Seeking Balance in Education

It is widely accepted that India’s education system has and continues to fail the vast majority of its population. As the challenge of providing education to millions persists, despite efforts by the Central government, there are calls by many for a shift towards privatization of primary and higher education. In particular, calls emerge to disconnect the funding of education from its operation, through the provision of education vouchers. While privatization has worked well elsewhere, would it work in the field of education?

The argument for privatization is at once political and ideological. It is political because it reflects how societies feel about the role of the State in providing “public” services such as healthcare and education. It is ideological because proponents often supplement demands for privatization with terms such as “economic freedom” or “choice” to justify their preference. Yet, this last confuses means with ends. The existence of choice can hardly be viewed as an end in itself in this discussion. Not only does such terminology presume that choice is informed but it is relevant in this debate only if it improves actual educational outcomes, rather than the perceived satisfaction of parents.

This analysis suggests that privatization is neither necessary nor sufficient for better quality and access to education. Nor is money the only or even best incentive available to improve either. Yet, the debate does offer valuable insights into why our system has not worked and how to fix it. The current system can, therefore, gain much through greater competition and better (possibly non-financial) incentives.