Thursday, July 25, 2013

Privatization of education does not make sense

I recently attended the IIT Bombay (IITB) Alumni Conclave with the theme - 'Education and Skill Development.' I was surprised at the unexpectedly large number of people from IITB working in the field of education. What should have been more surprising, had I not seen this before, was the lack of experience these people have in the education sector, except for having been educated themselves. They have not been trained to be or were teachers, administrators, curriculum developers or anything related to education at any point of time.
Quora is another place where lack of perspective on Indian education is apparent. There are fantastic answers on first-world-issues like the worst date ever, should I tell people that I am from IIT, are commerce girls easier than.... you get the idea. But when a meaningful, albeit slightly vague, question like this -
How can educational sector in India be improved?
gets answers, which are voted most popular, with suggestions like
a. teach without a qualified teacher using quora
b. teach with AFI's movies,
I want to bang someone's head on the wall. However, I must restrain myself for I digress from the topic of this post.

In my discussions with various people regarding education, there is a surprising number of people who strongly advocate privatization of education. They believe that privatization is the panacea to everything dysfunctional in our country.
Elite on privatization
Most educated elite on privatization
I am not even sure why people form this image of private players being efficient, dedicated and quality focussed. They are largely ignorant of the huge challenges that India's demography and geography provides in plenty which are extremely tough for any private player to come to terms with. These people also believe that money and profit are the best incentives ever. More the money dangled in front of people, higher the output.
At this point, I ask them -
What's the output in school education? 
They stumble for a bit and say results. Or some vague ideas about quantifying output.
I ask -
If it's profit making, who is the customer then?
They usually reply parents.
Does that mean that education should be tailored so that it pleases the customer most? 
Usually there's no instant gratification in education. So ways are invented to please the customer regularly. This can be seen in the large number of largely pointless events that fancy schools conduct nowadays.

I am actually not even sure what do people mean by privatization of education - Do they mean an education service run for profit or having a service with private like efficacy?
If education is a for-profit service where the quality depends on the amount of money that is pumped in, then it is logical that education quality will be compromised for people who cannot afford to bear its costs . This goes against the most fundamental principle of universal education which I hope most people stand by.
If it is just about improving the State provided service, typically characterized by lethargy, bureaucracy and low quality - then yes, it should be done. Padma Shri Dr. D.B. Phatak summarized it succinctly at the conclave -
"Education should not be a business but it should be run like a business."

Private education comic
It's just the hat and the suit
Without even going into deep philosophies of education, there are various obvious advantages of education being provided by an autonomous, knowledgeable service provider whose motivations are not clouded by profit. If it's autonomous, it cannot be bullied. It can focus on learning outcomes and not on appearances and events. Since it's non-profit, there is no temptation to fake results for there's no money spent on marketing.

Anurag Behar is one of the best writers on Indian education system that I have come across. I have mentioned excerpts from his writings that I find most relevant.

Cost of Privatized Education is probably the most compelling out of these. It also suggests further reading.

"... The belief that private schools perform better persists in spite of evidence, systemic experience and theory... First, consistent evidence across the world, including India, shows that private schools do not necessarily perform better than public schools. The difference in student learning levels between private and public schools arises primarily from differences in socioeconomic background of their students (relatively privileged ones go to private schools), selection of students (private institutions select one’s who are already able) and other additional support factors outside the school (tuition, going through pre-school etc). In simple terms, this means that private schools in themselves do not do a better job at education than public schools.
This dominant belief and public perception about superiority of private schools is also influenced by superficial markers of quality that are more social in nature—such as wearing ties and good shoes, “good” classmates, “English medium” etc.,—rather than educational... 

... On the one hand, private schools don’t do a better job of providing individual access to good quality school education, on the other hand, a substantially private (for-profit) schooling system works at cross purposes to the societal goals of education, hardening socioeconomic differences and inequity.

... Let’s look at the extent of privatization of basic schooling across countries in terms of percentage of students attending private schools. These are the rounded-off numbers: the US 9%, Japan 6%, South Korea 2%, Scandinavia 1%, the UK 6%, France 14%, Germany 4%, China 4%, all OECD 10%. The world average for basic schooling (up to age 14) is about 14%. The number for India is 25% and growing rapidly; our contribution is what is pushing up the global average. We are global champions of privatization in schooling–by a long margin.
Even countries completely committed to free markets and a dominant role for the private sector, have a public system for schooling. Shouldn’t we pause and reflect on the monumental mistake we are making as a country?

... The only solution to India’s problem of education is in improving our public schooling system. This will require hard, sustained effort for decades and substantially higher investment. But what we see with schools is merely one aspect of a deeper problem: the widespread abandonment of public systems in all spheres…in healthcare, in water and environment."

Excerpt from Profits and Schools -

"... One set of issues arises from the ever-present information and knowledge asymmetry between the provider of education i.e., the school, and its users i.e., children and parents. In a situation like this, the provider must do their best—an honest attempt to deliver good service—irrespective of whether the user discriminates between what is good and not-so-good.
This is a professional obligation. You do expect that a doctor would do her honest best for her patient, although the patient may have no idea what is good (or best). The school situation is akin, but the professional obligation on the school is even greater...

In this situation of asymmetry, to do an honest job of its professional obligation, the schools’ cost structures become such that the fee required to make it sustainable (forget profitable), is not available. It’s not available primarily because it’s simply unaffordable by a very large majority in the country.

The unfortunate fact is that there are hundreds of seemingly respectable schools giving short shrift to the basics of good education. This pursuit of profits through short shrift is scandalous....
At the heart of all this is an acceptance that money and economics are not necessarily the most relevant frames of reference for all human endeavours. And that profit is not a legitimate pursuit in a social relationship of trusteeship such as education."

Another excerpt from Profit and Higher Education -

"Pick up any list of the world’s best universities and go through those names. You can go through the top 500—not just top 10 or 20. You will not find a single for-profit university.
The point is simple, high quality higher education is not and cannot be a for-profit enterprise. This is not an ideological issue; it is merely an economic implication of what is required to have high-quality higher education. Three of these requirements are: deep and broad-based research, a good student faculty ratio and a multidisciplinary faculty ranging from humanities to applied domains.

... To address our problems in education, both school and higher education, there are just two ways ahead and both are needed. ... for our problems of quality and equity in education, the government has to invest more money and improve its performance."

All the three articles by Mr. Behar deserve a thorough reading (like most of his articles). 

1 comment:

Pulkit Singhal said...

Better availability of basic facilities, not luxuries, can boost up the public sector of education.