Fund students, not schools
Government funding in education needs to take a new approach in which the unit of fund allocation and spending is a ‘child’ and not a ‘school.’ Currently the government budgets on the basis of historical costs and routes funds through education departments. School vouchers, direct cash transfers, scholarships, education credit accounts could all serve as instruments to effect per-child funding.
In the current system, schools are accountable to the government and not to the parents, since funds come from the government. In the per-child funding model, funds are allocated and disbursed directly to students, and students pay for their own education. Schools are thus obligated to be accountable to students and parents. If the student does not like the school, she can take the voucher to another school. Under the voucher system, the money follows the student. In addition to bringing more accountability and transparency in expenditure, funding students also facilitates healthy competition between different schools to attract and retain more students, with the net outcome being improved quality of education.
Track outcomes, not inputs
The current approach to school regulation is largely inputs-driven. The focus of recognition and regulation is on infrastructure, teacher salaries, and compliance with various input-related government norms. Many of these norms have little connection with learning outcomes of students. India must introduce a system of regulation where learning outcomes become the key factor in regulation of schools, both government and private. Gujarat is one example where school recognition and regulation are driven by learning outcomes.
Outcomes-based regulation does not mean no input norms at all; it means higher emphasis on learning outcomes in comparison to input norms. Once these norms are established, they should be applied uniformly to ensure that public and private schools in the system are regulated on the same grounds with consequences for non-compliance being the same for all. Third-party assessments should be utilised in identifying school performance and student learning outcomes. Third-party assessments can help validate per-child learning and cost that can provide important cues for higher-level policy decisions and classroom-level education delivery strategies to be executed by teachers and principals. The National Achievement Survey (NAS) is an important tool to move toward a system centred on outcomes; alongside localised frequent third-party assessments, NAS should be expanded to cover all schools and students.
Encourage innovation, not conformity
Parents make education choices on behalf of their children based on a number of criteria including but not limited to performance and learning outcomes. These include cost, curricular and delivery design, teaching style, child needs, and overall school philosophy. The current common schooling approach, in an attempt to level the playing field for all students, stifles innovation and diversity.
Most schools impart factory-style education, since the recognition is contingent on following conventional input and curricular norms. By creating universal strictures around formal schooling, India has reduced options for skills-based education, value- and faith-based education, special needs education, peer-driven schooling, or home schooling or free-range schooling.
The assumption is that higher income parents are capable of making clear conscious school choices, yet diverse schools are stifled from emerging and catering to parents who may want to break from the conventional mould. At the same time, there is an underestimation of the ability of poor parents to understand differences across schools and prevent market innovation from serving them as well.
First, to encourage informed choice, the government should collate and make publicly available information on various schooling options and relative performance of schools, including performance records. Second, government should allow parents to choose schools, by augmenting purchasing power for those whose choices are constrained by affordability. Third, by framing principles-based regulation that focus on rectifying asymmetries of
information, ensuring consumer protection, and demanding minimum learning achievement, the government can stimulate a diverse and interesting education system. Fourth, the ‘fund, function, functionary’ norm clearly separating the government’s regulatory responsibilities must be articulated and applied in the New Education Policy.
Promote autonomy, not control
In the current system school teachers, principals and school management committees have very little autonomy in terms of planning, budget and actual delivery of education in classrooms which include pedagogical decisions, local contextual application and use of teaching aids. The NEP should devolve decision-making to school principals and teachers and give them specific control over resources such as school finances to be able to innovate and improve their schools and classrooms respectively. Principals in particular should become leaders of their schools and play a pivotal role defining and driving quality of education in their schools. In the late 1980s and early 1990s several countries across Europe introduced autonomy in public and private schools. The Belgian Constitution recognised Freedom of Education, giving room to schools to experiment with teaching methods, and human and facilities management practices. Similarly, Spain, France and UK took measures to shift control of administrative decisions including financial and human resource management from local administrative bodies to schools. Portugal introduced Autonomy Contracts between the Ministry of Education, Municipal Body and the School where all parties agreed upon conditions of school autonomy and expected performance standards.
Reward performance, not compliance
Currently, it is mandatory for a school to be a non-profit entity in India. While in most states, unaided private schools pay electricity, water and other utility charges at commercial rates, they are not allowed to make a profit since education is a non-profit activity by law.
Education should be considered as an important component of the service industry similar to health, water and electricity where entry of for-profit entities has brought immense benefits to all citizens, in terms of both access and quality of services enjoyed. The idea is not that all schools must become for-profit entities but the option to choose between a non-profit and for-profit model should be available to existing and future schools.
Many countries have had no ban on for-profit education and over the last few decades several countries have introduced for-profit education. Latin American countries such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Argentina have seen advantages of such schools and colleges. There are currently 2,000 for-profit educational institutions in Brazil which cater to children from all socio-economic strata. Government supports children from low-income families through scholarships to attend for-profit schools. China has several highly ranked for-profit universities.