In government schools, focus on quality | HT Editorial
A recent analysis of the education expenditures of eight states by the Centre for Policy Research’s Accountability Initiative showed that while their elementary and secondary school expenditure (per student) increased in 2017-18, as compared to 2014-15, enrolment in government schools fell during the same period. The eight states are Bihar, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Himachal Pradesh. The reasons for falling enrolment include poor quality of learning; teacher vacancies and absenteeism; weak infrastructure; and low transition rates to secondary level.
A look at the distribution of the expenditure suggests that it has been geared towards providing incentives to students, infrastructure, and salaries to teachers. While this made sense when the goal was on better hard- and soft-infrastructure, the focus now should be on learning quality — students are moving out because the State schools are failing to address that key issue. This is not surprising because while teacher salaries constitute a large share of the expenditure, the investment in their training is low (less than or equal to one per cent in most states).
The pandemic has now made the learning challenge more complicated. To ensure that students regain the lost ground, states must invest in pedagogical and technological tools; assess student needs and equip them with foundational skills; engage with parents and the community; and establish a continuum of learning opportunities because there could be closures in future too. To do these, teachers will be critical; investing in their development will fast track the learning recovery process.