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Rethinking the No Detention Policy

September 19th, 2017 No comments

In India, children in the age group of 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory elementary education in a neighbourhood school under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009.  This covers primary (classes 1-5) and upper primary (classes 6-8) levels, which collectively constitute elementary education.

Amongst several provisions focused on elementary education, the Act provides for the No Detention Policy.  Under this, no child will be detained till the completion of elementary education in class 8.  The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017, introduced recently, revisits the No Detention Policy.  In light of this, we discuss the No Detention Policy and issues affecting the implementation of RTE.

What is the No Detention Policy?

The rationale for the No Detention Policy or automatic promotion to the next class is minimising dropouts, making learning joyful, and removing the fear of failure in exams.[1]  The evaluation mechanism under the Policy is the Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) for holistic assessments (e.g., paper-pencil test, drawing and reading pictures, and expressing orally) as opposed to the traditional system of examinations.  CCE does not mean no evaluation, but it means an evaluation of a different kind from the traditional system of examinations.

What does the RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017 propose to do?

The Bill proposes a ‘regular examination’ which will be held in class 5 and class 8 at the end of every academic year.[2]  In the event that a child fails these examinations, he will be given remedial instruction and the opportunity for a re-examination.

If he fails in the re-examination, the central or state governments may choose: (i) to not detain the child at all, or (ii) to detain the child in class 5, class 8, or in both classes.  This is in contrast to the current Policy where a child cannot be detained until the completion of class 8.

Conversation around the No Detention Policy

Following the implementation of the No Detention Policy, experts have recommended rolling it back partially or fully.  The reasons for this reconsideration include: (i) the lack of preparedness of the education system to support the Policy, (ii) automatic promotion disincentivising children from working hard, (iii) low accountability of teachers, (iv) low learning outcomes, and (iii) the lack of proper implementation of CCE and its integration with teacher training.1,[3],[4]

In 2015, all the states were asked to share their views on the No Detention Policy.  Most of the states suggested modifications to the Policy in its current form.

What do the numbers say?

Consequent to the enactment of RTE, enrolment has been 100% at the primary level (see Figure 1).  While enrolment has been universal (100%) at the primary level, low transition of students from one class to another at progressively higher levels has been noted.  This has resulted in high dropouts at the secondary education level, with the highest dropout rate being 17% at the class 10 level (see Figure 2).

Figure 1: Enrolment in elementary education (2005-2014)

Figure 1

Sources:  Education Statistics at a Glance, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2016; PRS.
Note: Enrolment over 100 % as seen in primary education signifies that children below and above the age of six are being enrolled at the primary education level.

 

One of the reasons for low dropouts at the elementary level may be the obligation to automatically promote and not detain children under the No Detention Policy.  However, there is no such obligation on the government to provide for the same post class 9 i.e., in secondary education.  The reasons which explain the rise in dropouts at the secondary level include domestic activities for girls and economic activities for boys, reasons common to both include financial constraints and lack of interest in education.[5]

 

Figure 2: Dropout rates in school education (2014-15)

Figure 2 (1)
Sources:  Flash Statistics, District Information System for Education, 2015-16; PRS.

 

How does RTE ensure quality education?

Based on the high enrolment and low dropout rates in elementary education, it can be inferred that children are being retained in schools for longer.  However, there have been some adverse observations regarding the learning outcomes of such children.  For example, the Economic Survey 2015-16 pointed out that only about 42% of students in class 5 (in government schools) are able to read a class 2 text.  This number has in fact declined from 57% in 2007.[6]  The National Achievement Survey (2015) for class 5 has also revealed that performance of students, on an average, had gone down from the previous round of the survey conducted in 2014.[7]

Key reasons attributed to low learning levels are with regard to teacher training and high vacancies.7,[8],[9] Against a total of 19 lakh teacher positions sanctioned under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in 2011-12, only 12 lakh were filled.  Further, approximately 4.5 lakh untrained teachers were operating in 19 states.  Teacher training institutes such as District Institutes of Education and Training are also experiencing high vacancies with regard to trainers who train teachers.[10]  

It has also been noted that the presence of contract/temporary teachers, instead of permanent teachers, contributes to the deterioration of quality of education.  In fact, experts have recommended that to ensure quality secondary education, the reliance on contract/temporary teachers must be done away with.  Instead, fully qualified teachers with salary and benefits must be hired.[11]  It has also been recommended that teachers should not be burdened with ancillary tasks of supervising cooking and serving of mid-day meals.10

The RTE Act, 2009 sought to ensure that teachers acquire minimum qualifications for their appointment, within five years of its enactment (i.e. till March 31, 2015).  Earlier this year, another Bill was introduced in Parliament to amend this provision under the Act.  The Bill seeks to extend this deadline until 2019.

In sum, currently there are two Bills seeking to amend the RTE Act, which are pending in Parliament.  It remains to be seen, how they impact the implementation of the Act going forward.

[1]  “Report of CABE Sub Committee on Assessment on implementation of CCE and no detention provision”, 2015, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/AssmntCCE.pdf

[2] The RTE (Second Amendment) Bill, 2017.

[3] Change in No-Detention Policy, Ministry of Human Resource Development, March 9, 2017, Press Information Bureau.

[4] Unstarred question no. 1789, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Rajya Sabha, December 1, 2016.

[5] “Key Indicators of Social Consumption in India: Education”, NSS 71st Round, 2014, http://mail.mospi.gov.in/index.php/catalog/160/related_materials

[6]  Economic Survey 2015-16, Ministry of Finance, http://indiabudget.nic.in/budget2016-2017/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf

[7]  National Achievement Survey, Class V (Cycle 3) Subject Wise Reports, 2014, http://www.ncert.nic.in/departments/nie/esd/pdf/NationalReport_subjectwise.pdf

[8] “253rd Report: Demands for Grants 2013-14, Demand No. 57”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 26, 2013, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/253.pdf

[9]  “285th Report: Action Taken Report on 250th Report on Demands for Grants 2016-17”, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/285.pdf

[10]  “283rd Report: The Implementation of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Mid-Day-Meal Scheme’, Department of School Education and Literacy, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, December 15, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/283.pdf

[11]  “Report of the CABE Committee on Girls’ education and common school system”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2005, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/Girls%20Education.pdf

Rethinking education: The draft NEP 2016

October 3rd, 2016 No comments

The Ministry of Human Resource Development released the draft National Education Policy, 2016 in July this year.[1]  The Ministry was receiving comments on the draft policy until the end of September 2016.  In this context, we provide an overview of the proposed framework in the draft Policy to address challenges in the education sector.

The country’s education policy was last revised in 1992.  It outlined equitable access to quality education, with a common educational structure of 10+2+3 years.  The draft Policy 2016 aims to create an education system which ensures quality education and learning opportunities for all.  The focus areas of intervention of the draft Policy are: (i) access and participation, (ii) quality of education, (iii) curriculum and examination reforms, (iv) teacher development and management and (v) skill development and employability.  Through these key interventions, the draft Policy provides a framework for the development of education in the country over the next few years.  We discuss the key areas of intervention below.

Access and participation

Figure 1 (1)Presently in the country, enrolment at pre-school levels for children between the ages of 3- 5 years is low.  38% of children in this age bracket are enrolled in pre-school education in government anganwadi centres, while 27% of the children are not attending any (either government or private) pre-school.[2]  In contrast, the enrolment rate in primary education, which is class 1-5, is almost 100%.  However, this reduces to 91% in classes 6-8 and 78% in classes 9-12.[3]  The trend of lower enrolment rates is seen in higher education (college and university level), where it is at 24%.[4]  Due to low enrolment rates after class 5, transition of students from one level to the next is a major challenge.  Figure 1 shows the enrolment rates across different education levels.

With regard to improving participation of children in pre-school education, the draft Policy aims to start a program for children in the pre-school age group which will be implemented in coordination with the Ministry of Women and Child Development.  It also aims to strengthen pre-school education in anganwadis by developing learning materials and training anganwadi workers.  Presently, the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 applies to elementary education only.  To improve access to education, the draft Policy suggests bringing secondary education under the ambit of the RTE Act.  However, a strategy to increase enrolment across different levels of education has not been specified.

Quality of education

Figure 2 (1)A large number of children leave school before passing class eight.  In 2013-14, the proportion of students who dropped out from classes 1-8 was 36% and from classes 1-10 was 47%.3  Figure 2 shows the proportion of students who exited the school system in classes 1-8 in 2008-09 and 2013-14.

Among the population of children who stay in school, the quality or level of learning is low.  The Economic Survey 2015-16 noted that the proportion of class 3 children able to solve simple two-digit subtraction problems fell from 26% in 2013 to 25% in 2014.  Similarly, the percentage of class two children who cannot recognize numbers up to 9 increased from 11.3% in 2009 to 19.5% in 2014.[5]

To address the issue of learning levels in school going children, the draft Policy proposes that norms for learning outcomes should be developed and applied uniformly to both private and government schools.  In addition, it also recommends that the existing no-detention policy (promoting all students of a class to the next class, regardless of academic performance) till class 8  be amended and limited to class 5.  At the upper primary stage (class six onward), the system of detention should be restored.

Curriculum and examination reforms

It has been noted that the current curriculum followed in schools does not help students acquire relevant skills which are essential to become employable.  The draft Policy highlights that the assessment practices in the education system focus on rote learning and testing the students’ ability to reproduce content knowledge, rather than on understanding.

The draft Policy aims to restructure the present assessment system to ensure a more comprehensive evaluation of students, and plans to include learning outcomes that relate to both scholastic and co-scholastic domains.  In order to reduce failure rates in class 10, the Policy proposes to conduct examination for the subjects of mathematics, science and English in class 10 at two levels.  The two levels will be part A (at a higher level) and part B (at a lower level).  Students who wish to opt for a vocational stream or courses for which mathematics, science and English are not compulsory may opt for part B level examination.

Teacher development and management

It has been observed that the current teacher education and training programs are inadequate in imparting the requisite skills to teachers.  The mismatch between institutional capacity to train teachers and required supply in schools results in a shortage of qualified teachers.  At the level of classes 9-12, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan prescribes a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:30.[6]  However, some states have a higher teacher-pupil ratio: Chhattisgarh (1:45), Bihar (1:57) and Jharkhand (1:68).3  In various central universities, the total number of sanctioned teaching posts is 16,339, of which 37% are lying vacant.[7]

The draft Policy recommends that state governments should set up independent teacher recruitment commissions to facilitate transparent, merit based recruitment of principals, teachers, and other academic staff.  For teacher development, a Teacher Education University should be set up at the national level to focus on teacher education and faculty development.  In addition, the draft Policy also states that all teacher education institutes must have mandatory accreditation.  To ensure effective teacher management, periodic assessment of teachers in government and private schools should be carried out and linked to their future promotions and increments.

Skill development and employability

It has been noted that the current institutional arrangements to support technical and vocational education programs for population below 25 years of age is inadequate.  The social acceptability of vocational education is also low.  Presently, over 62% of the population in the country is in the working age-group (15-59 years).[8]  Only 10% of this workforce (7.4 crore) is trained, which includes about 3% who are formally trained and 7% who are informally trained.[9]  In developed countries, skilled workforce is between 60-90% of the total workforce.[10]

The draft Policy proposes to integrate skill development programs in 25% of schools and higher education institutions in the country.  This is in line with the National Skill Development and Entrepreneurship Policy that was released by the government in 2015.

The draft Policy 2016 focuses on important aspects that have not been addressed in previous policies such as: (i) curriculum and examination reforms, and (ii) teacher development .  Although the Policy sets a framework for improving education in the country,  the various implementation strategies that will be put in place to achieve the education outcomes envisaged by it remains to be seen.

For an analysis on some education indicators such as enrolment of students, drop-out rates, availability of teachers and share of government and private schools, please see our Vital Stats on the ‘overview of the education sector’ here.

[1] Some Inputs for Draft National Education Policy 2016, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/Inputs_Draft_NEP_2016.pdf.

[2] Rapid Survey on Children, 2013-14, Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20FACT%20SHEETS%20Final.pdf.

[3] Secondary education in India, U-DISE 2014-15, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, http://www.dise.in/Downloads/Publications/Documents/SecondaryFlash%20Statistics-2014-15.pdf.

[4] All India Survey on Higher Education 2014-15, http://aishe.nic.in/aishe/viewDocument.action?documentId=197.

[5] Economic Survey 2015-16, Volume-2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2015-16/echapvol2-09.pdf.

[6] Overview,  Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resource Development, http://mhrd.gov.in/rmsa.

[7] “265th Report: Demands for Grants (Demand No. 60) of the Department of Higher Education”, Standing Committee on Human Resource Development, April 2013, 2015, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20HRD/265.pdf.

[8] “Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship: Key Achievements and Success Stories in 2015”, Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Press Information Bureau, December 15, 2015.

[9] Draft Report of the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Skill Development, NITI Aayog, September 2015, http://niti.gov.in/mgov_file/Final%20report%20%20of%20Sub-Group%20Report%20on%20Skill%20Development.pdf.

[10] Economic Survey 2014-15, Volume  2, http://indiabudget.nic.in/es2014-15/echapter-vol2.pdf.

Does the financing of “Rights” laws impinge on the rights of states

August 20th, 2013 2 comments

In the last decade, some schemes have been recast as statutory entitlements – right to employment, right to education and right to food.  Whereas schemes were dependent on annual budgetary allocations, there rights are now justiciable, and it would be obligatory for Parliament to allocate sufficient resources in the budget.  Some of these rights also entail expenditure by state governments, with the implication that state legislatures will have to provide sufficient funds in their budgets.  Importantly, the amounts required are a significant proportion of the total budget.

There has been little debate on the core constitutional issue of whether any Parliament can pre-empt the role of resource allocation by future Parliaments.  Whereas a future Parliament can address this issue by amending the Act, such power is not available to state legislatures.  Through these Acts, Parliament is effectively constraining the spending preferences of states as expressed through their budgets passed by their respective legislative assemblies.  I have discussed these issues in my column in Pragati published on August 16, 2013.

The Mid Day Meal Scheme

July 23rd, 2013 3 comments

In light of recent debates surrounding the implementation of the Mid Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) in certain states, it is useful to understand the basic features of the scheme.

The MDMS is the world’s largest school meal programme and reaches an estimated 12 crore children across 12 lakh schools in India. A brief introduction follows, outlining the key objectives and provisions of the scheme; modes of financing; monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and issues with implementation of the scheme. Examples of ‘best practices’ and major recommendations made by the Planning Commission to improve the implementation of the scheme are also mentioned.

Provisions:  The MDMS emerged out of the National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP – NSPE), a centrally sponsored scheme formulated in 1995 to improve enrollment, attendance and retention by providing free food grains to government run primary schools. In 2002, the Supreme Court directed the government to provide cooked mid day meals (as opposed to providing dry rations) in all government and government aided primary schools.[1]

Calorie norms for the meals have been regularly revised starting from 300 calories in 2004, when the scheme was relaunched as the Mid Day Meal Scheme. At present the MDMS provides children in government aided schools and education centres a cooked meal for a minimum of 200 days.[2] Table 1 outlines the prescribed nutritional content of the meals.

Table 1: Prescribed nutritional content for mid day meals 

Item Primary (grade 1-5) Upper Primary(grade 6-8)
Calories 450 700
Protein (in grams) 12 20

Source: Annual Report, 2011 – 12, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India; PRS.

Objectives: The key objectives of the MDMS are to address the issues of hunger and education in schools by serving hot cooked meals; improve the nutritional status of children and improve enrollment, attendance and retention rates in schools and other education centres.

Finances: The cost of the MDMS is shared between the central and state governments. The central government provides free food grains to the states. The cost of cooking, infrastructure development, transportation of food grains and payment of honorarium to cooks and helpers is shared by the centre with the state governments. The central government provides a greater share of funds. The contribution of state governments differs from state to state. Table 2 outlines the key areas of expenditure incurred by the central government under the MDMS for the year 2012 – 2013.

Table 2: Key areas of expenditure in the MDMS (2012 – 2013)

Area of expenditure                                      Percentage of total cost allocated
Cooking cost 53
Cook / helper 20
Cost of food grain 14
Transportation assistance 2
Management monitoring and evaluation 2
Non recurring costs 10

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; Fourth NSCM Committee meeting, August 24, 2012; PRS.

Monitoring and Evaluation: There are some inter state variations in the monitoring and evaluation mechanisms of the MDMS.  A National Steering cum Monitoring Committee and a Programme Approval Board have been established at the national level, to monitor the programme, conduct impact assessments, coordinate between state governments and provide policy advice to central and state governments. Review Missions consisting of representatives from central and state governments and non governmental agencies have been established. In addition, independent monitoring institutions such as state universities and research institutions monitor the implementation of the scheme.

At the state level, a three tier monitoring mechanism exists in the form of state, district and block level steering cum monitoring committees. Gram panchayats and municipalities are responsible for day to day supervision and may assign the supervision of the programme at the school level to the Village Education Committee, School Management and Development Committee or Parent Teacher Association.

Key issues with implementation: While there is significant inter-state variation in the implementation of the MDSM, there are some common concerns with the implementation of the scheme. Some of the concerns highlighted by the Ministry for Human Resource Development based on progress reports submitted by the states in 2012 are detailed in Table 3.

Table 3: Key implementation issues in the MDMS

Issue State(s) where these problems have been reported
Irregularity in serving meals Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh
Irregularity in supply of food grains to schools Orissa, Maharashtra, Tripura, Karnataka, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Delhi, Andhra Pradesh
Caste based discrimination in serving of food Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh
Poor quality of food Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Chhattisgarh
Poor coverage under School Health Programme Orissa, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh
Poor infrastructure (kitchen sheds in particular) Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Gujarat, Chandigarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Orissa
Poor hygiene Delhi, Rajasthan, Puducherry,
Poor community participation Most states – Delhi, Jharkhand, Manipur, Andhra Pradesh in particular

Source: Ministry of Human Resource Development; PRS.

Best practices: Several state governments have evolved practices to improve the implementation of the MDMS in their states. These include involving mothers of students in implementation of the scheme in Uttarakhand and Jharkhand; creation of kitchen gardens, i.e., food is grown in the premises of the school, in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Punjab and West Bengal; construction of dining halls in Tamil Nadu; and increased community participation in the implementation of the scheme Gujarat. More information is available here.

Planning Commission evaluation of MDMS: In 2010, a Planning Commission evaluation of the MDMS made the following recommendations to improve implementation of the scheme:

i. Steering cum monitoring committees at the district and block levels should be made more effective.

ii. Food grains must be delivered directly to the school by the PDS dealer.

iii. The key implementation authority must be made responsible for cooking, serving food and cleaning utensils, and school staff should have a supervisory role.  The authority should consist of local women’s self help groups or mothers of children studying in the schools.

iv. Given the fluctuating cost of food grains, a review of the funds allocated to the key implementation authority must be done at least once in 6 months.

v. Services might be delivered through private providers under a public private partnership model, as has been done in Andhra Pradesh.


[1] PUCL vs. Union of India, Writ Petition (Civil) 196 of 2001.

[2] The following institutions are covered: Government and government aided schools, National Child Labour Project (NCLP) schools, Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) and Alternative and Innovative Education (AIE) centres including Madrasas and Maqtabs supported under the SSA

 

The President’s speech: Charting out reform

March 7th, 2013 No comments

Yesterday the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha engaged in a debate on the President’s speech, known as the Motion of Thanks. The President’s speech is a statement of the legislative and policy achievements of the government during the preceding year and gives a broad indication of the agenda for the year ahead. Close to the end of the UPA government’s term, it would be useful to evaluate the status of the commitments made in the President’s addresses. (To know more about the significance of the President’s speech refer to this Indian Express article. To understand the broad policy and legislative agenda outlined in this year’s address see this PRS Blog.)

The President’s speeches since the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009, have addressed reforms to the financial and social sectors, improving accountability of public officials, and making the delivery of public services more efficient.  We analyse the status of each of these commitments.

Accountability in governance processes

In an effort to increase accountability and transparency in governance processes, the government introduced a number of Bills.

  • The the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill and the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill enable individuals to file complaints against judges and other government officials for corruption and misbehaviour.
  • The Whistleblowers Bill has been introduced to protect persons who are making disclosures on corruption, on the misuse of power and on criminal offences by public servants.

These bills have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are pending in the Rajya Sabha.  The government has recently approved amendments to the Lokpal Bill, which may be considered by the Rajya Sabha in the Budget session.

Public service delivery

In order to make public service delivery more efficient, the government introduced the Electronic Services Delivery Bill and the Citizen’s Charter Bill.

  • The Electronic Services Delivery Bill aims to deliver all government services electronically .
  • The Citizens Charter Bill creates a grievance redressal process for complaints against the functioning of any public authority.
  • Both Bills are pending in the Lok Sabha since introduction in December 2011.
  • Related initiatives include linking the delivery of public services to Aadhaar and moving towards the cash transfer of subsidies. On January 1, 2013, the government piloted cash transfers to deliver subsidies for scholarships and pensions.

Social sector reforms: land, food security and education

Broad sectoral reforms have been undertaken in land acquisition, food security and education to aid development and economic growth.

  • Land:  In 2011, the government introduced the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill. The Standing Committee Report on the Bill was released in May last year, based on which the government circulated a list of amendments to the Bill in December 2012.
  • Education: Elementary and middle school education saw reform in 2009 with the passage of the Right to Education Act (RTE Act). This legislation provides every child between the age of six to fourteen years with the right to free and compulsory education. As per the law, by March 2013 all schools are to conform to the minimum standards prescribed. States have expressed concerns over their preparedness in meeting this requirement and it remains to be seen how the government addresses this issue.
  • Food security: The National Food Security Bill is pending in Parliament since 2011. The Bill seeks to make food security a legal entitlement, reform the existing Public Distribution System and explore innovative mechanisms such as cash transfer and food coupons for the efficient delivery of food grains. The Standing Committee gave its recommendations on the Bill in January this year.

Financial sector reforms

In order to aid growth and encourage investments, the President had mapped out necessary financial sector reforms.

  • Taxation: The Direct Taxes Code has been introduced in Parliament to enhance tax realisation. However, even though the Standing Committee has presented its report, there has been little progress on the Bill. Efforts are underway to build political consensus on the Goods and Services Tax to rationalise indirect taxes.
  • Regulation of specific sectors: A bill to regulate the pension sector has been introduced in Parliament. Other financial sector reforms include a new Companies Bill, amendments to the Banking laws and a bill regulating the insurance sector.  Amendments to the banking laws have been approved by Parliament, while those to the Companies Bill have only been passed by the Lok Sabha.

In the backdrop of these legislations, it will be interesting to see the direction the recommendations of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, responsible for redrafting all financial sector regulation, takes.

Internal security

The government is taking measures to deal with internal security concerns such as terrorism and naxalism. In 2009, the President mentioned that the government has proposed the setting up of a National Counter Terrorism Centre. However, this has been on hold since March 2011.

At the beginning of the 15th Lok Sabha in June 2009, the President presented the 100 day agenda of the UPA II government, in his address. Of the eight bills listed for passing within 100 days, none have been passed. In addition, the President’s address in 2009 mentioned five other Bills, from which, only the RTE Act has been passed.  In the final year of its tenure, it needs to be seen what are the different legislative items and economic measures, on which the government would be able to build consensus across the political spectrum.

 

RTE Act’s ban on screening of students not applicable to nursery admission: Delhi High Court

February 26th, 2013 2 comments

Latest in the string of litigations filed after the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 (RTE Act), the Delhi High Court ruled that the Act shall not apply to nursery admissions in unaided private schools for the unreserved category of students.  The decision, given on February 19, was in response to writ petitions filed by Social Jurist, a civil rights group and the Delhi Commission for the Protection of Child Rights.  It contended that the guidelines of the Ministry of Human Resource Development related to schools’ selection procedure should also be applicable to pre-primary and pre-school classes.

The right to education is applicable to children between the age of 6 and 14 years.  The RTE Act states that schools have to reserve certain proportion of their seats for disadvantaged groups.  It adds that where the school admits children at pre-primary level, the reservation for children of weaker sections shall apply.  However, it does not mention whether other RTE norms are applicable to pre-schools.  It only states that the appropriate government may make necessary arrangements for providing pre-school education to children between the age of 3 and 6 years.

Guidelines of the Ministry with regard to selection procedure of students:

  • Criteria of admission for 25% seats reserved for disadvantaged groups: For Class 1 or pre-primary class, unaided schools shall follow a system of random selection out of the applications received from children belonging to disadvantaged groups.
  • Criteria of admission for rest of the seats: Each unaided school should formulate a policy of admission on a rational, reasonable and just basis.  No profiling shall be allowed based on parental educational qualifications.  Also, there can be no testing or interviews for any child or parent.

The two issues that the court considered were: (a) whether RTE applies to pre-schools including nursery schools and for education of children below six years of age; (b) whether RTE applies to the admission of children in pre-schools in respect of the unreserved seats (25% of seats are reserved for children belonging to disadvantaged groups).

According to the verdict, the guidelines issued by the government do not apply to the unreserved category of students i.e. 75% of the admission made in pre-schools in private unaided schools.  This implies that private unaided schools may formulate their own policies regarding admission in pre-schools for the unreserved category of students.  However, they apply to the reserved category of students i.e. 25% of the admission s made in these schools for disadvantaged groups.

The court has however stated that in its view this is the right time for the government to consider the applicability of RTE Act to the nursery classes too.  In most schools, students are admitted from nursery and they continue in the same school thereafter.  Therefore, the RTE Act’s prohibition of screening at the time of selection is rendered meaningless if it is not applicable at the nursery level.

Pre-legislative scrutiny: How can citizens be more actively involved?

December 18th, 2010 1 comment

In recent public discourse over lobbying, two issues that have underscored the debate are:

  1. Greater transparency in the policymaking process, and
  2. Equality of access for all stakeholders in engaging with the process.

There is a need to build linkages between citizens and the policy making process, especially by strengthening scrutiny before a Bill is introduced in Parliament. Currently, there is no process established to ensure pre-legislative scrutiny by the citizenry.

Other democracies incorporate several measures to enhance public engagement in the pre-legislative process. These include:

  • Making all Bills available in the public domain for a stipulated period before introducing them in the legislature. This includes, publishing these Bills in forms (language, medium etc) that are accessible to the general public.
  • Making a report or Green paper on the legislative priorities addressed by the Bill available for citizens.
  • Forming adhoc committees to scrutinise the Bill before it is piloted in the House.
  • Having Standing Committees examine the Bill before introducing it in the House.
  • Providing a financial memorandum for each Bill, which specifies the budgetary allocation for the process/bodies created by the Bill.
  • Creating online fora for discussion. For the sections of the stakeholders who have limited access to the internet, efforts are made to proactively consult them through other media.
  • Expanding the purview of citizens’ right to petition their representatives with legislative proposals.

There are several instances, in the last few years itself, wherein civil society groups have played an active role in the development of pre-legislative scrutiny in India.

  • Public consultation with cross-section of stakeholders when drafting a Bill: The Right to Information Act is seen as a landmark legislation when highlighting the role of civil society actors in the drafting of a Bill.  It also serves as a prime example for how it the movement mobilised widespread public opinion for the Bill, bringing together different sections of the citizenry.
  • Public feedback on draft Bills: In several cases, after a Bill has been drafted the concerned ministry or public body publishes the Bill, inviting public comments. The Right to Education Bill, the National Identification Authority Bill and the Draft Direct Taxes Code Bill 2009 are recent cases in point. These announcements are made through advertisements published in newspapers and other media. For instance, the government has recently proposed to amend the rules of the RTI and has invited public feedback on the rules by December 27.
  • Engaging with legislators: It is important to expand engagement with lawmakers after the Bill has been introduced in Parliament, as they will determine what the law will finally contain.  This is done by approaching individual legislators or members of the committee which is likely to examine the legislation. Standing Committees invite feedback on the Bill through newspaper advertisements.  For instance, the Standing Committee examining the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill heard testimonies from journalists, civil society groups, thinktanks, public bodies and government departments.

The role of the media and channelising the potential of the internet are other key approaches that need to be explored. Other examples and channels of engagement with the legislative process are illustrated in the PRS Primer on Engaging with Policymakers

Revamping India’s Higher Education System

April 29th, 2010 14 comments

The shortage of skilled man-power is a cause for concern in most sectors in India.  Experts acknowledge that the present higher education system in India is not equipped to address this problem without some changes in the basic structure.  Official records show that the gross enrollment ratio in higher education is only 11 per cent while the National Knowledge Commission says only seven per cent of the population between the age group of 18-24 enters higher education.  Even those who have access are not ensured of quality.  Despite having over 300 universities, not a single Indian university is listed in the top 100 universities of the world.

Present Regulatory framework

The present system of higher education is governed by the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is the apex body responsible for coordination, determination and maintenance of standards, and release of grants.   Various professional councils are responsible for recognition of courses, promotion of professional institutions and providing grants to undergraduate programmes.  Some of the prominent councils include All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Bar Council of India (BCI).  The Central Advisory Board of Education coordinates between the centre and the states.

Universities in India can be established by an Act of Parliament or state legislatures such as Delhi University, Calcutta University and Himachal Pradesh University.  Both government-aided and unaided colleges are affiliated with a university.  The central government can also declare an institution to be a deemed university based on recommendation of the University Grants Commission.  There are about 130 deemed universities and includes universities such as Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and Birla Institute of Technology.  Such universities are allowed to set their own syllabus, admission criteria and fees.  Some prominent institutions are also classified as institutions of national importance.

Reforms in Higher Education

There have been calls to revamp the regulatory structure, make efforts to attract talented faculty, and increase spending on education from about 4% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to about 6%. Presently, the allocation for higher education is at a measly 0.7% of GDP.

From time to time government appointed various expert bodies to suggest reforms in the education sector.  The two most recent recommendations were made by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) formed in 2005 under the chairmanship of Mr Sam Pitroda and the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education, formed in 2008 under the chairmanship of Shri Yashpal.

Key Recommendations of NKC Key Recommendations of Yashpal Committee
  • Presently, India has about 350 universities.  Around 1,500 universities should be opened nationwide so that India is able to attain a gross enrolment ratio of at least 15% by 2015.
  • Existing universities should be reformed through revision of curricula at least once in three years, supplementing annual examination with internal assessment, transition to a course credit system, attract talented faculty by improving working conditions and incentives.
  • A Central Board of Undergraduate Education should be established, along with State Boards of Undergraduate Education, which would set curricula and conduct examinations for undergraduate colleges that choose to be affiliated with them.
  • An Independent Regulatory Authority for Higher Education (IRAHE) should be formed.  IRAHE should be independent of all stakeholders and be established by an Act of Parliament.
  • The UGC would focus on disbursement of grants and maintaining public institutions of higher learning.  The regulatory function of the AICTE, MCI, and BCI would be performed by IRAHE.
  • The IRAHE shall have the power to set and monitor standards, accord degree-granting power to institutions of higher education, license accreditation agencies, and settle disputes.  Same norms shall apply to all institutions irrespective of whether they are public or private, domestic or international.
  • Quality of education can be enhanced by stringent information disclosure norms, evaluation of courses by teachers and students, rethinking the issue of salary differentials within and between universities to retain talented faculty, formulating policies for entry of foreign institutions in India and the promotion of Indian institutions abroad.
  • The academic functions of all the professional bodies (such as UGC, AICTE, MCI, and BCI) should be subsumed under an apex body for higher education called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research (NCHER), formed through Constitutional amendment.
  • The professional bodies should be divested of their academic functions.  They should only be looking after the fitness of the people who wish to practice in their respective fields by conducting regular qualifying examination.
  • Establish a National Education Tribunal with powers to adjudicate on disputes among stake-holders within institutions and between institutions so as to reduce litigation in courts involving universities and higher education institutions.
  • Curricular reform should be the top-most priority of the NCHER.  It should be based on the principles of mobility within a full range of curricular areas.
  • Vocational education sector should be brought within the purview of universities.
  • NCHER should promote research in the university system through the creation of a National Research Foundation.
  • Practice of according status of deemed university be stopped till the NCHER takes a considered view on it.
  • NCHER should identify the best 1500 colleges across India and upgrade them as universities.
  • A national testing scheme for admission to the universities on the pattern of the GRE to be evolved which would be open to all the aspirants of University education, to be held more than once a year.
  • Quantum of central financial support to state-funded universities should be enhanced substantially on an incentive pattern.
Sources: The Report to the Nation, 2006-09, NKC; Yashpal Committee Report, 2009; PRS

The Draft NCHER Bill, 2010

In response to the reports, the government drafted a Bill on higher education and put it in the public domain.  The draft National Commission for Higher Education and Research Bill, 2010 seeks to establish the National Commission for Higher Education and Research whose members shall be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the selection committee (include Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha, Speaker).

The Commission shall take measures to promote autonomy of higher education and for facilitating access, inclusion and opportunities to all.  It may specify norms for grant of authorisation to a university, develop a national curriculum framework, specify requirement of academic quality for awarding a degree, specify minimum eligibility conditions for appointment of Vice Chancellors, maintain a national registry, and encourage universities to become self regulatory.  Vice Chancellors shall be appointed on the recommendation of a collegium of eminent personalities.  The national registry shall be maintained with the names of persons eligible for appointment as Vice Chancellor or head of institution of national importance.  Any person can appeal a decision of the Commission to the National Educational Tribunal. (For opinions by some experts on the Bill, click here and here.)

Other Bills that are in the pipeline include The Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operation) Bill, 2010; the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) (Amendment) Bill, 2010; and the Innovation Universities Bill, 2010.