The most important policy statement yet from the new government came from human resources development minister Smriti Irani last week. She said the Modi government will bring in a new national education policy after a gap of 28 years. Our primary, secondary and higher education sectors are in a shambles. The statute books guarantee the right to education.
But try telling that to a headmaster or a principal of a government school anywhere in the country. Recently, two Dalit children were denied admission by an East Delhi government school. It was only after the mother's employers made a strong intervention that one child was admitted. The other, 11-year-old Krishna, is to be tested again by the wise teachers. The law says education is a right and no child can be cheated of this.
Also, no child can be made to undergo any test to seek admission to a government school. But try telling a government school teacher this. Humongous amounts of money are being spent on regular government schools and special schemes such as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan to educate miserably poor students like Krishna. But all that money has been wasted on building contracts and on insensitive teachers who refuse to understand the great mission of shaping the nation's future. Most of them are not interested in their students and even if some of them want to teach, they are dragged down by the system that does not incentivise sensitivity or integrity.
The problem lies in the mixed structure of the sector. It is a money-spinning industry at one level and at another a drain on the nation's resources. So private schools, many promoted by politicians or religious bodies like the Church, have thrived. They all impart good education and also make a lot of money. Without a paisa from the government, they have grown, branched out of their homesteads and become recognisable brands across the country.
Profit-motive is the life force of a private enterprise. When education becomes a profit-making activity, there is no real space for welfare mechanisms such as government schools. While unorganized private school teachers work without respite or job security or government-approved salaries, unionised government teachers take an assured takehome packet, send their children to private schools and thereby proclaim their own inefficiency and moral bankruptcy. Sure, government schools can be turned around, and rather easily.
From the school teachers, to district education officials, to the state education secretary, to the education minister, all of them should be made accountable to their jobs, salaries and beacon-fitted cars by sending their own children and grandchildren to government schools. Overnight, there would be a sea change in the quality of education. A school is judged by the quality of the parents and not by the teachers.
The school where the district collector's daughter studies automatically becomes the best in the district headquarters. There are many government schools in Lutyens Delhi, where only babus' domestic staff dare send their children to. The basic notion of neighbourhood schools has thus been turned on its head by the Lutyens Delhi policy-makers by sending their own children to far away private schools and turning the government schools to places were only the servants' children are taught to play truant. Let us shut down the schools that are not good enough for their own teachers and the babus who run them.
In fact, the entire education department should be dismantled and the schools privatised. Already, politicians of all hues, from Hindiloving BJP leaders to CPI (M) politbureau members don't seem to be sending their children to vernacular-medium local government schools. Let the government own the premises and hand over the infrastructure to private contractors.
Profit-making education entrepreneurs such as Delhi Public School or the Aurobindo society or the Catholic Church can bid for the big, beautiful schools and can turn them all around assuring quality education. Instead of paying salaries and pensions for teachers and their babus, let the government pay for each student's education, rich and poor, in every such government school operated by an education entrepreneur. After all, isn't the government supposed to pay for the student?