u Notes from the Underground: Policy approaches to education

Policy approaches to education

Friday, May 05, 2006

[By this time, you must know that my posts hardly live up to their grandiose titles. I like keeping such names though. *Grin*]

This post is a response to Kuffir's response to my response to his original post. :-). Do read the last comment he left, the one I am responding to, if only to get some idea about what this post is in response to.

Kuffir, I largely agree with your observations. Change in favour of libertarianism is indeed hard; it would be naive to expect the government to devolve power of its own accord. It is also true that the best opportunities for change are crises, like in 1991. (Reading your comment made me smile, because just last night I was reading Milton Friedman say the exact same stuff in "Capitalism and Freedom".) It is also true that, when the crisis moment comes, a policy framework should be in intellectual currency for any chance of getting implemented. For this reason, I think it is important to keep alive and respectable the policy implications of libertarianism -- smaller governments and free-er markets -- no matter how bleak their chances appear today.

[A small digression. You say:
individuals can only coax,nudge and cajole the state to run along a certain course that would lead to more, and more devolution of power. and individuals would have to, paradoxically, work in groups to achieve this.
If by the use of the word paradoxically, you imply that individuals working in groups is somehow against the grain of libertarianism, I will have to disagree. It is only natural that a free man should associate with a fellow free man in order to better serve his own interest; there is nothing paradoxical in this.]

Now to get to what you were really leading upto: your idea that forcing the government to concentrate on primary education would lead to a reduction in governmental spending elsewhere. You say the powers-that-be have realized investment in education needs to be raised to around six percent of the gdp. This is news to me. The current spending has averaged 4% and, given the rate at which our GDP is increasing, it will get tougher for future governments to get closer to the 6% figure (source).
I think shaming the government into action over education will be tough when we have failed to shame it into action on child malnutrition or narmada rehabilitation . Hell, even the moral overlords over at The Other India havent yet come around to talking about education. That is all the more reason to talk about education louder, yes, but I am not optimistic that the government will give this a priority.

The almost default choice left for the government is to let private players come in. And the government must be less jealous about letting them in than is usual. Already private players seem to be doing a good job. Basically, I dont see why there wont be more private schools if more people are willing to pay money for education. Which brings me to the question of poverty hindering education. I still think poverty needs to be tackled if we are to think about reducing illiteracy. Human needs can be ranked: food, water and shelter are all more important than education and for the poorer families the choice is rather obvious. Any money/vouchers you give to poor people will be diverted to other, more pressing needs. The only way out is to subsidise fees, and you get shoddy government schools, which are still better than nothing anyway.

Dont get me wrong: I would love it if you pointed to me news that the government is definitively increasing its spending on education, if that means it is reducing spending elsewhere. It would only be a good first step though: as we get richer, I expect more private schools to come up, and I would hope for the government to scale back its presence (dream on!). I am just too cynical to get my hopes up though.

4 Comments:

At 10:57 AM, May 06, 2006, Blogger kuffir said...

'You say the powers-that-be have realized investment in education needs to be raised to around six percent of the gdp. This is news to me.'
venu,
let me quote from the cmp:'The UPA government pledges to raise public spending in education to least 6% of GDP with at least half this amount being spent of primary and secondary sectors. This will be done in a phased manner,..'
the crux of my postulation was that education is inching..very slowly..its way to the somewhere in the middle of at least some political parties agenda. i'll get back to you on the other points you raised. you're quick in responding-that's a nice habit.

 
At 2:33 AM, May 08, 2006, Blogger kuffir said...

'The current spending has averaged 4% and, given the rate at which our GDP is increasing, it will get tougher for future governments to get closer to the 6% figure (source).'
i've checked the source of your figures- they figure close to the figures i accessed (among others, check these:
http://www.hinduonnet.com/fline/fl2217/stories/20050826003711100.htm and http://www.education.nic.in/cd50years/r/6H/HI/6HHI0B01.htm)
let me outline a few hypothetical scenarios (these are premised on the presumption that governments have finite resources):
#1.spending on education (by centre and the states) has averaged around 10% on an average (slightly less than the figures you point to) in the last fifteen years. if expenditure on this head(education ) is increased to 6% (from current levels hovering between 2.8-4%) of gdp its share in total budgeted spending would increase to not less than 20-22%. wouldn't this mean cutting expenditure on other heads?
#2.if the dole i suggested is implemented, (yes, that'd be a dream) and assuming the education expenditure hasn't been raised to 6% of gdp, it'd have to be adjusted within the broad category of social sector spending(which includes apart from education and health, other heads like poverty alleviation programmes and subsidised goods and services etc.,). that'd mean some of the spending on other heads would have to come down -the education budget is mostly salaries, so the cut would most likely come down on other heads.
#3.let's assume both: the education budget is increased to 6% of gdp and my dole-plan is implemented. spending on my plan would come close to 60,000 crores a year. the increase in spending on education would come to around an additional 100,000 crores. 1,60,000 crores in all- which would mean 26-28% of total budgeted expenditure. wouldn't that mean less resources for other fancy programmes?

the study you refer to says it would tough for future governments to stick to 6% goal. i think the tough part would be to increase spending to 6% first. it would require tremendous resolve - ploughing in incremental increases later to adjust for gdp growth would be easier. because it would mean a broad consensus that education needs greater attention would have been achieved and assimilated across all sections by then.
'This budget provides for a nearly 50 per cent increase in the total budgetary allocation to Education, from Rs.4,716 crore in RE 1997-98 to Rs.7,047 crore in this budget. We are committed to raising the total resource allocation for Education to 6 per cent of GDP in a phased manner.'
this is from the budget speech of 1998-99(during the nda regime). the congress-upa wasn't in power then. the six-percent-for-education idea formulated by the kothari commission in 1965 has, as you can see found broad acceptance among all political parties now. the major obstacle, as the article you referred to points out - where does the government find the resources? the resources, as i
pointed out, already exist..the government only has to divert resources from other areas( in the catchall welfare, social servises category) to education. here, in my view, lies the crux of the problem: why would any politician in power dare to reduce spending in areas which afford him the greatest possible electoral/populist leverage? this is where my dole-plan comes in : simple transfer of money, directly to the beneficiaries from delhi, would be a more efficient means of 'caring for the common man' than employment guarantee, food-for-work, antyodaya, subsidies, grants and a myriad other schemes which suffer from leakages and mostly benefit, not the poor, but others much better off.
the dole-plan will achieve two objectives primarily: one, it will provide the political class with an opportunity to extract as much populist leverage from it as any other poverty alleviation programme or subsidy, two, it will reduce the opportunity cost of sending children to school (and not to work) because the loss of income would be offset by the dole.
and because the dole would be linked to education, parents who do not send their children to school would not receive it.
no, i'm not talking of shaming the state into spending more on education.. i'm trying to sound aloud an idea that would help persuade the political classes that education is a good populist investment.
'Human needs can be ranked: food, water and shelter are all more important than education and for the poorer families the choice is rather obvious. Any money/vouchers you give to poor people will be diverted to other, more pressing needs.'
you are probably referring to maslow's hierarchy of needs: the idea of the dole is not to induce poor parents to spend it on their children's education - it's free extra money (no vouchers), pure and simple. they may spend it in any manner they deem fit- most of it, as you rightly pointed out, may go into consumption expenditure. the idea of the dole is to increase attendance in schools , where the cost of education is borne by the state.. the dole, to use a vulgarism, is the catch. if it also achieves the objective of reducing the financial burden of the poor, which most poverty-alleviation schemes set out to achieve but fail, that's a bonus. the hierarchy of needs doesn't strictly apply here because we are taking education out of the ranking order. or placing it in the same category, as say, food.
as there is a broad, but not strong, consensus across the political spectrum to increase spending on education, as the effects of positive discrimination is adversely affecting standards in higher education according to a few sections of indian society, and industry and business associations (like nasscom and cii) seem to feel that we need more and better educated workforce in the very near future to maintain our rate of growth ... i think it's the right time for liberals/reformers to step up the demand for greater spending on education. a dole, like the one i described above, would call the left's bluff: if they are truly interested in helping the poor, and not in building constituencies, shouldn't they support greater focus on education and more efficient 'redistribution' that the dole signifies than on silly rights and guarantees? it's generous of you to ascribe a coherent philosophy to otherindia. education is a long way away for even those leftists (that aforesaid bloggers faithfully mimc)because it doesn't build tangible constituencies like unions.
'The almost default choice left for the government is to let private players come in. And the government must be less jealous about letting them in than is usual. Already private players seem to be doing a good job. Basically, I dont see why there wont be more private schools if more people are willing to pay money for education.'
i have nothing against private players coming in : but i don't think it's feasible. in the three hypothetical scenarios i laid out above, i like the third one : the governments(centre and states) would require an additional amount of around a 1,00,000 crores to achieve its spending target of 6% of gdp and its objective of near total literacy. let's assume the private sector is twice as efficient as the government in delivering the goods.. and therefore it would need to spend only 50,000 crores, every year, to achieve the literacy objective. to justify a spending of 50,000 crores every year the private sector would look for a return of at least 5000 crores every year(?) can the poor afford an education bill of 55,000 crores every year? even if the government subsidised the whole amount, finding the political support required for such a move would be a tough task. and wouldn't the state be building a new class of licence-permit capitalists in the bargain. and a new inspector raj to monitor the functioning of the scheme? and without governmental support private investment in education in the villages is long..long away. too long away in my view.
' Basically, I dont see why there wont be more private schools if more people are willing to pay money for education.'
i don't either.
'Which brings me to the question of poverty hindering education. I still think poverty needs to be tackled if we are to think about reducing illiteracy..'
i think poverty and illiteracy are in a way, two sides of the same coin. agiculture is not, as many assume, the only occupation in rural india. it provides, strictly speaking, sustainable livelihood to around one third of the people - another third partly depend on it. but non-agricultural occupations provide livelihood to around 49% of the working people in the villages. there is a strong,unheeded urge in the countryside for the creation of opportunities outside agriculture. illiteracy is the strongest hindrance to the evolution of new occupations and opportunities.. and reduction in poverty in the countryside - ignoring it would mean that the villages would grow much slower than the cities in the next ten, twenty.. fifty years too. as i pointed out earlier, the huge number of young people under 15, now, in our country is both an opportunity and a ticking bomb. if we fail to educate them now we would not be able to deal with poverty now or in the future.
thanx again for your quick response, i can see that your interest is flagging.. education is kind of an obsession with me, there's no reason why it should be the same with you. maybe i should give myself a respite to clear my perspective.. that's it for now.

 
At 2:40 AM, May 08, 2006, Blogger kuffir said...

oop..s 'two, it will reduce the opportunity cost of sending children to school (and not to work) because the loss of income would be offset by the dole.' for the parents, i mean.
..

 
At 12:37 AM, May 09, 2006, Anonymous Venu said...

Its great to have so spirited and elaborate a response.

I am still unconvinced that the people you dole out the cash to will use it for the right purpose. When you give out money just like that to the poor, it will mostly go to the men, and there's a good chance that it will be drunk off or misused in a hundred other ways. (Arundhati Roy made this point in the context of Narmada rehabilitation.) I got hold of another paper linked to by the excellent prayatna blog, which says that a major reason for low enrolment is "unconstrained demand factor" - i.e. parents didnt think schooling was important enough, because of opportunity cost or otherwise. I am not saying this problem cant be overcome; just that you shouldnt gloss it over. Involving women somehow seems to me to be a good starting point.

Still, I would love to see the political consensus translate into something on the ground.

 

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