Modi govt's one year: Limited progress in education sector

  • Laveesh Bhandari
  • Updated: May 28, 2015 17:17 IST

In the past year, India's education sector has regularly made headlines, especially since the human resource development minister, Smriti Irani, is a charismatic and important leader in the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Yet on the sector's three overarching reform priorities- pedagogy, resourcing, and decision making- the government, thus far, has largely performed poorly on each measure.

Pedagogical changes are typically slow-moving, so expectations for a government's first year should be modest. Indeed, the government has only taken some minor steps thus far, such as tinkering with the choice of education specialists in certain institutions. Nevertheless, even these small changes were poorly handled.

The government has been whittling away at the largely leftist clique that controls education in India. Yet it is a fruitless battle in the government's early days, as the problem lies not in getting rid of entrenched actors but in identifying qualified experts who can replace them. In many cases, the chosen replacements have been controversial. Looking ahead, the government's performance and political maneuvering must improve.

Thus far, stagnant budgetary allocations have prevented resources from flowing into the education sector. Moreover, no major reallocations or reprioritization has occurred. The government has announced that a number of new higher education institutions will be directly overseen by the central government, yet there have been few ideas about how to better fund older institutions, which still need significant support to improve quality. There are some reports of changing the role of the University Grants Commission, but it remains unclear how and when this will occur.

The most important priority is reforming decision making by increasing information, accelerating delegation and decentralization, and improving monitoring. Yet media reports suggest that the government has been delegating less, and there have been regular public battles between the ministry and higher education technocrats. Furthermore, there has been no progress on decentralising Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and mid-day meal, two flagship primary education schemes.

On a positive note, the government is developing a comprehensive rating mechanism for education and skill-development programmes. Moreover, the elimination of the Planning Commission and the decentralization of finance commission transfers will empower states to a much greater degree than in the past. These two changes are bound to positively impact the education sector.

(Laveesh Bhandari is the head and founder of Indicus Analytics, India's premier economics research firm. He has done extensive work on inequality and socioeconomic performance in India.)

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