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Education: Private or Public?

A constant debate in India is between public and private sectors - which is better for growth, which is better for social equity and which can propel the nation to the next orbit?

Clearly, given the last decade and half's run that the economy has had, private sector has won the debate as far as Industry is concerned. However the debate still continues for public utility services like education and healthcare.

Especially with such a large part of the population still to become literate and quality of education being under doubt (even for the private sector in some cases), the pendulum is still oscillating between private and public for the educational sector. While there are several arguments in favour of privatization of education and private education vouchers, the one's against it are not completely unfounded. I quote:

The assumption of competition in turn assumes three things: a) that “school choice” is real, b) that it is not possible to cheat the system, and c) that information flows are reliable enough to evaluate quality.
As this comparison shows, China has done better than India both in providing quality and access to primary education, yet done so through a largely public system.
Clearly, then, privatization is not the only game in town. Nor is there any reason to believe that private schools are always preferred. For instance, a recent study in slums found that the vast majority of parents sent their children to “budget” private schools. This does not indicate a preference for private schools, but rather a lack of sufficient and good public schools.
In my opinion, no system can work without good leaders (call them administrators or managers if you wish), and the debate is less so about private vs. public as it is about efficient mechanism for the leaders to emerge or to be able to work.

For example, in the pro-communist public sector system of industry, there was little incentive to perform and hence it was difficult for leaders / efficient workers to be benefited and hence emerge. Liberalization solved this problem for industry with positive effects.

Education however, is not so much of a "performance oriented" system for its operators (namely teachers and parents) as it is for the students. Hence with an array of competitive examinations, the system is more or less fair for the student who is able to get proper access to education. So the problem here is namely - "How to provide access to education?" - which I don't think is something that the private-public debate can help address.

We need to have a system which - irrespective of whether the schooling system is public or private - is able to ensure that able teachers get promoted as administrators of the system and are able to "run" the system as they wish it should. A lesson can be learnt from our own IIT's / IIM's or the way the American University (or educational) system works.

One way out could be empowering parent-teacher organizations and providing autonomy to schools to govern themselves under the parent-teacher umbrella system. This needs little regulatory intervention (to resolve disputes and provide for high level monitoring) but a major one time overhaul of the way public and private educational institutions in the country are run.

Will write on it in a more structured manner sometime ... this is it for now.


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