Friday, February 26, 2010

Is your child a genius, or just plain lucky?

A case for Education Vouchers...

I come across many parents who boast about their "child prodigy", mainly due to the 95%+ marks she gets in the school exams. I know they should be happy just as I am when my daughter's teacher tells me proudly that she is one of the best in her class. And then, on my way back home, I look at some of the children on the roadside languishing in the dirt. I do wonder about the undiscovered potential of these kids, and whether my daughter is truly the genius she is made out to be, or is she or thousands like her, just plain lucky to have born into a better-off family! That is nothing to take away from her efforts and accomplishments. I know she has been working hard...

While doing some tutoring assignments for some of the US kids, I was fortunate to have read about the NCLB related efforts by successive US governments. My understanding of this effort in some points:

1. Hold the school, and in general, the teaching community responsible for student performance. In India, we tend to blame the child for failing. Imagine putting the blame on your child's teacher and the school!

2. If the school fails to improve falling performance, choke its funding. So, in a market-driven economy, the best schools survive.

3. Provide Education Vouchers to the "needy", so that they can help themselves improve too. These vouchers are like cash in the hands of the needy, and they are then free to encash them in return for quality education support.

Further followup in this interesting method of trying to solve declining academic levels in US schools revealed the problems on the ground. "Needy" section was not really difficult to identify, and the students mostly fell into the "free-meal scheme". The schools were very particular about not divulging the identity of these students, for obvious reasons of not creating classes in the community. But when they were offered the Education Vouchers as well, the students got a double-whammy! They were now also identified as weaker ones. In a social context, this meant an unwanted privilege. I remember reading somewhere that not more than 20% of those eligible for the vouchers actually used them!

I have studied in a school, way beyond my family's means, due to one such government scheme. And I don't remember a single instance when my super-rich schoolmates would have made any kind of derogatory remarks due to my financial background.

I believe a la NCLB scheme will do wonders in India, and empower the less privileged children. I would love to see a child from the slum getting a 1000/- voucher and get into a tuition centre in the neighbourhood. Skeptics may scoff at the child being ridiculed by his fellow students, or not being able to "adjust" to their class. But is that really a valid concern, when you are trying to build equity into a nation as large as ours?

Whether your maid's child will be able to compete with your daughter is not the right question, but at least, lets allow her to! And then you would be even more proud of your daughter's great marks!

6 comments:

Thoughts.. said...

Seems to be an excellent idea but need to see its feasibilty in Indian context this can be very well may be in private schools but in government schools can't say. Also we need to come up with more and more institutes which can train the teachers that can provide quality education to all.

Simon Jacob said...

I like the idea. I am just wondering about the implementation here.

Anirudh Phadke said...

Implementation is the key...I know the first hurdle of corruption...coaching businesses will just take the coupons and give cash that will end up in some desi daru for the father... and if the govt puts too many conditions of performance improvement etc, the businesses will not be enthusiastic about it...

Anonymous said...

Privatization of government schools, k-12, is need of the hour. The private companies already started their investments in education sector because it is an emerging high-return investment avenue. Private companies run their education-business on competitive way where there is guarantee of quality and international standard. No doubt, the government public schools had contributed much towards raising of literacy in the country. But the present competitive word needs schooling at international level; it is beyond the reach of public schools because of lack of infrastructure facilities, its maintenance, well trained dedicative teachers, administration, innovations, etc. It may be possible by the healthy private companies. Keeping the imbalance between a well equipped sound private company schools and the weak but well swallowing public schools (including private aided schools and colleges) in the country will worsen the socio-economic imbalance in the country. To stop this up-coming socio-economic disaster, government should create opportunities for students, both rich and poor, to studying under single roof irrespective of their economic and social status by handing-over government schools to healthy private companies that have true interest. Security of job, admissions to poor, security of pension etc facilities to teachers etc should be essential conditions to be imposed by the government on the private companies. Whatever the government is spending on schools like teachers salary, grants etc should be continued to the private education companies so that they could give same quality education and learning facilities to the economically and socially disadvantaged peoples’ children. A special ‘Act’ should be enacted to control these private company schools and colleges. Hence, privatization of public/government schools and colleges may help to re-build India without creating any gulf.

maverick said...

the idea sounds perfect but will the cliched attitudes ever change??

Anirudh Phadke said...

@maverick: Attitudes will be hard to change overnight. But then, if we don't even start, how do we expect them to!