Contracting out does not work in the social sector: Madhav Chavan

Updated: Jan 9 2007, 05:30am hrs
PRATHAMS goal is to ensure that every child is in school -- and is learning well. Over the last nine years, the NGO claims to have reached out to a million children. Though local governments, citizens and local corporates assist it in its endeavours, the ICICI Bank is performing a lead role. For the second consecutive year the NGO has come out with Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Rajiv Tikoo of The Financial Express interviews founder trustee Madhav Chavan. Excerpts:

Does the report show any change in trends since the last year

We have noted that there is a 5-6% drop in the number of children in 1st and 2nd standards who cant recognise alphabets. Its a significant change at a national level. It may look like a small change but it has happened in a years time. Its indicative of things beginning to change.

What could be the reason

Many things are changing. Till recently the government was focussed on the provision of schools and now there is more emphasis on the quality of education.

So, are you satisfied with the rate of change

I think much more has to be done. If change has to occur, then you must have more and more people understanding the need for that change and knowing how to usher it in.

The right to education was made a fundamental right some years back. But the Centre has asked the states to enact the law. Is the centre passing the buck

You see there are some real problems. Education is a concurrent subject. Historically education was a state subject, though.

When Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was launched, state resources were low. Today the centre is sensing that states will be having their own resources. So let states take the responsibility. It seems to be the right approach from the constitutional point of view. Its not that the centre is saying that we wont give money, but the centre wants the states to take the responsibility.

Is the centre doing it because it has to pump more money into higher education at the cost of primary education

I dont think its true as yet. I dont think the centre will spend at the expense of primary education. The UPA is committed to spending 6% of GDP on education. They will have to do it sooner or later.

So, are we moving in the right direction

There is a planning problem for sure in the social sector. We dont know how to execute social sector schemes. Its all being done in the governmental realm. I am not saying NGOs should run social sector schemes.

I think the whole idea of public private partnership has not sunk in yet. Its not understood and assimilated as it should be. What we know is only contracting out. But it does not work in the social sector.

The delivery mechanisms have to be changed. Right now the government insists on spending all the money. The government can be a regulator and a facilitator. But it does not have to be the implementer, which is not well appreciated. As long as the government insists on being the implementer we are going to have problems of gigantic scale.

You have Mukesh Ambani, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Ajay Piramal. Gautam Thapar, Lakshmi Niwas Mittal and Keshub Mahindra amongst others as your corporate champions. How are you taking their help in lobbying at the highest political level

Out style of lobbying is different. You can say that ASER itself is a kind of lobbying. By publishing these annual reports we are giving a tool to policymakers and planners. Its not hard lobbying, but sensible lobbying. We dont have to talk to the prime minister for basics, which can be done at an individual level.

Finally, what would be your recommendations for improving the status of primary education

The government should emphasise on fluent reading because fluent readers comprehend what they read. Its important to make it part of policy. It could be even a political decision.

Dropping out is a vital factor. Illiteracy of the mother and dropping out are related. So is gender bias. Adult education and school education should be integrated at the school level. The schools should become centres of learning.

More and more children are entering school at an early age of 5, but the fundamental right begins at 6. Children shouldnt enter formal education very early. Instead there should be one year of kindergarten.

We know that children are given only one kind of reading material textbooks. Schools should be flooded with different kinds of reading material.

There is a fear of arithmetic. The government has a science popularisation programme, which should look into this aspect and come up with solutions. In fact schools should also offer health education. Shouldnt children learn about basic health and sanitation

I would say that schools hold be made centres of learning. Why not look at schools as knowledge centres. This is where all the future is. In fact schools should be knowledge, culture and health centres.