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The UNESCO GEM Report on Education highlights the need to share accountability and bear the responsibility for furthering the reach of education in India.

Everyones cup of tea!

The UNESCO, very recently, released its latest Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report 2017. The thematic title of this year's report is 'Accountability in Education: Meeting our commitments'. The report is significant as its purview is broader than enlisting mere statistics. The report highlights the major challenges India encounters in achieving the global education goals. Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, mentioned in the report that, there are 264 million children and youth who are out of school – this is a failure that we must tackle together because education is a shared responsibility and progress can only be sustainable through common efforts. This is essential to meet the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals on Education (SDG 4). The Sustainable Education Goals advocate inclusive, equitable and quality education to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

The GEM Report emphasises two broad questions – Why is accountability needed in the education sector and who are accountable for the proper dissemination of education? Accountability matters enormously for improving education systems but it should be a means to an end, not an end in itself. Accountability needs to emphasise building inclusive, equitable, and improved quality of education systems and practices. Sydney Morning Herald puts this as 'the sad truth about education: it's easier to blame someone else than fix the problem'. The report advocates that governments, schools, and teachers have a frontline role to play here, hand-in-hand with students and parents. Accountability starts with governments, which are the primary duty bearers of the right to education. Schools are increasingly held to account not just by governments, but also by parents, community members, and students. Teachers practice the primary responsibility of providing high-quality instruction and are expected to do far more than teach. Parents bear the responsibilities for their children's attendance and disposition to basic education. Accountability, therefore, does not easily rest with single actors. For instance, schools may be responsible for providing supportive learning environments, but to deliver on this, they rely on governments providing resources, teachers respecting professional norms and students behaving appropriately.
Adequate resources, capacity, and genuine commitment are essential. Governments should spend at least 4 per cent of the GDP on education, or allocate 15 per cent of the total government expenditure. But one in every four countries does not reach this benchmark. India failed on both these parameters. Government expenditure on education in the last financial year was a mere 3.8 per cent of the GDP and expenditure on education was 14.1 per cent, which was less than the required levels.
The report advocates private sector spending and investment in education. Spending on both private tutoring and education technology is expected to exceed US$200 billion in the next five years. Investment by the International Finance Corporation grew by over US$450 million between 2009 and 2014. It further stresses on capacity building of the teachers and lays emphasis on strong inspection systems. Teacher absenteeism is dealt with strongly in the report. A representative panel of 1,297 villages in our country found that almost 24 per cent of the rural teachers were absent during the unannounced school visits in 2010. Another study of 619 schools in six states found 18.5 per cent of teachers absent: 9 per cent on leave, 7 per cent on official duties and 2.5 per cent on unauthorised absence. To deal with this problem, the Economic Survey 2016 recommended using biometrics to tackle teacher absenteeism in primary schools. However, the suggestion was met with protests from teachers, along with prevailing technical implementation challenges.
Learning outcomes have not improved in test-based accountability systems. India has scored exceptionally poor in the PISA examination and thereafter, opted out of it. Now, the government has no intentions to participate in it before 2021. The average difference between lower and upper secondary completion rates is 17 percentage points. But it exceeded 35 percentage points in eight countries, including El Salvador, India, and South Africa, where, in 2013, the lower secondary completion rate was 83 per cent compared to an upper secondary completion rate of just 45 per cent. An analysis of several National Sample Surveys in India, over 1983–2010, indicated that, despite progress, the education level of the scheduled tribes and castes were far below average. The higher education attendance ratio among scheduled tribes increased from 2 per cent to 12 per cent and that of scheduled castes from 4 per cent to 15 per cent, compared to a national average of 23 per cent in 2010.
On the demand side, the NSDC is the implementing agency of the National Skill Certification and Monetary Reward Scheme, better known as STAR (for Standard Training Assessment and Reward). Between its introduction in 2013 and mid-2017, it provided about US$90, on average, to 1.4 million beneficiaries who completed the approved training programmes. The Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (Prime Minister's Skill Development Scheme) was launched in 2015, also run by the NSDC. Saakshar Bharat Mission (India Literacy Mission) was launched in 2009 with a budget of US$1.2 billion for the first four years. The national government provides 75 per cent and the district governments 25 per cent. The programme covers districts with an adult literacy rate below 50 per cent; the allocation formula is based on the number of non-literate adults per district.
The GEM report highlights that in India, 71 per cent of the 287 medical schools established between 1980 and 2015 were private and concentrated in the larger and wealthier states. China has about 1 million village doctors and India has about 1 million rural medical practitioners who are not graduates from accredited schools. Government and court records showed that, between 2010 and 2015, at least 69 of the 398 medical colleges and teaching hospitals had been accused of rigging entrance examinations or accepting bribes to admit students. The regulator recommended closing 24 of the colleges. In 1980, India had 100 public and 11 private medical schools; by 2015, the respective figures were 183 and 215.
With millions still not in school, it is clear that our education system is off the global goals track. The marginalised currently bear the most consequences but also stand to benefit the most if policy-makers pay sufficient attention to their needs. The report emphasises that education is a shared responsibility. While governments bear the primary responsibility, all actors – schools, teachers, parents, students, international organisations, private sector providers, civil society, and the media – have a role in improving education systems.
(The author is an Educationalist. The views are strictly personal.)

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