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I have tried to follow this discussion on education as closely as I could.
Although I am no expert on education, here is my little contribution for
whatever it is worth.

I think education can in no way be called a "public good", and therefore
there is no reason to believe that there is "market failure" in the field of
education. Consequently, there is no ground for the govt. to be involved in
education whether through funding, or management, providing seed money to
local bodies or NGOs, or even subsidies in the form of mid-day meals.

For a civilization that survived on the basis of its "gurukul" system, and
where today we can see the incredible proliferation of private tutorials,
coaching classes, and vocational institute, I donot understand why private
bodies - for profit and non-profit - would not be able to meet the demand,
set their own standards, and compete with each other.

Allowing the state in this area will only help legitise the role of govt. in
similar situations. And it will in due course give rise to interest group
warfare and falling quality. In the US there are organizations that are
opposing the school voucher system as a means of ensuring greater
competition among schools, and they have called for separation of school and

As for the poorest of the poor, I think it would be very arrogant of us to
think that because they may be illiterate, they are also ignorant. The two
words are not synonymous. I think the primary reason why many parents don't
think of investing much in education is because of the general economic
environment in the country. For instance, employment in the organised sector
- both govt. and private - has remained almost flat for over a decade. And
for the informal/unorganised sector formal educational qualification has
never been a barrier.

Indeed, I can cite instances, where illiterate/semi-literate parents in
remote villages organised themselves to hire a teacher (for a salary which
consisted of part cash, part farm produce) to teach their children the basic
three R's. Because that is what they could afford, and thought adequate in
their conditions.

Therefore the only area of interest in the field of education ought to be on
ways of removing restrictive barriers to entry and running of educational
establishments, mandatory standards, minimum qualification for teachers,
etc. Then trust the market to achieve a balance between supply and demand.
And allow competion to ensure quality.

Finally, education and literacy should not be looked in isolation from the
general intellectual and economic climate. Consider that countries like
North Korea, Cuba, former Soviet Union had all achieved almost 100%
literacy, but that did not help these countries much. Likewise in Kerala,
100% literacy and better health care system have transformed it into a
heaven on earth. It is one of the most socially and politically fragmented
society, has very high suicide rates, relatively high incidence of crimes
against women, very few employment opportunities, has failed to attract the
attention of the investors, and even the remittances from Keralites living
out side has been used not been put to any regenerative use, but in real
estate, housing, and gold (three age old avenues of investment in troubled

Comments welcome.

Barun S. Mitra				

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