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Re: More in education as fundamental right



>  A Simple Vision : 
> 
>  Solution of the most complex problem often comes with a simplification of
>  the problem.  How to ensure that every child goes to school and learns? 

>  The Fundamental Right exists. Villagers or slum-communities can get
> together
>  and decide to implement it. Their optimum resource needs have to be met
> by
>  the Government. If these are not being met, the Alliance can talk to the
>  Government- one village micro-plan at a time.. first in scores, then in
>  hundreds, and by the end of 2000 in the thousands.  If the government
> cannot
>  meet the demand, we can supply some grants to start with but let people
> also
>  raise the issue in the Supreme Court. This democratic articulation can be
>  facilitated by the Alliance. 

I think Pratham is doing a great job which must be lauded. However, from
the little that I could gather of their plan, the fundamental right is not
being treated as much as a justiciable tool in favor of children, as much
as a spring-board to greater motivation at the grass-roots level.

My earlier suspicions of the feasibility of education as a fundamental
right have grown stronger. If education is to be made a fundamental right,
then I as a common villager in the corner of any jugle in the deep corners
of Diphu or Arunachal Pradesh should be able to move the Supreme Court
with a writ intended to enforce (a) that the local teacher attends school,
(b) seeking enormous compensation for the loss of income of the child
attributable to the absence of the teacher/ inadequacy of the school
building or other facilities, including laboratory facilities. I was just
a little while reading of a law suit seeking compensation of $395 million
in New York against Macys departmental store (i.e., Rs. 1,600 crores). My
son could have been a Bill Gates had the school teacher attended the
school, the school building had a black board and chalk, or a roof, etc.
Therefore if I were to be serious about this kind of a case, I would move
the Supreme Court for a compensation of $1 billion at the least.

Well, jokes apart, this has to be the natural consequence of the
enforcement of education as a fundamental right: i.e., the enrichment of
lawyers who push all kinds of frivolous cases into Supreme court, the
complete confusion of the poor officials who run the education department,
and impoverishment of tax payers who will be forced to pay for the
enormous costs of defending the government. I was the Secretary of the
Education Department in Assam, in 1993-4, and I can vouch for the fact
that a bulk of the time of the senior officials in government is taken by
court cases. We face contempt cases from the High Court for the slightest
"slight" felt by a judge who feels that somehow his or her order was not
carried out in time. The judges are quite unrealistic and I can expect
them to become even more unrealistic as soon as the parliament declares
education to be a fundamental right. Secretaries to Government can easily
expect to be jailed for the hundreds of thousands of violations of this
fundamental right. 

On the other hand, Pratham's view is much more docile and again,
unrealistic. Pratham thinks that the enforcement of education as a
fundamental right will become a springboard for communities to get
together and work together for education of their children. With due
respect, I would like to point out that this task of motivation of parents
can be better done by providing a more flexible schedule for the school,
so that children can work ("child labor"!) as per their parents' needs
during regular hours. Smita, my wife, has written a paper on Child Labor,
soon to be published in a reputed academic journal, in which she analyzes
the economic basis of parents's withdrawal of children from school. While
that is not always the primary reason for dropouts from school, it is
something vital which we can attack by setting up the correct incentive
structure at the local level.

The district level or state-level recruitment of teachers is competely
defective, and ensures huge pressures on the Minsters and Secretaries to
Government, to post a bulk of the teachers to either the district
headquarters or to the state headquarters.  We need to simplify things by
making the village the recruiting body. All teachers would be temporary,
at the mercy of their governing bodies. The village could pay them over
and above what the government provides for them, as well as give land to
the teacher, and a wife (!).

The school can be built by government, and the village can be given a
fixed amount, say Rs. 7,000 per month, to do as they like, with their
**own** school. They can either hire a teacher and provide facilities to
the school, or have a drinking party with this Rs.7,000. The government
would never audit this money (auditors are "vulnerable"). With this the
responsibility of recruiting a teacher will become completely local;
further, no powers, whether appellate or other-wise, should be retained by
the state government [As appellate authority against the decisions of
District Education Officers, my life as Secy. Education was almost ruined
by these huge number of completely local cases, distracting attention from
the formulation of futuristic plans which should have been my main task].

The focus of the Minister and Secretary would then shift from the peurile
(often "money-greased") attention on transfers/ postings and court cases,
to the process of motivating the people to hire the best teachers, and to
help each community to work out the best hours for school that will
optimize the needs of parents as well as children. 

I vote against the inclusion of education as a fundamental right. There
are many other grounds on which I oppose this, related to the fundamental
consideration of individual responsibility of each parent toward his or
her child, and resistance to allow the state a role of this large a
magnitude into my life, on any pretext. However, I wish to congratulate
Madhav for the sincere efforts of Pratham to improve education of children
in India, and I hope we can contribute to these efforts (even if
theoretically) through formulation of an ideal Manifesto/ agenda that
would promote sensible policies: policies which are based on the
self-interest of concerned people.

I hope Madhav is not disappointed with these arguments. This is not a
final word, anyway. I am sure there is much debate ahead, and I am sure we
would welcome Pratham's involvement in the debate/s. Veluri Rao, the
mountain of wisdom that he is, might like to react, I believe, and point
out where I have gone wrong in my arguments. I would love to be corrected.

Thanks,

Sanjeev