Reforming school education : triggering innovations, sustaining hopes


1992, I had edited a special issue of the Administrator, the journal of LBSNAA, at the invitation of the the-then Director Mr B N Yugandhar on the Administrative Innovations. Many examples of outstanding innovations were pooled in that volume. For instance, an administrator found that there were long queues for paying road tax outside the RTO every year. Three-fourth of the people, owner of small vehicles, paid one-third of the tax to create inconvenience for the truck and bus owners who paid bulk of the taxes.  He proposed paying road tax once in five years. Today we all know that we pay this tax once in a lifetime. If we calculate the value of the time and energy spent by millions of people standing in the queue every year one can easily imagine how convenient and cost effective has this solution been. There are numerous other such initiatives which have reduced the transaction costs of common people. A good example of a recent agile and responsive bureaucratic action  is the start-up policy where majority of the bureaucratic hassles have been removed for the first five years for a start-up besides tax and other benefits. So much so, that the  government financial rule( GFR) of 2017 have provided a window of opportunity for manufacturers of innovative product and services by enabling public procurement under single tender. It is a different matter that this has perhaps not been implemented yet by any state or central undertaking so far.

Why do we lack similar responsiveness in certain core sectors like education? Are the needs of certain social, spatial and sectoral segments neglected because of lack of protest or articulation of demand in an organised manner by affected people or a general apathy of the policy makers and implementers.

Look at education system. The middle class has withdrawn its children from government schools. The result is that the children of the poorest families going to  government schools become second class citizens. Because of the poor quality of education, their aspirations also suffer. Simultaneously we witness shortage of highly skilled professionals for a large no of services that the middle class needs. The opportunity for these children to aspire for the top positions in society also get compromised because of high dropout rate, lack of peer encouragement and family compulsions. Extreme Poverty perpetuates itself.

It is not impossible for replicating Navodaya model to every block of the country. They exemplify outstanding institutional innovation in education. Similarly, free multimedia, Multilanguage content for every child whose parents can’t afford tuition is easily manageable. It may be useful to mention that majority of the students who come to elite institutions like IIMs and IITs go for coaching despite strong academic credentials. The outstanding retired teachers can be hired to provide a helpline for children who can’t follow a particular concept. It is paradoxical that while majority of the labour is absorbed in agriculture, weaving and petty vending, the curriculum does not include these subjects at all. During our Shodhyatras/learning walks all over the country, we often stay overnight in the primary or secondary school building. Exceptions apart, most classroom walls are blank and have no posters of minimal general knowledge that children are expected to have, no globe, no library. The sport facilities are abysmally poor and most secondary schools do not have labs or even a microscope. It is not lack of resources or imagination which has led to such an awful situation for the disadvantaged children of the country. It is perhaps the fear of the middle class that they may have to do all household chores themselves because maids and servants may not be available if such children get good education and aspire for higher goals in life. The situation in tribal regions, deserts and mountains sometimes is even worse. This can change provided the bureaucratic inertia can be overcome and a time bound transparent system of improving education can be implemented.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place