Saturday, February 04, 2006

Some more on primary education

The previous post had Amartya Sen's views as I found them in Chapter 10 of his book Argumentative Indian. This chapter is based on a lecture he gave in November 2001, and in the section on primary education, Sen draws on the (preliminary?) findings of a study by Pratichi Trust.

Sometime in 2002, the report on the first part of the study was published: The delivery of public education: a study in West Bengal (Pratichi Trust, New Delhi, 2002). I don't have access to this report, nor to an earlier study called the PROBE report: Public Report on Basic Education in India (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999).

Sometime after this report was published, a vigorous debate ensued in the pages of the Times of India. I am just giving links to them in the order in which they appeared. I admit that these were lifted shamelessly from this page that I found through Google.

First one to fire was Swaminathan Aiyar in a hard-hitting column (on 3 November 2002).

Sen's response, and Aiyar's rebuttal followed. The debate has been summarized with some personal commentary by Gurcharan Das in a column.

Much of the debate revolves around the Pratichi report's recommendation that private tuitions be banned; Aiyar opposed it saying it tramples on the "fundamental right" of people "to improve their learning". In the event, the State of West Bengal did eventually ban school teachers from offering private tuitions to their own students -- a practice that Sen calls 'double dipping'.

Reading the debate in quick succession does give you a feeling that you are reading blog entries. They were all opinion columns, of course. If they were blog posts, they probably would have followed in quick succession. Instead, the debate did progress at a rather languorous pace, and unfolded over three to four weeks!


  1. Anonymous said...

    Sen asked only for a ban on "double dipping", right? What was Aiyar's point? I think Sen was quite right about the whole thing.

    I think we too need the educational districts concept. Children from one educational district should not be allowed to attend a school in the next district. This would increase the standards of all the schools because some of the parents may be influential enough to influence the school management!

  2. Abi said...

    Anand, I am not familiar with the facts behind this controversy. The way Amartya Sen skirts this issue in his response to Aiyar's column seems to indicate (to me, at least) that Pratichi recommended a *total* ban on *all* private tuitions (not just double-dipping). Now, that's something that would be difficutlt for anyone -- even Sen -- to defend!

    Control of schools in the hands of the communities they serve is a worthwhile goal. The problem and its (at least partial) solution are well known; yet, noone seems to be doing anything about them. Most government schools are still run from the State Capitals!