School Choice National Conference (SCNC), started in 2009, is the flagship education conference hosted by Centre for Civil Society (CCS) in New Delhi every year. The day-long conference aims to bring together educationists, planners, policy experts, activists and government officials to explore, discuss and debate various dimensions of school education in India. In the past eight editions, the conference has seen many important and interesting conversation and ideas emerging from the discussions, during the sessions and on the sidelines of it.
This year SCNC will explore the theme of Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) in Education. DBT allows transfer of purchasing power directly to the beneficiary as opposed to handing out goods and services. In education, it is done in multiple ways through smart cards, vouchers or cash transfers. The 9thedition of SCNC will explore the various opportunities and challenges in the application of direct transfers in education and the manner of integration of the education policy discourse.
The objectives of the conference are two-fold:
To discuss and debate various dimensions of DBT including ideation, the theory of change, identification of areas of application, implementation and various challenges at each step.
To explore DBT as a tool to bring greater transparency, accountability, and efficiency in theeducation system through empowering parents and enabling choice of access in education.
Background: With 1.6 million schools and over 260 million students, India has one of the largest school education systems in the world. Over the past few years, the country has achieved near universal enrollment at the elementary level with 96.9% of children enrolled in schools in 2015, indicating a sizeable distance covered from the 1968 national education policy. However, the critical issue facing the country is the low levels of learning produced in our schools. A considerable number of children in early years of school do not acquire basic skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic. ASER-2016 reports that 58.4% of government school children in Standard V cannot read Standard II text, and 78.9% cannot do solve simple mathematical division problems.
The last decade has also seen rise the of private schools, specifically low-cost, and gradual but consistent movement of children of low socioeconomic status from government schools to private schools. In the five years leading up to 2014, the number of private schools (aided and unaided) has more than doubled from 160,651 to 334,468. In 2015, private schools accounted for 23.1% of all elementary schools, up from 19.4% in 2010.
Concurrently, the number of government schools has been declining since 2013 as several states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra have shut down or merged schools with low enrollment. The emptying of government schools can be attributed to a lack of accountability within these schools. Some studies indicate a high teacher absence rate of ~25% nationally, low time-on-teaching even when teachers are in school and the inability of school leaders to alter teacher behavior in the absence of any power to penalise/reward performance.
World Bank (2016), in value for money analysis for private and government schools, points that government schools produce lower or equal learning outcomes than private schools at a higher cost, affirming the rationale behind the burgeoning demand for private schools. Through direct transfers in education, we can achieve two objectives: expand parental school choice at the individual level, and create systematic competition between government and private schools to attract students. The growing of private schools creates a thrust for improvement in public schools and therefore, improving quality and outcomes for all schools.