I would like to thank Dr Shashi Tharoor for his recent article -- 'How Modi Government Is Undermining Indian Education'. Putting to use his years of experience, some of them spent in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), he has produced a set of figures in front of us that according to him illustrate the serious challenges that our education sector faces today.
Unfortunately, the data and analyses presented by Dr Tharoor are riddled with serious factual errors and selective representations that lead to a flawed conclusion.
It is erroneous to suggest that the troubles facing our education system have been exacerbated by the barely one-year-old Modi Sarkar, or, more specifically the incumbent HRD Minister Smriti Irani. They are, in fact, the legacy of previous governments passed on to her. Of course, one can hardly expect for Congressman Dr Tharoor to pick apart the failures of the past decade of UPA governance.
Here are 10 reasons why Dr Tharoor is wrong about the performance of the HRD Ministry led by Smriti Irani.
1. Apparent Budget cuts
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: Budget cuts show that the Modi Sarkar is not paying adequate attention to education.
One of the most significant changes that the current government has brought about is the concept of cooperative federalism. It is in complete contrast to the policy of the single- point control system of the Congress, and thus difficult for them to come to terms with.
The Modi Sarkar has acted on this concept and has shown confidence in a federal structure for better governance. The State share in the gross tax revenue has gone up from 32% to 42%, a significant 10% increase, as per the recommendation of 14th Finance Commission. To understand the magnitude of the change here is the table of allocation:
The state share has increased by a whopping 1.4 lakh crores from the last budget and about 2 lakh crores from the UPA budget, which is far higher than the combined central budget allocations delinked from the state schemes.
Dr Tharoor has either skipped reading or ignored a document titled 'Highlights of Plan 20152016'. It explains the change in strategy:
"The Plan outlay of 201516 reflects the compositional shift in the allocations for various Programmes and Schemes in view of higher devolution; 42% of Union Taxes, to States as per the recommendation of 14th Finance Commission. Consequent to this substantially higher devolution, many schemes on the state subjects are to be delinked from Central support. However, keeping in mind that some of these schemes represent national priorities especially those targeted at poverty alleviation, Centre has decided that it will continue to contribute to such schemes."
The fact is, education falls under the concurrent list and the governance of elementary and secondary schools are primarily administered by the states. The central government controls only 1700 Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas. It thus makes sense that states play a larger role in the contribution to the schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Mid Day Meal (MDM) from their increased revenue share and the Centre applies its resources to institutions and schemes under central subject. Therefore, we see a 9.7% reduction in Budget 201516 for school education but a 13.3% increase for higher education with respect to the revised estimates of 2014-15.
If the states were clamouring for central assistance and were unable to provide even their share of the contribution under Dr Tharoor's tenure, the Modi Sarkar has resolved the issue this year. Unlike the past, the states cannot now be referred to as "cash strapped". I take strong objection to Dr Tharoor's condescending statement where he refers to state governments as "governance challenged". It shows the fatalistic attitude of the Congress towards the state governments, and its misplaced belief in greater central control. In contrast, the Modi Sarkar sees the state governments as partners and not hindrances.
2. Funding for Higher Education (HE)
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: The government has reduced allocations across the board for HE. Inadequate funding for IITs.
The revised estimate for HE in the 201415 Budget was Rs 23,700 crore. However, Budget 201516 saw an increase of 13.3% above the revised estimate with an allocation of Rs 26,855 crore. This sector also sees a shift in allocations strategy, and a delinking of schemes under state subject.
"Rs 1000 crore for five IITs is inadequate for Dr Tharoor... [but] in the span of four years for eight new IITs only Rs 1350 crore were allotted by the UPA."
Dr Tharoor questions the seriousness of the government towards IIT because the budget allocates Rs 1000 crore for five new IITs. The budget for the initial year of a new institute is primarily meant for preparation and process-oriented activities that ensure the start of an institute from a temporary campus. The fund adequately meets this requirement.
If Rs 1000 crore for five IITs is inadequate for Dr Tharoor, then may I humbly submit a few figures from UPA budgets 2008 to 2012, when eight new IITs were announced.
20089: 3 new IITs (Rs 50 crore)
200910 : 3 new IITs (Rs 400 crore; actual Rs 248.5 crore)
201011 : Rs 400 crore
201112 : Rs 500 crore
Yes, sir! Believe it or not, in the span of four years for eight new IITs only Rs 1350 crore were allotted by UPA. Do not miss the princely Rs 50 crore for three IITs in 2008-9.
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: "The picture of enrollment is more encouraging."
The gross enrolment ratio presented by Dr Tharoor (over 101% at primary level) is correct, but what he avoided showcasing was the rapid decline in gross enrollment ratio (GER) during the later tenure of the UPA i.e. from 116% in 200910 to 101.4% in 201314 taking India back by a decade (GER 2004: 98.2%)
4. Out-of-school children
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: The MHRD's math is wrong. Outofschool children have increased from 30 lakh to 60 lakh.
Dr Tharoor reiterates the data presented by him in Parliament despite being corrected by the HRD minister. In his article he quotes surveys to make it sound credible. He compares data from two different sources that have consistently had a large difference in reporting outofschool students. One is a compiled data of surveys by individual states (SSA: State Aurvey Assessment) and the second one is the national-level household survey (SRIIMRB) commissioned by the MHRD which is used for all official national-level publications.
2005 - 7 million
2012 - 3 million
2005 - 13.5 million
2009 - 8.15 million
2014 - 6 million
Intentionally or otherwise Dr Tharoor compared the 2012 data of the SSA with that of the 2014 data of the SRIIMRB. He presented his analysis in Parliament as well as in the article. I wonder what he will conclude by comparing the 2005 data of the two studies. Did the out-of-students increase or decrease by 6.5 million during the same year?
"The MHRD figures are not incorrect. To Dr Tharoor: yes sir! Your math is wrong and so is your research."
The only document that cites the SSA 2012 figure is the August 2014 UNICEF report titled 'Global Initiative on OutofSchool Children - India'. It compares the difference in the 2005 data and clearly states :"The numbers of outofschool children based on these state surveys could be underestimates."
This sort of analysis coming from an exHRD minister is shocking. I would be wary of anyone with such research skills taking policy-level decisions. HRD Minister Smriti Irani had correctly quoted the MHRD official figures in Parliament while pointing out Dr Tharoor's misrepresentation. The MHRD figures are not incorrect. To Dr Tharoor: yes sir! Your math is wrong and so is your research.
5. Demand for Kendriya Vidyalayas
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: The MP's quota increase will not overcome the demand/supply issue for KVs. The UPA wanted to build 500 additional KVs but this government has not allocated resources.
I wonder if Dr Tharoor is implying that the increase or decrease in the MP quota impacts the demand and supply mismatch of the KVs. The quota is only a discretion given to the MP so that s/he can take an informed decision and help a needy student in his/her constituency.
The 12th Five Year Plan for 201217 had envisaged building 500 new KVs. In August 2013, while replying to a question in Rajya Sabha, the then HRD minister, Shri Pallam Raju gave a written statement stating that no new KV had been sanctioned due to fund constraints. The first mention of new KVs under the UPA government came in February 2014, just before elections.
It is the ruling government that gave a formal approval to build 54 new KVs in January 2015. Thus it is a bit rich of Dr Tharoor to state that the UPA had wanted to build 500 KVS and BJP has no resources for it. He needs to tell his readers that the UPA did nothing in two years and that the BJP started work in a matter of months.
Both KVS and JNV have seen an increase in allocation under the Modi Sarkar in comparison to the UPA.
6. Training for teachers
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: We don't have enough teachers and the ones we do have are not properly trained. The government is bereft of ideas to solve these problems.
Here a very serious issue has been raised by Dr. Tharoor. In contrast to the last decade of the UPA government that ended with its HRD ministers expressing concerns about the quality of teachers, Smriti Irani, in her first year of office, has completely revolutionarised the structure of Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Education so that teachers are trained to meet higher standards of performance. In addition, the Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya Mission for Teachers Training was launched on 25 December and has been adequately funded in the current budget.
7. Infrastructure problems
Dr Tharoor: Schools continue to function without toilets and playgrounds.
The infrastructure of schools has been ignored for many years now. Agreed, many schools lack proper facilities and basic infrastructure.
"No one is considered untouchable now, in contrast to the previous government."
Dr Tharoor mentions that the MHRD acknowledges that there are two lakh schools without toilets. What he fails to mention that this government has initiated a process to address this -- unlike the past government. Mr Modi, carrying forward his Gujarat experience, pointed out that lack of toilets was one of the reasons for the high dropout rate of girl students. The HRD Ministry then launched a massive drive to build toilets in all schools by this year. They have partnered with PSUs and corporates who have pledged their support to this initiative.
New toilets required: 257,008
Toilets pledged: 257,008
Total dysfunctional toilets: 162,571
Supported dysfunctional toilets: 162,080
8. Mid-Day Meal quality
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: The quality of food served remains a widespread concern.
The quality control of food served during the Mid-Day Meal has been one of its biggest challenges. As correctly pointed out there have been many cases in the past illustrating negligence in the preparation of food. The incumbent minister has taken measures for monitoring the MDM scheme. As stated in Parliament, a real time monitoring system has now finally been implemented through a voice recognition system (IVRS). For the first time guidelines have been issued for food safety and hygiene in February 2014. A personal letter was sent by the minister to all MPs requesting them to monitor schools in their constituency and send feedback.
9. Appointments and autonomy
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: The appointments are politically biased.
This one argument has been cut-pasted from articles to speeches to more articles. Smriti Irani gave a befitting reply in Parliament and in a recent interview to an English channel. She pointed out many appointments where the persons in question were related to various other parties like that of CPI(M), Congress and even AAP. She mentioned that all decisions of appointments are made by search committees and the only factor taken into consideration is academic management.
I wonder why Dr Tharoor and other critics never mention appointments that were decided by the UPA government and approved by the NDA. Having heard both sides of the arguments one can conclude that people from all sorts of backgrounds and ideologies are being appointed in various organisations under the MHRD. No one is considered untouchable now, in contrast to the previous government.
It is probably this balance that is discomfiting to the lopsided ecosystem cultivated under the Congress.
"We have to understand that this constant misrepresentation for political benefits will harm the students the most."
The same speech of HRD minister outlined how illegal MoUs were made and the IIT Act flouted. She also mentioned that the resignation of IIT Mumbai director that the members spoke of was inaccurate information. However that doesn't stop Dr Tharoor from repeating his point and not even acknowledging the reply given.
10. The four years undergraduate programme (FYUP)
Dr Tharoor's conclusion: the FYUP was rolled back abruptly.
In her speech in Parliament, Smriti Irani while addressing the criticism for the FYUP rollback told us a shocking detail. She mentioned that the FYUP was not in line with the current National Education Policy and about 75000 students were enrolled in 40 programmes that did not have the consent of the President. Which means their degrees wouldn't have been valid despite completing the course. Dr Tharoor calls this situation laughable?
We have to understand that this constant misrepresentation for political benefits will harm the students the most. On must have a bipartisan approach towards the future of our country and its youth.
Dr Tharoor repeatedly insinuates that the ministry is underperforming. With the publicly available documents and some cursory research one could say that the current Minister has initiated many actions in order to address the challenges passed on to her as a legacy of misgovernance of previous government. She has so far shown sharp understanding, quick decision making, good intent and perseverance amidst the web of attacks.
In this one year of work she has definitely done more than the previous government managed to do. However, there is a long way ahead and many more challenges need to be resolved.