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Why We Should Shut Down Some Schools In India

29/09/2016 11:00 AM IST | Updated 19/10/2016 8:36 AM IST
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Something is terribly wrong with the education system in India. Under the policies of Right to Education and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan we've lost focus on what education is supposed to be.

Both the programs have only concentrated on access to schools, not really bothering with what goes on in the school itself. There are now 14 lakh schools in India; 98% of rural habitations have a primary school within 1 km and 92% have an upper primary school within 3 km.

The number of Class II students from government schools who could not recognize letters has increased from 13.4% in 2010 to 32.5% in 2014.

We've spent crores of rupees into building school infrastructure and it has led to dramatic results. The enrollment in primary schools is over 96%, which is a cause for celebration, but the students in school really don't learn much—which should be a cause for great concern.


The Ministry of Human Resource Development just didn't focus on measuring the quality of education for many years. Their most comprehensive report—U-DISE or the District Information System for Education report from NUEPA mostly focused on infrastructure.

This gave rise to a report called ASER (Annual Status of Education Report), published by a private NGO called Pratham. The organization has been publishing the report since 2004 and covers over 90% of India's districts. These reports have shown that the quality of education in our schools is not only abysmal, but it's also getting worse.

From 2006 to 2014, the non-enrollment has declined from 4% to 2%, but the quality has declined even more. The number of Class II students from government schools who could not recognize letters has increased from 13.4% in 2010 to 32.5% in 2014. The data also shows that more than half of the students in Class V can't read Class II texts.

The number of Class III students who can do subtraction has fallen from 35% to 25%. These figures are gravely worrying.

The worse fact is that this gap in education is growing between private and government schools, and the parents recognize this. Enrollment in private schools has risen from 20% to 30%, showing that parents would much rather send their children to private schools.

The poor quality of the nation's schools are now also showing up on governmental reports like the National Achievement Survey, and hopefully something will be done to fix this soon, before we produce a generation that has attended school but is largely uneducated. On the other hand we have refused to participate in the Programme for International Student Assessment or the PISA survey since 2009, when two of our best states for education, Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, were both in the bottom three out of 74 nations. Instead of taking the test as an opportunity to improve outcomes with a set target, we just hid the report card.

Rather than lots of small schools, let's make some big ones with enough staff, and provide quality transportation for village clusters.

What's really surprising is that this isn't about money. Government school teachers have much higher salaries than teachers in private schools, even when the government school is in a rural area and the private school is in an urban one. The salary of a government schoolteacher is ₹30,000-40,000 a month while a private school teacher makes ₹2000-25,000 monthly.

The only explanation for this divergence is misguided policy that must be corrected. Our policies have just led us down the wrong path. We've simply built too many schools and lost focus from teaching. This might seem radical, but the solution might be to break down some schools and consolidate them. Fourteen lakhs is just too many schools to monitor.

Most of them have fewer than three teachers, meaning that there isn't a dedicated teacher for many of the subjects. Worse yet, the teachers often simultaneously have to teach multiple standards because there aren't enough teachers for all the classrooms.

The focus needs to be on teaching and quality education. Rather than lots of small schools, let's make some big ones with enough staff, and provide quality transportation for village clusters. Let's mandate that the road between each village and the schools and hospitals must be in pristine condition, and let's ply buses.

If the schools are big, then dedicated staff can look after schemes like mid-day meals, and it doesn't need to be a concern for teachers. Right now it's much more likely for a teacher to be suspended for not providing mid-day meals properly than it is for them to get suspended for not teaching anything for years. If we are already paying government schoolteachers more than private school teachers, we need to demand the quality that our children deserve.

Access to schools in India has been overdone, and the outcomes have only deteriorated as we've built more schools.

We should also enact performance-based promotions and bonuses to teachers, but not in a model where they benefit from grades. The No Child Left Behind policy in America has shown how willing teachers are to cheat when pay is linked to performance—and I'm sure it'll happen in India. We should link teacher compensation to community assessments, like it's done in Singapore. The parents by and large know which teacher is teaching well and putting in the effort, and are able to rate the teacher's performance.

The focus for education now needs to shift to quality. Access to schools in India has been overdone, and the outcomes have only deteriorated as we've built more schools. We need is a focus on outcomes, even if that happens by decreasing the number of schools.

Original analysis done by DRI Networks.

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