End education’s licence raj -Rahul Bajaj & Sanjay Bhargava

Rahul Bajaj and Sanjay Bhargava (of Shiksha Mandal, Wardha, an educational trust run by the Bajajs) have a hard-hitting and well-written article in the Economic Times on how we need to End Education’s Licence Raj

You should read the full article – the only reason we have not copy-pasted the entire thing here is that it would be a copyright violation.

Instead, here are a few excerpts to whet your appetite:

The education system in our country is largely dysfunctional, from schools to universities. And this dysfunctionality is because of the system, not despite it. Our system is now designed to produce bad quality. Unless we face up to this fact we will continue to produce unemployables.


In most government aided institutions teacher jobs are sold. The going rate in Maharashtra for a college teacher exceeds Rs 20 lakh. What quality can be expected from such institutions and teachers?


In aided institutions, though teacher salaries are good, funds for running the institution are scarce. In Maharashtra this is 5% of the salary grant, barely covering even the electricity bills.


In Nagpur University, 250 colleges were functioning without teachers and yet students enrolled in them are being allowed to sit for exams. Even the much vaunted Pune University had over 70 such colleges.

But, here is the most important part:

All parts of the system are culpable. Governments running a licence raj and making rules that are supposed to improve quality but only increase costs and cause delays, managements who are not education but money minded, teachers who do not want to work or upgrade themselves, and students who are seeking degrees, not learning.

So, how do we fix this?

Essentially, the solutions in our view lie in, first, lifting the heavy hand of government from education. Decisions on starting and expanding an institution should be left to institutions, especially for institutions with a good track record.

Second, disband ‘electoral’ institutions in universities and empower ‘academic’ vice chancellors.

Third, give government aid to A grade institutions and stop giving it to non A grade institutions.

Fourth, move to a tenure track mode of selecting teachers, as in the US and Europe. At present, they are simply confirmed after a year. Given the bad quality of governance, this has the potential of turning away good teachers from teaching altogether.

Fifth, get the corporate sector involved in starting or supporting institutions from schools to universities. It is in their enlightened self-interest and they should use their CSR funds for this purpose. The important thing is to face reality and make real progress.

Read the full article

Politics is harming regional languages in our schools – Pratap Bhanu Mehta

A few weeks back, Pratap Bhanu Mehta had an interesting article in the Indian Express where he points out how the politicization of the debate about language of instruction in our schools is really hurting both, our education, as well as our languages.

Here are a few excerpts from his article:

Because of linguistic politics, the emphasis in teaching has been more on differentiation than on finding commonalities. Learning a language has, paradoxically, been seen more as creating a barrier than building a bridge. The divide is very palpable, for example, in the pedagogic evolution of Hindi and Urdu; modern Hindi teachers in Delhi’s most progressive schools take expunging “Urdu” words to absurd lengths.


But a little more imagination could bridge other divides: a little teaching of one or two more scripts for example, could make a Hindi speaker more functional in at least a couple of other regional languages. Two different stalwarts of Hindi literature, Shivani and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, could find a home more easily in Shantiniketan than in Benares, in a way that now seems unimaginable. But the obstacles to a more polyglot linguistic imagination are not pedagogical, they are political.


pedagogic choices in Hindi have been constricted by identity and purity concerns, not the growth of the language


if you want to see what is wrong with Hindi, just see the typical CBSE or ICSE syllabus. It is not clear, first of all, whether this syllabus was designed to excite kids about the possibilities of the language or whether it was designed by a group of morose social reformers who thought the Hindi syllabus was occasion to be earnest, boring and identify all the ills of Indian society.

The full article covers a lot of other ground, and is worth reading if this is an area that interests you.

Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class

The Times of India has published an open letter from Ashish Dhawan, Anu Aga, and Amit Chandra to HRD Minister, Smriti Irani, giving her advice on Five steps to take India’s education system from mediocre to world class.

Here are the main points made by the letter:


our education system currently suffers from an apparent ‘Licence Raj’ that restricts entry and operation of private players. Even policies such as RTE neglect that private schools are a large part of the education ecosystem (already 40% of school students and 60% of college students are enrolled in private institutions). These norms have led to the shutdown of a large number of affordable private schools that serve low-income students. The government must deregulate school education and treat government and private schools as equal partners in solving India’s education crisis.


it is important not only to invest more in education but to do so more strategically. Central government should invest more resources in teacher education and development, principal training, ICT in education and assessments.


improve quality standards through nationwide assessments. Assessments need to be at the core of any planning exercise for improving India’s education system.


equip school principals to become efficient school leaders. Great leaders make great institutions, in every sphere. In schools principals are the highest point of leverage, yet their role is often restricted to administrative functions. There is a need to reimagine the role of the principal — as an instructional leader, rather than an administrator.


improve teacher quality for better learning outcomes. It is unfortunate that teaching today does not attract the best talent. We need public awareness campaigns in India that are able to effectively project teaching as a rewarding and meaningful profession.

The full article has much more detail.

Skilling will power the India growth story (but there are challenges) – by @MeetaSengupta

@MeetaSengupta has an interesting article in the Hindustan Times talking about the challenges facing skills development in India

The first thing she does is point out that skills enhancement is extremely important for India, and our Demographic Dividend is useless unless we can educate all those people:

Skills development for employment and growth is on the front burner with a million new people to be trained and employed each month in India. The rise of this trained workforce is critical to India’s growth story — else who will power the engine? Without this soft infrastructure all investments in hard infrastructure are futile

Clearly, no one will disagree that across India people are interested in improving their skills, and that there are lots of companies interested in charging for training. In other words:

There is demand and supply, and yet the conversion to higher value addition  is lagging. What stands in the way?

Here are some of the problems as she sees them:

First: Accreditation

Who certifies that the skills that trainers provide are adequate and transferable across the industry? Certification must (i) be mobile, and (ii) provide an income boost.
Till the accreditation network is in place, operational and credible, few skills certificates have a market.

Second, Prior Learning Certification.

Experienced workers will not hop on to the skills bandwagon if you equate them with young starters. Give them credit for what they know, help them upgrade.

Third, Assessments.


For example, the skills certification for driving licences in India has suffered because few believe it to be a credible test of skill.

There is more. Read the full article

Online Courses / MOOCs for India – A discussion

Recently InnoVidya facilitated a discussion between COEP, [Observer Research Foundation, Bombay]http://orfonline.org/) a think-tank working in the area of Education, and InnoVidya, to talk about the use of online courses and MOOC technologies at COEP in particular, but in the Indian education system in general.

Here are some interesting points that I noted during this discussion. These are neither supposed to be comprehensive, nor representative. And it is possible that I might have mis-represented some of the things that are said. But even with all those disclaimers, this is still an interesting discussion.

Are Online Courses or MOOCs going to work in India?

  • Leena Wadia reports talking to an MIT (USA) professor who runs an online course, and he pointed out that it takes him 16 hours of preparation to create one online lecture. (But all this effort is helping his offline lectures too!)
    • Shridhar Shukla points out that given the state of technology adoption in India and amongst Indian faculty, this is going to be an even more difficult task. Hence, creating new online content is a big effort, and probably should not be a focus.
  • Dr. Gautam Shroff, Chief Scientist, TCS Research, has said that there are many people in tier 2 / tier 3 colleges or even in Indian software companies who participate in US based MOOCs (e.g. Coursera, edX, etc). These people need additional inputs beyond what is provided by the MOOCs. He said that they do not have the level to grasp the online lectures and we need to supplement them with helpful local courses/workshops.
  • Anil Sahasrabudhe, Diretor of COEP, points out that Coursera courses assume various things that the students are already supposed to know, or be able to do, and unfortunately, most Indian students are not really equipped for that. In fact, even for IIT courses, which are being put online at NPTEL and other platforms, are not grasped by students from tier 2 / tier 3 colleges in India, because of similar reasons. We need to do something to fix this.

We need Online Courses in Local Languages

  • Prof. Abhijit A.M. of COEP points out that if a subject is taught in a mix of languages: English and a local language, students respond much better. This is because many students come from rural India, or at least small towns, and most of their “English medium” school instruction actually happened in the regional language
  • Leena Wadia points out that asking faculty members to create online content in local languages (i.e. a mix of English and Hindi, or Telugu) can be motivating for them. Because there is lots of competition for online content in English, but nobody is doing it in local languages. So, suddenly the faculty member gets the feeling that they can do something which has not been done before, and they are contributing value.

Giving teachers in India bonuses for performance really works, says research

Alex Tabarrok has an interesting article on which points to a very large, randomized experiment by Karthik Muralidharan and others on giving teachers monetary incentives based on the performance of their students in specific subjects, and reports that this significantly improves performances in not only those subjects, but also in other subjects.

Here, it is important to note that we are talking about Indian Schools, run by the government, mostly in rural India. It is also important to note that this is not an armchair philosopher spouting opinions, but actually data from a large, randomized experiment with controls.

Here is some data that really needs to be shouted from the rooftops:

Students who had completed their entire five years of primary school education under the program scored 0.54 and 0.35 standard deviations (SD) higher than those in control schools in math and language tests respectively. These are large effects corresponding to approximately 20 and 14 percentile point improvements at the median of a normal distribution, and are larger than the effects found in most other education interventions in developing countries (see Dhaliwal et al. 2011).

Second, the results suggest that these test score gains represent genuine additions to human capital as opposed to reflecting only ‘teaching to the test’. Students in individual teacher incentive schools score significantly better on both non-repeat as well as repeat questions; on both multiple-choice and free-response questions; and on questions designed to test conceptual understanding as well as questions that could be answered through rote learning. Most importantly, these students also perform significantly better on subjects for which there were no incentives – scoring 0.52 SD and 0.30 SD higher than students in control schools on tests in science and social studies (though the bonuses were paid only for gains in math and language). There was also no differential attrition of students across treatment and control groups and no evidence to suggest any adverse consequences of the programs.

… Finally, our estimates suggest that the individual teacher bonus program was 15-20 times more cost effective at raising test scores than the default ‘education quality improvement’ policy of the Government of India, which is reducing class size from 40 to 30 students per teacher (Govt. of India, 2009).

Read the full article