Is India spending enough on school education? And is the country getting good value for whatever money it is spending on this front? Having made elementary education from 6 to 14 years of age a fundamental right for citizens, these are not the sort of questions governments here can afford to duck. Between 2006 and 2013, public expenditure on school education in India reportedly went up from 2.2 percent to 2.68 percent of GDP. This is significantly less than what countries like Chi (4.2 percent), Brazil (5.2 percent) and South Africa (6.9 percent) are spending on school education. But a recent IndiaSpend report has made the telling point that while up to 80 percent of India’s public expenditure on school education is spent on teachers’ salaries, training and learning material, the educatiol outcome in terms of measuring abilities of students has been disappointing. The upshot is that students are migrating to private schools in larger numbers — estimated to be around 1 crore 75 lakh in six years from 2010–11 to 2015–16. While central and state governments in this country are called upon to hike spends on school education, many government schools have turned unviable and closed down. So the dilemma facing governments is that while state support for education of poor children is a must (a right guaranteed under the Constitution), this support is being viewed as idequate and of low quality. As soon as guardians can afford to pay more for school education, they yank off their wards to private schools. No wonder the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) is learnt to have been mulling assessment of government schools countrywide, keeping track of each child’s learning outcome over subsequent classes. Obviously, mustering funds for an exercise of such gigantic scale will be daunting. However, the precedent was set by Gujarat in 2009 with rendra Modi at the helm. Its initiative ‘Gunotsav’ has been adopted by Assam now. This is a positive effort and needs be welcomed, despite misgivings over the Gujarat experience.
The exercise involving legislators and government officials as third party to assess students on scholastic (reading, writing & numeric) and co–scholastic skills, as well as schools on infrastructure, magement and community participation parameters — would put the issue of quality of learning outcomes squarely in the public domain. The Assam government is planning Gunotsav as a 2–phase exercise every year, with schools to be ranked from A+ to D. Report cards of the first phase covering over 9 lakh students of 12,320 schools spread across eight districts will be out in two months, and gaps will be identified for plugging — State Education minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has promised. While he assured this was not a ‘vigilance inquiry’, the anxiety of school authorities showed clearly that they are seeing the ‘perform or perish’ writing on the wall. There are fears that laggards will be pelised with fund cuts and worse — after all, this is an exercise aimed to raise the accountability of teachers. The Gujarat government, having carried out the seventh edition of Gunotsav in January this year, is learnt to be mulling strict action against teachers whose students perform poorly, along with adverse notings in annual confidential report of the school and service book of the teachers. There are reasons why Gujarat may take a harder line — as per data in Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2016, ‘model’ state Gujarat’s children in rural schools are still lagging behind in key scholastic abilities. Not only did large numbers of students performed poorly in reading and numeric tests much below their class levels, many showed a poor grasp of mother tongue Gujarati. Whether the Assam government follows up properly on Gunotsav reports by improving infrastructure, or laying the blame squarely at the teachers’ door, remains to be seen. Only if it is treated as a much needed wake–up call by both the government and teachers, can the benefits of Gunotsav be reaped. Our schools need properly trained teachers in adequate numbers even to implement the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) system for students effectively, to be RTE (Right to Education) compliant, and invest in educatiol technology. It is high time the focus shifts to the students.