Equitable and Accessible Education


Equitable and Accessible Education

Date: 26 Jul 2017
Prof. N.V. Varghese, Acting Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Adminstration (NUEPA)
Prof. R. Govinda, Former Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Adminstration (NUEPA)



Record of Discussion

Subject                         :  Equitable and Accessible Education

Date                               :  26 July, 2017

Venue                            :  BPST Main Lecture Hall, Parliament Library Building,

                                          New Delhi     

Experts                          :      1. Prof. R. Govinda, Former Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA)

                                               2. Prof. N. V. Varghese, Acting Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA)


Prof. R. Govinda, Former Vice Chancellor, National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) and Senior Fellow at Council for Social Development (CSD) and Prof. N. V. Varghese, Acting Vice Chancellor, NUEPA, appeared as resource persons for the SRI workshop on Equitable and Accessible Education held on 26 July 2017. Shri Rahul Dev, Honorary Advisor, SRI welcomed the distinguished gathering of members of Parliament and introduced the resource persons for the workshop.

Prof. R. Govinda shared the ideas and issues related to equity in primary education and school education. He said that capturing Indian education is difficult. He called Indian education a paradox as it consists of extremes. He explained this paradox in these facts that India occupies a place of prime importance in the world in terms of technological developments and India is one of the six countries in the world in space technology, leader in information and communication technology and software and among the top economies in the world in terms of growth and size. However, at the same time, India has the largest number of illiterates and out of school children in the world.

Explaining access to education through the equity lens, he urged the distinguished gathering to understand if it means physical availability of school or capability of the individual to access the school. He said that mere equality of opportunity does not ensure equal capability to access. Educational exclusion and social exclusion feed on each other. Hence, breaking the nexus is critical. Deprivation of quality education will perpetuate social exclusion, he said.

Intervention by honorary Advisor, SRI: Considering the presence of a large number of members of Parliament and their interest and curiosity in the subject, he requested them to put their queries before the presentation so that these may be responded to by the experts.

Question by Shri Ajay Misra Teni, MP: He raised two issues, first, the quality of primary education, particularly in rural areas and second, access to quality education so as to ensure schools for all. He wanted to know how the same can be achieved. 

Question by Shrimati Rama Devi, MP: She highlighted the deplorable conditions of schools at village and panchayat level where children mostly from backward classes study and sought to know the way forward to improve the conditions of these schools?

Question by Shri Nihal Chand Chauhan, MP: He sought to know how the gap between private and primary schools in terms of infrastructure, quality of education and the number of students can be bridged.

Question by Shri Laxmi Narayan Yadav, MP: Agreeing to deplorable condition of village level primary education, he underlined the pressing need for taking schools like Navodaya and Kendriya Vidyalayas to the clock level so that talented may get an opportunity and access to quality education.

Question by Shrimati Anju Bala, MP: Drawing a comparison between private and Government schools, she raised the issue of closing the gap. She stated that a many pass out from Government schools do not know how to sign.

Question by Prof. Saugata Roy, MP: He stated that Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Midday Meal Scheme and other measures taken by the Government have brought quantitative changes in school infrastructure at primary level. However, he sought to know the extent to which the same has translated into improvement in quality of education.

He further stated that despite the improvement in condition of schools in government sector, even people from lower strata of society prefer to send their kids to English medium schools in private sector. What can be done to change the scenario?

Question by Shri Gopal Shetty, MP: He brought the attention to the paradox that where there is access to Government school in rural areas, the quality is missing, and where there is quality in Government school, for example in metro cities, people do not wish to send their kids to these schools in favour of English medium private schools. He suggested that efforts should be made to bring equality in education.

Observation made by Dr. Kulamani Samal, MP: The tendency for seeking admissions to private schools is increasing day by day. All the people want to admit their children to private schools rather than Government schools. 

Question by Shri Ravindra Kumar Pandey, MP: He said that in many schools, the faulty implementation of Midday Meal Scheme has diverted the attention of the teachers as well as students from education. He suggested that Midday Meal Scheme should be implemented in such a manner where meals should be served separately in a canteen so that teachers can concentrate upon teaching and can be held responsible in case of any lapses in imparting of education.

Question by Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, MP: He stated that Navodaya and Kendriya Vidyalayas in government sector are running well. He inquired if the number of these schools can be raised so as to augment their accessibility? Further, he raised the issue of quality and qualified teachers.

Question by Shri Md. Badaruddoza Khan, MP: He asked why parents want to send their children to private schools when quality of teachers in the Government schools is better in comparison to the private schools. He advocated that responsibility of teachers must be fixed.

Observation of a Member of Parliament: He opined that knowledge should be at the core of imparting education not meal. Midday meal has diverted the attention of our education system from knowledge to food.

Suggestion by Smt. Rama Devi, MP: She suggested that money being spent on Midday meal should be transferred to the guardians or parents. It should be ensured that their children regularly attend school and bring food from home.

Observation of a Member of Parliament: Commenting upon the suggestion made by Smt. Rama Devi, he said that in such a scenario, guardians/parents may divert the money meant for Midday meal on other items and children would be devoid of meal.

Response of Prof. R. Govinda: He responded that many research works have been carried out to ascertain how Midday Meal Scheme should be implemented. There are different models for the implementation of the scheme. He advocated for adopting some models being implemented in many States where study is not getting affected following the implementation of the Midday Meal Scheme.

Suggestion by Smt. Rama Devi, MP: She sought an expert opinion if it is advisable to send the children between three to four years to the school.

Response of Prof. R. Govinda: He pressed for the need for early child care as well as pre-school education.

Suggestion by Smt. Rama Devi, MP: She expressed her view that educated parents may be able to fulfil the need for early child care as well as pre-school education.

Response of Prof. R. Govinda: He stated that the home background of children cannot be altered; neither poverty stricken children could be made rich. So efforts must be made to create an ambience in the school in terms of treatment and curriculum which cater to the need of such unprivileged children.

“School is not free from discrimination. It is not unusual to find this even today in the schools”, he said. To change the scenario, he called for proper training of teachers which in his opinion has completely distorted. “If I want to change the school, you have to change the teacher.  Change means, you have to invest in the teacher.” he emphatically pointed out.

In furtherance of his argument to invest in teachers, Prof. Govinda referred to National Policy on Education, 1986 which had envisaged that teacher education should be completely overhauled. He said that earlier 95 per cent of the investment expenditure in school education used to go to teachers’ salary which left little room for expenditure on quality improvement. In comparison, teacher’s salary accounts only for 60 to 65 per cent today. He astonishedly enquired where rest 30 per cent goes which is a mystery.  “it is because, we have reduced teacher recruitment in such a way that the teacher cadres has been destroyed and investment in teacher has gone down.  Average expenditure on teacher training across States is less than 0.5 per cent.  It does not include only primary schools; it includes secondary schools also.” He added.

He further stated that ninety per cent of the teacher education institutions in the country are in the hands of private commercial organisations. He strongly advocated for investment in teachers as only they can bring qualitative changes in education through class rooms. 

Intervention by a Member of Parliament: Why can’t teachers be paid revised salary?

Response of Prof. R. Govinda: He brought the attention of hon’ble members of Parliament to a new emerging trend i.e. appointment of teachers on contract basis. He said that although permanent teachers get revised salary, contractual teachers do not get any such benefits. “These are very important things. If we do not build a good teacher cadre, education will not improve in this country. Most important thing to invest today is to have a good perspective on teacher development and also on teacher recruitment.” he added.

…Prof. Govinda further said that India is the only country where teachers are transferred from time to time. Abroad, teachers are recruited for a particular school and they continue to teach there till retirement. This brings attachment along with responsibility. He suggested that a full day discussion should take place on the issue of teachers.

……As regards private and Government schools, he said that it was a big issue. He informed that neither all the Government schools are bad nor all the private schools are good. “There are hundred levels of private schools also, not just Government schools. Hundred layers of private schools are there. Now, the problem, therefore, is not about private and Government division. It is a much deeper issue that is about our supporting school and monitoring the schools functioning. One of the things you can ask any parent who spends so much money does not send to Government school which is a better provided one and sends to a private school where there is only one teacher who teaches.”

To overcome the problem, Prof. Govinda called for putting in place a robust ‘Monitoring of School System’. He deplored the fact that school inspection system has been discontinued.

On private schools, Prof. Govinda opined that they can’t be taken away. “Many people tell me private causes inequity.  Yes. You cannot avoid that. If you have an air conditioned private school and the Government school, it causes inequity, The Government has to think that every child in this country is our child. Therefore, the welfare of every child, whether studying in Government school or private school, is our responsibility. Every school which is dealing with a child’s education in this country is public institution. There is one law that you have to bring in this country because all the schools are occupying public space. It is part of the public education system. It is not a private affair. It is not a private club.” he opined.

Prof. Govinda argued for a discourse to settle this issue of private-Government relationship. He urged not to treat private institution as an adversary. Instead, there is need to restructure private schools as well as Government schools.

“We have to make joint efforts to really make it. It is a new thinking that we, both private and Government, should try this. Fifty years ago, probably, everything could have been done by the Government only. But today in the globalisation period, I think we cannot wish away private schools. Private schools will remain and it will expand. Therefore, it is necessary to bring a new paradigm of relationship between Government and private. Then, I think we can benefit from both. This is what I want to say.” he said.

Intervention by Shri Satyapal Singh, MP: He referred to the practice being followed in many countries where children belonging to any social strata are admitted in the same area schools. He suggested that if the same system were introduced in the country, children, irrespective of their background, would attend the same school. This would not only ameliorate standard of Government schools but also end the dichotomy between Government and private schools.

Response of Prof. R. Govinda: He apprised that there are many instances where children are coming back to Government schools.

Overall, the suggestions made by Prof. Govinda to address the issue of equity in education can be summarized as followed-

  • Invest in early childhood care and nutritional support in order to avoid children coming to school with cognitive capability deficit.
  • As regards focus on the school, the processes have to be recast. Learning has to be ensured. School is the heart of the matter.
  • Let the definition of a good school include inclusion and equality. Celebrate diversity, not just tolerate.
  •  Invest in improving the quality of the teacher, domain knowledge ,sensitivity to diversity in classroom, self-esteem and confidence.
  • Public and private schools have to occupy common public space, not exclusive domains that divide. State has to play a significant role.
  • Some level of social inequality is inevitable. Schools should be treated as inclusive spaces. Look beyond social identities.
  • Children are growing up in a pluralistic world.  Avoid the danger of ghettoisation of schools which is antithetical to the concerns of equity and social justice 
  • Provided we do not merely focus on learning outcomes and promote a culture of silence and submission. Instead nurture their capacity to articulate their voice, question the status quo and develop a sense of empathy and compassion for others.

Intervention by Shri Rahul Dev, Hony Advisor, SRI: Following the interactive session with Prof. R. Govinda, he introduced the next resource person for the workshop Prof. N. V. Varghese.

Prof. N. V. Varghese affirmed that Education is a crucial factor influencing economic and social inequalities. Equity in educational attainment is therefore, a necessary condition for more equal distribution of benefits of growth. Even when acknowledging the shortcomings of our educational system, he presented a very optimistic view. “I come from a planning institute and at the planning institute we have to be optimistic. I mean, we look forward and nobody plans for a disaster. People plan to see that a disaster is avoided. So, even when we criticize the system, I carry a lot of optimism that something can be done in this country and something is happening positively, which can be enriched. That is the tenor of the discussion that I want to present before you. That does not mean that one should not be critical; that does not mean that one should not be in a position to say what is going wrong with the system, then only we can correct it.” he said.  

He presented his views on higher education in contrast with the present condition of primary and secondary education in the country. “whereby I see that people are running after government institutions and not private institutions when you come to higher education. We want to get into IITs, AIIMS, NITs. We want to get into the best institutions and the best institutions for higher education in the country are in the government sector” he told the distinguished gathering of members of Parliament.

Prof. Varghese stated that while enrolment in developed countries are stagnating or declining, developing countries have witnessed 90 per cent increase in enrolment. He presented a global scenario and stated that India has entered a stage of massification of higher education and the rate of growth of higher education has been accelerating in this century. He presented following facts-

  • India has the second largest higher education system after China.
  • India has  nearly  800  universities, nearly 40,000 colleges and 34 million students
  • The enrolment ratio (GER) is 24.5 per cent.

Prof. Varghese highlighted that access to higher educational institutions is an important factor which determine equity and inequalities. “Education in this country has become a screening device, a filtration process whereby we try to see, make a fit between the socio-economic background of the students and their educational achievements. This has serious repercussions for the next generation. In other words, this creates inter-generational income inequalities and social status. Therefore, which school you go to and which higher education institution you attend decide partially 50 per cent of the types of jobs that you will get and the type of job that you get decides the income that you have and the next generation income or the inter-generational income.”

In this context, he said that while higher education remained mostly a monopoly of the state in the post-independence period, the sector witnessed massification and revival post 2000 with major share of enrolment in private institutions. However, he pointed out that this was also a period of expansion with persistent inequalities. He said -

  • When expansion is accompanied by increase in inequality indices  - the rich benefits
  • When expansion is accompanied by  no change/ increase in inequality indices – rich and poor benefit
  • When expansion is accompanied by a  reduction in inequality indices – the poor benefits more than the rich

Prof. Varghese found that inequalities are widening and increasing all over the world including India. However India is much better than many other countries. By not emphasizing on the question of low or high inequalities, he said “what is important is that inequalities are increasing.” He presented many facts and figures relating to social and gender disparities including enrolment by social groups, medium of instruction by type of institutions as well as social groups and income levels, inequalities in Higher Education in India etc. On the basis of them, he shared following picture of HE in India–

  • Regional disparities have  increased
  • Social disparities  declined but  continue to persist
  • Gender disparities  are declining – GPI is close to unity  or more than one in some of the advanced States
  • Student diversity remains a challenge to be addressed systematically
  •  Social composition of student  intake changed  but institutions  remain  less sensitive to these changes – how to deal with  student diversity

Prof. Varghese advocated for adoption of following strategies to promote equity in the university campus-

  • Academic support programmes  in the first year  in college
  • Strengthen the existing remedial programmes
  • Language  and writing support  to students
  • Classes on general competencies 
  • Making special cells more effective
  • Promoting mixed social groups
  • Developing diversity action plans

Intervention by Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari, MP:  He asked to elaborate upon diversity action plans.

Response by Prof. Varghese: He explained “These action plans are the plans where the teachers are given orientation to deal with the situation of moving with a diverse classroom setup.” He gave the example of undergraduate classes in Delhi where a large number of students come from non-English medium background. He said that many a times, the teachers are not sensitive enough to see that these students are coming from such backgrounds and they cannot cope with the situation of English medium instruction. He suggested that teachers have to be oriented. Not that the teachers are not capable of doing that. What is needed is that this is to be stated and restated so that they will try to do it.

Intervention by Shri Satyapal Singh, MP: He sought to know the opinion of Prof. Varghese on the issue of promotion of mixed social groups in education. “Constitutionally, some groups in the society are setting up higher educational institutions in the name of religious and linguistic minorities where they have the authority and power to enrol 50 per cent students belonging to their communities. How do you respond to this kind of a thing?” he added further.

Response by Prof. Varghese: He acknowledged that this was a genuine issue. He commented that so far as they have constitutional right, they have every right to continue with the activities of this kind. He opined that the problem is not that different groups are setting up universities or colleges. The problem arises when the admission of students is regulated on the basis of quotas. So, it is not a question of who is managing the institutions but how student admissions are regulated is important.

“There are fewer inequalities among elites and higher inequalities among lesser elites when you are talking about higher educational institutions. I mentioned the dispersed provision of higher educational facilities. When the Government is trying to open the institutions or when the Government is trying to give permission to private higher educational institutions to open institutions, we should have some plan whereby it is not too urban-biased.

            In more public institutions especially in science and technology, engineering and mathematics, that is where many of the disadvantaged students are finding it very difficult. Fewer students are found in that and more students are found in the social sciences. Managing basification, markets and equity, is a major a concern. If we want private sector, we are not blindly saying that there should not be any private sector but what we need is that a regulated growth of private sector. I am not using the word controlling. There should be regulations and the private sector should grow according to these regulations. Even when State is not controlling, managing diversity is necessary.” He explained.

The workshop there after concluded.