23rd November 2017
My observations on the draft education reform paper produced by the Centre for Rural Development and Technology, IIT Delhi
Virendra K Vijay, a professor and head of the Centre for Rural Development and Technology at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, shared a draft paper (here) prepared – in his words, “by many eminent thinkers, educationists [and] concerned people. We had one national meeting and 4 other core group meetings.”
I’m delighted to have been asked for my views. First of all, my thoughts on education are available in BFN (chapter 6). My Whooshkaa podcast explains in around 20 minuutes. Basically, we need to transition to a 100 per cent for-profit private education system.
As is usual – when I provide analysis, I generally put it out on my blog for wider reading/ comment. So my feedback is bring provided publicly.
The paper talks about a few potentially useful improvements, such as criticism about the current system of examinations. But this is a matter for educationalists to experiment in their own private and competitive educational institutions. We cannot determine whether this is a good or bad thing till we allow research and experiments. In any event, there is no scope for any centralised policy by government on such matters.
The paper is not based on an understanding of incentives. It does not tell us how high performance education systems function across the world. All high performing systems across the world have well-aligned incentives. It is not necessary that such systems have to be in the private sector. In a few cases high performing systems are also run by government (e.g Singapore). But everything begins and ends with incentives.
The issue with lack of understanding of incentives also informs its erroneous analysis of the causes of corruption. It suggests that a lack of education in values causes corruption . But this is incorrect. It is the incentives of our socialist system, embedded across all aspects of governance and society, that are causing India’s industrial scale corruption. We need to get rid of socialism if we are to have any hope of integrity and honesty in India.
The paper argues that education is a form of charity and that it therefore cannot be commercial activity. Undoubtedly, there is a public good element in education, but teachers and researchers involved respond to incentives. Paying them very well but then demanding results and firing them for non-performance is the best way to get outstanding student outcomes. This is how good systems work (even in communist China).
In the midst of its missing understanding of incentives, we are asked to agree to proposals to increase the role of government, to increase funding for certain aspects of education without any assurance of accountability, and centralization of most decisions regarding curriculum, medium of instruction, and the kinds of research to be conducted. The paper is wrong to give a significant role to government institutes in education, including establishing more IITs and such institutions. All such institutions should be privatised.
What is also missing from the proposal is an emphasis on critical thinking – which is almost entirely missing in India’s educational process today, including from the IITs. It is the absence of critical thinking that is harming India the most.
Paper fails to understand India’s culture
The paper reeks of a misplaced sense of nationalism. Nationalism that is narrow minded has never been part of Indian culture. The Rig Veda say: Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides. India’s history is a great example of openness to ideas. During Chanakya’s time, imports were considered important because we would then get new ideas and become more productive. The idea of shutting down India into using only its own languages is inimical to India’s growth.
In fact, the paper demonstrates almost a level of ill-will towards foreign languages. At the same time it wants the government to get involved in expanding Indian languages abroad. That’s pretty inconsistent, apart from being fundamentally inconsistent with Indian history and culture which it purports to propound.
Indian culture involves many interpretations. We do not need to centralize any decisions about our culture. Let Indians set up their own schools, colleges and universities and decide what kinds of education they want for their children. There can be many types of cultures and approaches.
If it were not for the fact that this is the product of an IIT, one might have even speculated that the paper is the handiwork of deeply ignorant Hindutva, socialist fanatics like Dinanath Batra.
The authors of this paper would benefit a lot by reading the works of James Tooley, Milton Friedman, Lee Kuan Yew , Hayek, even Gandhi. And even reading my work.
Inconsistent with actual educational processes of ancient India
This paper – which talks a lot about Indian culture – does not demonstrate any understanding of how India’s education system worked in the past.
The Indian education system was entirely privately-run prior to the advent of Macaulay.
Now, there has been a lot of vilification of Macaulay in India over the recent decade but ninety nine per cent of that is wrong. Some of the vilification is also based on mischievous falsification by Hinduva groups – things that Macaulay never even remotely suggested or wrote. I have dealt with this falsification at some length on my blog.
But on one thing one can agree is that Macaulay’s approach of involving the government in education has harmed India. James Tooley has extensively documented the actual state of affairs of India’s education system prior to Macaulay in his book, The Beautiful Tree. He was prompted in this research by Gandhi’s comments about how education was privately operated in India prior to British rule. And we need to understand that even today, the private sector has done a miraculous job even for the poorest of the poor. Low cost private schools are a available in every nook and corner of India, and they almost invariably perform better than government schools.
Curriculum and medium of instruction
The paper talks a lot about curriculum. Yes, some people may hold certain views regarding education, but it is not the business of government to get involved with such matters. Let people themselves decide what they want their children to learn and thereafter the schools can get hold of relevant textbooks. For example, it is improper to indoctrinate everyone in a particular worldview about Indian history, including things like Vedic mathematics.
The medium of instruction is likewise not the business of government to get involved. Parents are best placed to choose. In fact, the appropriate language or medium of instruction can also vary by subject.
How India is depicted in other countries
The paper is wrong to raise concerns about how India is depicted in other countries. How India is depicted is entirely the business of various independent writers across the world. The government of India can have no comment to make on how other people view this country. India’s history or sociology or science does not belong only to India. It is a topic of research for everyone, and everyone can have their opinion.
One agrees that there is a role for government in providing excellent public libraries. This is primarily the function of local governments but state governments can also get involved to a small extent.
Likewise, there is no role for government in educating teachers. The private sector, such as private universities, is more than competent to adequately train the sector.
The paper does not show an understanding of the role of markets in reflecting the needs of the nation. The demand for research must primarily come from industry. The private sector can readily manage the research needs of India based on market demand. Btw, the proposal to convert all Indian research papers into at least one Indian language is one of the surest ways to destroy any remaining Indian research capability.
I’m closing off here due to shortage of time. There are numerous other issues discussed in the paper but I’ve not had time to review everything.
I think this feedback should be sufficient to prompt further thought.