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Oxfam on WB project: ICT 'ineffective', privatised learning to worsen gender divide

By Rajiv Shah 
A top multinational NGO, with presence in several developed and developing countries, has taken strong exception to the World Bank part-funding Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project in six Indian states – Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha – for its emphasis on information and communication technology (ICT)-enabled approaches for teacher development, student assessment and digital platform for early childhood education. 
The project’s total worth is 3.346 billion USD, or just over a quarter of a trillion INR, of which 500 million USD is financed by a loan from the World Bank. About 85% of the project amount would be funded by the Government of India and the six state governments, where is it proposed to be implemented. Apart from emphasis on ICT, the project project seeks to promote partnership with private sector as a tool to reform education, including the expansion of government funding for private provision of schooling.
While recognising that the use of technology “offers scope for strengthening system capacity”, an Oxfam India policy brief quotes Government of India data to says that 35.6% of the country’s elementary schools lacked electricity connection, only 36.8% secondary schools had a functional computer, 85% of rural households lacked access to internet, and 45% of rural India lacked TV penetration.
Noting that the emphasis on online and distance education has come about amidst Covid-19 crisis, the report says, any use of ICT at this juncture would be “unrealistic”, “insignificant” and “ineffective”, especially for “lesson transaction”, adding, instead, there is a need to prioritize “offline modes (such as print materials) without compromising on physical distancing requirements.”
Oxfam India is a member of an international confederation of 20 organizations, all of them named cafter Oxfam. It claims to be a rights-based organizations, “which fights poverty and injustice by linking grassroots interventions to local, national, and global policy developments.” The report has been written by Anjela Taneja of Oxfam India with the support of several experts, including Prachi Srivastava (University of Western Ontario, Canada), Martin Haus (Education Policy Institute of Bihar), Katie Malouf Bous (Oxfam International), Geetha B Nambissan (Jawaharlal Nehu University), and Archana Mehendale (Tata Institute of Social Sciences).
Claiming that the emphasis on privatising education would exacerbate inequalities, the report cites the World Bank’s “Living Standards Measurement Study in Uttar Pradesh” to show that the gender gap in enrolment in private schools has increased, even when the government schools are closing down.
Insisting that “girls are less likely than boys to be enrolled in private schools”, the study says, “Private schools, by definition, enrol children from families that can afford to pay. Sending a child to a private school in India is approximately nine times as much as the cost of a government school, including all indirect costs associated with schooling, such as buying books, and transport.”
Warning that involving private players would mean STARS project risking “significant diversion of Indian taxpayers’ funds to an array of private actors”, with its impact across India, thus changing “the framing for the private sector’s engagement with education”, the report regrets, this is proposed to be done under the pretext of “private schools’ ‘better’ performance.”
The report believes, reliance on the private sector for delivering education would fundamentally alter “the character of an education system – from a universal good to which everyone has free access by right to a private good which parents must buy.” It adds, “The project appears to be grounded in the assumption that declining enrolment in government schools is principally due to migration to schools run by non-state providers and that government aided schools’ decline is the result of regulatory issues.”
Girls are less likely than boys to be enrolled in private schools, which by definition enrol children from families that can afford to pay
According to the report, similar large scale experiments in other countries, such as the Partnership School for Liberia (PSL) and the Public Private Partnership administered by the Punjab Education Foundation in Pakistan, found that the private schools “enrolled students largely pulled from existing schools.”
 It adds, “Only 1.3% of enrolled students had actually been out of school prior to the commencement of the programme... The Liberia School Pilot was found to have failed to significantly improve learning outcomes, increased dropouts and failed to reduce sexual abuse of students.”
Similarly, in India, the Rajasthan Education Initiative’s review admits that such an approach “failed against many of the stated objectives”, while in Mumbai, the School Excellence Programme implemented by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation “was shut down as learning outcomes failed to improve, indicating the volatility of such approaches and the need for evaluation of such partnerships which involve spending public money on private providers.”
The report further says that the project fails to spell out any clear pro-equity measures” to address “intergenerational, social and economic barriers to the education of Dalits, Adivasis, religious minorities; the specific challenges faced by girls in the Indian context... It does not address discrimination or correct educational inequalities between the rich and the poor in these states.”
It underlines, the fails to prioritize on universal, free secondary completion; address dropout and child labour (particularly of girls); staff and adequately resource schools and teacher training institutes; mainstream mother tongue based multi-lingual education; strengthen social accountability and grievance redress mechanisms thus strengthening citizen voice; and address the needs of migrant families.
The states chosen for the project
Also taking exception to the choice of states, divided them into “high and low achievers” (it calls them Lighthouse and Learning states), the report says, all the six are “largely” middle of the road performing states. “Irrespective of whether one examines the extent of Right to Education (RTE) compliance of schools in a given state or their Performance Grading Index (PGI) performance, the states selected are not the ones most in need of financial and technical support.”
It further says, while the project flags five of six states have designated Schedule V areas, “It is not clear how the project’s governance would take into consideration and protect the existing legal rights of the indigenous populations in these locations. No specific provisions for engagement with the Gram Sabha or differentiation in the processes of planning in Schedule areas which would have been expected according to the provisions of the Panchayat (Extension to Schedule Areas) Act, 1996.”
The report takes exception to the project supporting the administration of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in India, the report suggests, it lacks “addressing concomitant factors responsible for poor learning such as reliance on non-mother tongue based instruction, addressing the discriminatory hidden classroom curriculum (including caste-based discrimination and teachers holding low expectations from children from marginalized communities), absence of home support from neo-literate parents, classroom hunger and other factors.”

Comments

vaghelabd said…
Supreme Court of India Judges Dancing to Govt Tunes Find Nothing Abnormal and Nothing Wrong in Reckless Privatization of Education in India. These Judges of High Courts and Supreme Court of India are Real Culprits. They are Human Rights Violators.I am Babubhai Vaghela from Ahmedabad. Thanks....
i think, at this moment also the urban-rural divide on access to E-Education is a grave issue
To add to the title of the piece: it is also a class divide and, as Mansee says, a rural-urban divide. Somehow our political leaders--across the board--are insensitive to people's needs and take decisions as per their perceptions ignoring the majority of our population.

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