CONCEPT OF SCHOOL CHOICE

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Every incident happening around us is a part of a story. Even every individual surrounding us are the characters in the multiple stories surrounding our heavenly body Earth. This essay represents an attempt to narrate one story from the bunch of thousands of stories and to analyze it multiple dimensions.

A small town farmer named RAMU had two sons i.e. RAMESH and ABHISHEK. Both of they were very active lads showcasing keen interest in their father’s work. However, RAMU having lived his entire life in town areas had recognized the importance of education and the rich dividends it can reap in the future. He decided to admit both of his wards into a nearby government school. And here began the vicious cycle of dilemma and skepticism. RAMU shouted, “You two are back again, don’t you have anything to learn in school”. The honest and quite fearful reply was, “MASTERJI is absent owing to the harvesting season. He is busy in his fields.” The same story continued for some time.

RAMU finally had to succumb to his dreams, his aspirations of making his children highly educated. He could not afford private schooling not could he afford to move out of his place of residence. What is most amusing is that RAMU’s story is not a standalone version. The issue is widely prevalent and visible in poor learning outcomes from government run primary and secondary institutions.

An innovative solution to such issues lies in the concept of “school choice”. What if RAMU gets the option of switching his children to another school without paying any extra charge? He will definitely be able to fulfill his aspirations. School choice concept aids in doing the same. Government in this initiative will provide education vouchers to parents. This voucher will be used to admit students into educational institutions whether private or public. If a private institution charges more than average fees then the balance needs to be payed by parents out of pocket.

The core philosophy behind the initiative is to combine market economy with welfare agenda of state. By giving discretion in hands of parents to select school, element of competition has been given a significant push. Whereas by providing voucher having average value, state is also fulfilling its welfare agenda. The positives of the initiative will be visible in personality of RAMESH and ABHISHEK. Depending upon their parents income they can now opt for school having better performance, the discretion of exit makes institution to improve its performance and develop competitive economy around the educational curriculum.

However, try recalling initial dilemma of RAMU. He was not having sufficient economic potential to opt for better institution. It indicates that RAMU choices will increase within limited fashion i.e. he can opt for institution with in same price band. This illustrates the classic issue of vulnerable sections of our society. The optimum solution for this lies in universal development of primary institutions. Even though Govt. has taken multiple initiatives like RTE, SARV SHIKSA ABHIYAN etc. the results are far from visible. The ASER, 2015 report continues to illustrate the dilapidating condition of government run schools.

Clearly, the proposal has both pros as well as cons. But at the heart of entire debate lies one issue i.e. serving the needs of vulnerable and weaker sections of society. The proposal can be very nicely elaborated via “VOICE and EXIT” principle of Albert O. Hirschman. It is the core of market economy i.e. you raise your voice and finally exit if the services provided are not of desired standards. But the classic dilemma with RAMU is exit to where?

Thus, to conclude on an optimistic and pragmatic note, there is no magic wand which can solve basic governance issues. Health and education have been identified as basic parameter of human development. It is high time utmost priority is attributed to reforming the public institutions working in the said domain. The benchmark set by public institutions will ultimately boost private sector to raise its standards. But the master i.e. state has to take the first step. Concluding with Gandhian philosophy:

The soul of nation is fulfilled not by the achievement so of higher class but by the fulfillment of basic needs desired by downtrodden and vulnerable class.”

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