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Cut oil subsidy, get quality education
India is a signatory to the United Nations’ millennium development goals. Achieving universal primary education is one of the eight goals. India will not be able to achieve this goal by 2015.

This is because the political class is more driven by Adam Smith’s invisible hand of self-interest than what is strategically important for India’s development, namely education.

The findings of the Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) by the well known NGO Pratham and the National Achievement Report (NAR) by the National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) should have shocked the nation. But they did not. Why?

Pratham started publishing the ASER in 2005. So also NCERT. While NCERT conducts surveys only in schools and only for class 3, Pratham conducts surveys in the houses and for children going to all classes.

 

Same disturbing, worsening standards...

Soon after the first ASER report, which gave for the first time appalling statistics on educational standards in rural schools, there was some debate and concern by those in charge of education. Since then ASER has become a ritual exercise bringing the same disturbing but worsening news.

What was sad was that instead of asking the country to take urgent action to tackle this problem on a war footing, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia asked Pratham to take similar survey for urban areas. NAR, which followed the publication of ASER, has showed that there is no difference in educational performance between urban and rural students.


96.7 per cent children enrolled in schools...

The only bright spot of ASER is that 96.7 per cent of children (age 6-14) are enrolled in schools. But these children are not getting the basic learning skills of reading, arithmetic and writing. Two statistics illustrate this fact:

 

Reading skill declining...

By the middle of Standard II, over 50 per cent of children cannot read simple every day words in their regional language. As a result, 78 per cent of children in Standard III and 50 per cent in Standard IV cannot read standard II text. Even more worrying is that the reading level has been declining over the years especially in government schools since 2010.

Results are no different in learning arithmetic. In standard V, only 52.3 per cent (which is a decline from 70.8 per cent from 2010) can do simple subtraction and only 25.6 per cent can do division.


Political parties interested only to shower subsidies

In today’s India, every parent - literate or illiterate- wants children to be educated. They know that one possible way to get out of poverty trap is quality education. Even the poor are ready to spend their meagre incomes to send their children to private schools with the expectation that they get quality education there.

Showering subsidies in every possible way (computers, TVs, grinders, electricity, LPG, kerosene, diesel, water, etc) is high on the agenda of all the political parties. Even Aam Aadmi Party, which won a stunning victory in Delhi by promising to serve the poor soon after coming to power, was in a hurry to lower water and electricity charges. The major problem the poor face today is securing quality education to their children. Why are politicians indifferent to meet this need?

In recent months, the UPA government has managed to put LPG subsidy high on the national agenda to win votes in the forthcoming elections. At current LPG prices, the middle class and the rich families are given an annual subsidy of Rs 7900 each. To limit LPG subsidy burden, UPA first imposed a quota of six gas cylinders per year. Later it was increased to nine and now to 12 by making mockery of the strategy of imposing quota since average number of consumptions per family is slightly above six.

 

Destiny of a nation shaped in its classrooms...

Politicians do know that by diverting energy sector subsidies to education sector, quality education can be given to the poorest of the poor. After all some of the government schools like Demonstration Multi-purpose Schools, Kendriya Vidyalayas, Morarji Desai Schools, etc are better than most private schools. But to establish and operate these types of schools, the government needs money. By reducing the energy sector subsidies which were more than Rs. 200,000 crore in 2012-2013 and diverting them to education sector the government can make a beginning to arrest the decline in educational standards.

Let us remember that the destiny of a nation is shaped in its classrooms!

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