TODAY -

School voucher for economically disadvantaged children : A policy alternative in Manipur

Yasin Khan *

 Primary School Children receiving Mid day meal at Praja High School, Lamshang :: 12th September 2013
Primary School Children receiving Mid day meal at Praja High School, Lamshang in Sep 2013 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam



One of my Professors, in Azim Premji University, was narrating about improving the livelihood of a poorest of the poor village in India through the microfinance services during his engagement with Basix. They were all deadlock what to do for the village, finally they realized to just give them money and let them decide what they want. That solved the problem without much effort from Basix. The programme which is now conventionally called as direct (conditional) cash transfer, which became popular model in the world of poverty elimination after Brazil's Conditional Cash Transfer named as Bolsa Familia. The whole argument here I want to draw your attention is the significance of freedom of choice to target beneficiary rather than forcing to choose what the state offers from the limited option, thereby allowing the market forces to alleviate the inefficiency in school education, and its impact on children's learning outcome. The argument concludes with my verdict of the debate and how can it be an alternative policy for quality education in Manipur.

The debate on voucher for school education goes back to 1955, the year of publication of Milton Friedman's critique of public education which suggested that vouchers would promote competition in the education market and greater efficiency in primary and secondary schools (Friedman 1955). The basic feature of voucher models involved government education funding on a per student basis to the school of the choice of the parent, which is almost similar to higher education scholarships.

So, argument starts with the deprivation of choice by state. I asked many people for couple of years to all age groups (undocumented) that why they don't choose government school. Recently I asked the same question to a boy in a remote village of Rajasthan, softly he answered "Sarkari school mei padai kaha hoti hei" (where does learning happen in Government school).

A street vendor woman who sell vegetable at Kurji Mor, Patna was narrating me that she enrolled her child to government school just to pass on the grades and in addition private tuition is must as government school does not make the future of children at all, she said. These are just few testimonials witnessed by myself rather than citing a bunch of publications. Moreover, we many times question why children of the teachers of government rural primary school hardly send their children to government school? The answer is almost same as given above by the boy.

It's already established that Low Fee Private (LFP) schools are proliferated even at the remote villages, yet children in government schools are dominated from economically backward or underprivileged families. Family income or wealth of the family is of one the strongest determining factor in parental school choice, meaning that those who are not accessing LFP schools are not doing so because they cannot afford it, as reported by parents (Harma, 2010). Caste and religion are also negatively significant determining factor that to be Muslim or Christian and to be Schedule Caste reduces the chance of accessing to LFP schools (Harma, 2010). Caste or religion per se does not determine wholly that children of these caste or religion goes to government school, rather family of these caste or religion mostly falls under economically underprivileged category.

The above argument supports that voucher for school will help economically underprivileged children get access to LFP schools, as per the choice of the parents. Now the question of the critique of the voucher model of funding school education is whether the private school really effective in terms of student learning outcome compared to government schools or not, is the crux of the debate.

The advocates of voucher school education views the theory of personal choice and market forces as a means of maintaining the social order and maximising the social order, personal choice being more important than social and collective ideals. The main supporting theme of market force is the competition, that competition effect will yield better outcome. Autonomy effect also comes in the picture here, that the assumption that private schools are more efficient and effective than government schools in achieving education outcome as private schools adapt quickly to change i.e. demand of the market (consumers means parents) and more freedom from the centralised bureaucracy. English has become more demanding and more functional which is why private schools pay more attention in learning English than Mathematics. In this context, opponents of school voucher argue that the autonomy will lead to indulge in more globalised culture reducing the preservation of indigenous in terms of linguistic and context. More explanation about impact on learning outcome is being discussed in the succeeding lines. The critiques of school voucher views that the system of voucher education will lead to downplay of social cohesion and equality of opportunity. Meaning, government schools have an inherent advantage in developing social cohesion and unifying social values and social capital, and promote equality of opportunity. My verdict of the debate is being discussed taking help of the findings from Indian context.

Following a debate thread at Mint's editorial titled "Building a schooling system that delivers'' that suggest school voucher will solve India's problem of school education, the counter view of Anurag Behar titled "Politics trumps economics" compelled me to dive into the findings of experimental evidence (Randomized control trail experiment) on the impact of a school choice programme in Andhra Pradesh (India) (the project named as Andhra Pradesh Randomized Evaluation Study (APRESt) that featured a unique two-stage lottery-based allocation of school vouchers.

As cited above the main theme of the debate on voucher schooling is the impact on learning outcome. The finding from the APRESt reaffirm, as other research finding also does, that the there is no difference between the test scores of lottery winner and losers on Mathematics and Telegu (native language) as found by Muralidharan and Sundararaman (2013). The study finds no evidence of adverse effect on government school students who do not apply for the voucher, or on students who starts out to private school. This negates the argument of the opponents of private school that voucher schooling will lessen equality of opportunity and social cohesion. The study takes into account of the instructional timing. Private school pays more time in English, Social Science, Hindi (in the case of Andhra Pradesh) while government school pays more time in Maths and Telegu, even then the results of Maths and Telegu are of no difference between Private schools and Government schools. Meaning, private schools produce same result even when they invest lesser time in Maths and Telegu. Thus the finding claims that private schools are more productive than government schools.

Moreover, the study again claims that, which is consistent with those found by Harma (2010), one demographic group that seems to be significantly benefited from the voucher programme is Muslim students. Muslims are educationally most disadvantaged demographic group in India as per Sachar Committee Report, 2006. This again negates the hypothesis of the opponents of voucher schooling that it will reduce equality of opportunity; rather this reduces educational disparity among demographic groups.

Cost effectiveness is one the critical area of decision making for a policy. The total spending of government in schools is over 3.5 times the mean per child spending in the private schools in the sample of APRESt. Meaning, the average cost per student in the private school is less than one-third of the student of the per student costs in the government schools, and thus the value of the voucher was only around 40% of the per student costs in the government schools. So the finding concludes in terms of cost effectiveness that private schools produce better academic outcomes at lower cost and unambiguously both more productive and cost effective than government schools in Indian context. Therefore, it is to draw the conclusion that from all aspect vouchers for primary schools students would be the best alternative policy for universal quality education for all in India.

Now I would like to bring in the argument in the context of the educational condition of Manipur which is far below the satisfactory level as. The condition of government schools in Manipur are so pathetic (Salam, 2014) that almost all schools have now turned into Cow sheds or home to tall grasses. Government teachers are now doing their side business apart from getting salary of being a government teacher.

Schools are absent of students because of extreme lack of confidence from parents. Former member of steering committee of Vision 2020, N. Mohendra Singh regrets about the condition of education in Manipur stating that "unless the education system is improved at primary level, Manipur will remain backward even 10 to 20 years from now'' as compared to other states. Though the system run by the state is indifference to the situation, parents are sensitive and aware enough for the future of their children. The overall enrolment of students to private school has increased multi fold in rural areas across India. It is fascinating that Manipur is one of the poorest state in India and poorest among North East Council states with 47.1 percent in 2010 and estimated 36.89 percent Below Poverty Line (BPL) for 2011-2012, yet contrary Manipur has 70 per cent of children enrolled in private school which is highest in India, followed by Kerala with 68.6 per cent.

In the situation blend with almost dead state run elementary education and sheer demand of private school from the parents it is an urgent compelling to find an alternative for economically disadvantaged children to meet desirable level of equality of opportunity. I would not suggest for Public Private Partnership (PPP) model which would again demean the core mechanism of market force, the competition effect in bringing quality education. To conclude, the above arguments solely inform us to go for school voucher system especially in Manipur as a policy alternative to the current situation of state run school education which is completely indifferent to the demand of parents and future of the children of Manipur. This is also a policy alternative to cost effectiveness (as discussed above) and quality maintenance. This will partly effect on the economy of the state as the return to education increases, the production theory that returns to education increases as input to education increases. Finally I would like to draw the attention of intellectuals to the debate on the issue for a better Manipur.


* Yasin Khan wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a Gandhi Fellow, Kaivaliya Education Foundation, Rajasthan and presently at Azim Premji University, who can be contacted at ansary(Dot)shent(at)gmailDot)com
This article was posted on September 05, 2014.


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