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.”

INDIA’S DEMORCRATIC FUNCTIONING: WE ARE NOT FAILING! WE ARE FAIRING FORWARD!

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Kerala State Assembly was in news headlines recently. Uproar created by opposition and the reluctance of ruling party ultimately resulted in total chaos. Chair of Speaker was witnessed flying in air having been uprooted in the ongoing chaos (yes, you heard me correct!). But if I am correct the venue of entire episode was our Temple of Democracy i.e. Legislative House and the actors of conflict were none other than our honorable elected MLAs. This is just one small example with multiple other incidents on even larger scale occurring across our country. Is that how democracy was supposed to function? Whether this represents a characteristic of democratic society functioning or is it just about the state to which our society has denigrated to? This article represents an attempt on my part to understand the functioning of democratic societies and way ahead.

# How Democracy functions?

Without going into technical terminologies of elections, democracy can be basically understood as supremacy of people. It is “we the people of India” who finally decides the end result. A parliament disruption is just a miniscule manifestation of larger picture. In words of “Amartya Sen: The Argumentative Indian”, interactions between two individuals give rise to arguments which decides the final outcome. Thus the final result is an outcome of consensus established between multiple actors. (Wait a minute did I really say that!)How can consensus be ever established when so many interest groups are involved in deliberation? Whether that does not indicates the technical error on entire methodology? However closer examination does suggest that this practice has been the basis of our existence.

If single actor is given predominance and allowed to run the entire country without taking other stakeholders on board, we might move towards rapid development but the same will not be an inclusive one. Inclusion of Rajya Sabha in Parliamentary functioning was based on similar premise i.e. to allow states to present their concerns under mainstream discussion. Thus we represent the small tortoise that has to move slowly, consistently but with final aim towards progress/development/or what we call it as Good Governance.

# Relevance in current context

I did not indulge in writing this article just out of curiosity to present a new entry on my blog. It represents my stand on democratic functioning of our society. Having heard criticism as mentioned in introductory paragraph and multiple others stating the poor states of developmental affairs in India, I remain a firm critic of the same. We are not failing but we are fairing forward!

Ongoing deliberation on Land Acquisition Issue manifests the entire scenario. One thing which no civil society activist can negate is the fact that we need land for development. We cannot forever be engaged in agriculture as our prime occupation. But then why this vociferous opposition against current BJP led govt. Answer lies in functioning of democracy itself. Once a benchmark is established as was under the 2013 Act then there is no going back. As stated in 2015 Economic Survey that radical reforms are possible only at the time of crisis. Present govt. might have come under full majority but short of strength in RS has made it taste the worse opposition.

# Conclusion

Ongoing tussle between Ruling party and opposition alliance represents the strength of Indian democratic functioning. It prevents any radical shift in our policies and allows greater political discussion. What remains the point of concern is the manner of deliberation. Evolving code of ethics for parliamentarians remains the need of hour for rectifying the same.

I would like to end the article on an optimistic note that we are not failing. As Howard Zinn said “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it.” We need protest but we also need code of conduct to guide that protest. We need disruption but we also need healthy discussion. Thus we must appreciate the efforts of our Constitution Makers and try to see the positive aspect of ongoing disruptions.

66th REPUBLIC DAY CELEBRATIONS: ASSESSING INDIAN CONSTITUTION

Troops on RDay

Today is 26th January and we once again celebrated our Republic day. Albeit, I stayed at home owing to my never ending resistance towards socializing and fear of losing precious time yet I ended up sparing my entire day watching Bollywood movies. Nevertheless, my intention is not to describe my day but to focus upon India’s progress while enjoying the wonderful evening of Republic day.

Today was 66th year since India has been functioning under the umbrella of comprehensive guiding book i.e. our Constitution. When I try to dwell upon the contents of this precious document, I wonder the immense patience, intense deliberation and far sighted vision of our forefathers. Inclusion of secular credentials, Fundamental Rights, DPSP, Emergency provisions, federal structure has been elaborately defined in the sacred document. In fact words of Woodrow Wilson ring my ears on looking at this Indian Bible/Quran/Gita etc. –“By comparison we can borrow the art of sharpening the knife without killing someone”. Precisely, the above statement comprehensively encapsulates the hard work which our fore fathers did for framing this document. Even though we did look upon provisions from every possible functional Constitution of world but it was not the mere imitation. Rather, focus was on converting the same in accordance with India’s domestic requirements.

However, what bothers an eager mind is the pertinent question that whether India has really progressed? Whether the Constitution has really shown us the direction and are we really moving towards it? This article will briefly try to analyze about India’s progress keeping in mind our historical incidents which played significant role in shaping our future.

Article 19 (1)(a) of Indian Constitution prescribes Right to Speech and Expression as our Fundamental Right. Yet the events such as withdrawal of Windy Doniger book, recent act of Perumal Murugan on publicly quitting writing presents a different picture. Similarly, Secularism has been mentioned in our Preamble yet we witness communal violence as seen in Muzaffarnagar. Religion has become a new tool in hands of political bosses to carefully nurture their voter base. Ideals of Constitution and to be specific DPSP are hardly given any prominence in actual life.

Does this indicate that our Constitution has failed? Clearly denying the statement I would be explicitly negating the statement. A phrase from my favorite movie “Rang De Basanti” provides strong support to my views- “No nation is perfect, we have to make one”. Incorporating high ideals into a document does not indicate imbibing the same in our daily life’s. However, presence of such a document does provide us a direction/ path/ vision in which to proceed. It gives us the power to discriminate between right and wrong. Moreover, if there is any rational logic on how a country comprising of diverse religion, faith, ethnicity, linguistic etc. has survived till date and even progressed then it can be linked with strong foundation provided by our Constitution.

Thus even though the argumentative tradition comes naturally to we Indians yet the same dialogue is tilted towards greater skepticism and criticism. We must not forget that during the same 66th Republic day celebrations US president was the Chief Guest at flag hoisting ceremony. His personal visit , his commitments towards new enhanced relationship i.e. “ Chalein Sath Sath” does indicates upto significant extent about the progress which India has made in global arena. Let’s rejoice on this auspicious occasion and commit our energies towards attainment of our goals in the direction of national welfare.

Signing Out!

Jai Hind and Jai Bharat!

Working on Child Education

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Well, it seems to be the most common topic, yet the sheer deficiency of innovation seems inconspicuous. Govt. spends considerable amount of money towards primary,secondary and higher education. But the outcome is still the same. whether we have  accepted defeat? or whether the land of “jugaad” i.e. indigenous innovation has lost touch with it in reality?

Multiple reasons can be attributed to present state of affairs.

1. Sole focus on improving accessibility without bothering about quality.

2. lack of effective regulatory mechanism. Private colleges are mushrooming but apart from physical infrastructure are they fulfilling the basic academic requirements?

3. Consideration of teaching as a subsidiary affair. It not only amounts to injustice to individual job but concomitantly jeopardizes the nurturing of associated class students.

4. Excessive focus on rote learning instead of developing interest in education.

i do not want to sound pessimistic and i personally am the greatest admirer of the sheer magnitude of operations that administration handles. Yet its high time to bring about changes in existing state of affairs and bring to life thousands of recommendations made till date. beginning can be made from sector specific issues and re framing the regulatory setup. Some key steps would include-

1. Proper regulatory mechanism with decentralized control. Focus should be on critical scrutiny at the time of giving recognition and subsequently bestowing the institutions with autonomy to undertake innovation.

2. Re framing the curriculum with on board internships, practical engagement, tutorials and active interaction.

3. Focusing on teachers education and inculcating in them the spirit of leadership and values system. It is the teaching community which frames the mind and value system of generations yet to come.

4. Encouraging more private sector participation while ensuring maintenance of requisite standards.

5. Exclusive focus from national leadership with aid in bringing drastic results.

Education reaps benefits in long term and so remains a least important issues in priority list. Where as it si the single field having the potential to change the entire Indian society discourse. Sooner we realize better will be for us in alleviating life’s of millions of Indians still living in despair.