Saturday, July 09, 2005

Educational pyramid


Let me point to a couple of things before I get to the pyramid: Urmi Goswami has a couple of reports in the Economic Times about the recent recommendations of the Central Advisory Board of Education. CABE has recommended universalization of not just primary education, but also secondary education (probably all the way to Plus Two). It has estimated how much is needed to achieve these goals: at 54,000 to 73,000 crores (this is the additional expenditure over the current expenditure of Rs. 47,000 crore), it is quite a bit!

The Hindu has reported on another set of CABE recommendations about higher and technical education. These recommendations also include some about how to raise the money: soak the rich! Read this paragraph, and try not to laugh out loud:

While the committee preferred a "sound differential fee system" in higher education based on the principle of `ability to pay,' the practical difficulties in implementing such a regime have made it suggest a progressive taxation system with the proviso of looking at more than just the income tax.

It is not clear what these 'practical difficulties' are. Evidently, the CABE types haven't heard of the number of people who are willing to pay 100 k (one lakh) rupees a year for engineering education. It is more than 20,000 people in Karnataka alone! And, this 100 k is just the 'official' component; the unofficial component runs into several times more at the time of admission.

Now, the pyramid: Urmi Goswami's report covers some guidelines about the student/teacher ratios at various stages of education; I was surprised to see a 'recommended' ratio of 30 students per teacher at the primary stage! AICTE, on the other hand, mandates 10 to 15 students per faculty in engineering colleges!

In other words, kids don't get the kind of personal attention they need, while college-going teens, who certainly don't need it -- and they resent it, too! -- get subjected to 'hand holding'. Don't you think we have a bad kind of pyramid here?

2 Comments:

  1. Anonymous said...

    1.i read the hindu article. it is actually not such a stupid proposal. in effect the main beneficiaries of subdzd higher ed are the middle & upper middle classes. ideally the govt should just end the subsidy, but since that isn't happening in the next 25 yrs, this kind of progressive taxation might be worth a try. the question is that the current tax struct is already progressive, so why doesn't the govt just use a fixed proportion of the income taxe revenue? why do they need "another" progressive tax system?
    2. one good point in the hindu article is that they finally recognize that this loan funda is difficult to implement in totality. it ain't easy to pay a 4 lac loan for a UG degree. what happens when you go for a PG? how is the loan structured then? what happens in case of a default? what is the collateral? if banks aren't willing to extend loans to students of some state colleges, where their job prospects ain't that good, then what happens? what about non-technical education? should the govt go for the loan scheme in all branches or should it continue to subsidize some streams like nuclear engg?
    most ppl wave the loan scheme as a sort of magic wand, not knowing what it really means?
    3.teacher student ratio thing - in lower classes the demonstration effect is more important. kids spend most of their time with parents, not teachers. in schools it is more important to have a certain minimum of basic infra like toilets, blackboards, etc. human capital there is not engaged in any other activity other than teaching.
    in universitites, personal interaction is more important for collaboration on research projects. you are a prof , you should know, by your logic phds should have a teacher:student ratio=1:30(inverting the pyramid).
    on a sidenote i think even 10 to 15 is a very optimistic no. for indian engg. colleges.

  2. Abi said...

    Hi Anon! At the UG level, I would accept a large student/faculty ratio of as high as 40, because, at this level, good faculty members are in short supply. Personal attention may be provided by the teaching assistants (graduate studies) in smaller tutorial classes, as in the US system.

    For young children, on the other hand, my argument would be: for each skill they learn, the teacher has to monitor that they get it (absolutely?) right. I would presume that a smaller ratio (than 30 that is recommended) would help in keeping the teacher in a sane condition...

    As for college fees, one lakh is an indicative figure; that's how much students pay in private engineering colleges in India. Remember, the *private* colleges exist because the government is unable to provide that education to *so many* people.

    The average cost per student is about 50,000 to 60,000 rupees in these colleges in Karnataka; for arts and science colleges, this figure is likely much less (perhaps 30,000 or so). If students pay only 10,000 rupees (say), then someone else -- we, the people? -- is footing the bill.

    Considering that college education is something enjoyed by only about six percent of the population I am certainly against an *across the board* subsidization of higher education. What I would not mind subsidizing is the education of meritorious students from economically weaker sections. Now, *that* is a much better use of public money.