tax exemptions will enable them to stay afloat for longer periods.
Start the voucher system: The government should also experiment with the voucher system under which the government gives a prepaid voucher, which the parents can spend at any government or private institution. In this model the private and government sector would have to compete on quality to attract all segments of the population as opposed to the current system wherein the “haves” tend to go to the private school and the “have nots” (which are a majority) tend to join the government sector. This healthy flow of vouchers in the hands of the majority will attract the best of talents and can bring capital to this much-needed sector and those who cannot compete will fail to survive. The customer will truly have a choice and it will be a level playing field. India is a unique country. We have populations living in sub Saharan conditions and need education to break the poverty cycle we have people who aspire to compete with the best in the world. Our challenges are unique and our solution to these challenges will be unique. Looking at Singapore, UK, Finland and imposing their best practices will not work. India has to look inwards and take the lead in education reform and with the right intent we shall find solutions to our challenges. With the new government, it is a new start. We have to make a difference. The world is waiting for India.
The writer is vice chairman and managing director, Shemford Group of Futuristic Schools