NEW DELHI: When it comes to school education, the US Congress and India’s ministry of human resource development seem to be on the same page. US president George W Bush wants to introduce changes in his signature education law, No Child Left Behind Act, 2002. These changes would give local school officials new powers to override both teachers’ contracts and state limits on charter schools in the case of persistently failing schools.
Changes that favour private players which the Congress is opposed to. Sounds familiar? Bach home, the ministry of human resource development, too, is fighting a battle to ensure that school education doesn’t become the playground for private players. It has managed to thwart the Planning Commission’s move to introduce education vouchers, which would allow parents to send their children to private schools while the government would pick up the tab.
The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to test students in reading and math annually in grades three to eight, and establishes progressively more severe penalties for schools that fail to make adequate progress, including shutting the schools altogether. The Act is scheduled to be renewed by the US Congress this year. The Bush administration is seeking changes, as education secretary Margaret Spellings said, to provide students in failing schools with other options and “to make sure we have our best personnel in the neediest places.”
Voucher system through the backdoor? In India, the HRD ministry has been opposed to the idea of education vouchers, even on a pilot basis. Though included in drafts of the Eleventh Plan approach paper, the ministry successfully prevailed over the Planning Commission to drop the proposal in the final paper. The ministry has argued that an education voucher system “would not be consistent with the National Policy on Education.”
A similar view is being expressed on the Hill as well. US Representative George Miller, chairman of the education committee, rebuffed the administration’s move to allow superintendents to override contracts, which he called a ‘’proposal to gut collective-bargaining agreements.’’ “Private school vouchers have been rejected in the past, and nothing has changed to make them acceptable now. They are the same bad idea they have always been.”
Even as there exists a similar world view when it comes to funding school education, there is one big difference. While the No Child Left Behind Act, 2002 does set parameters and standards that schools need to maintain, India on the other hand has yet to finalise its Right to Education Bill. Drafts of this enabling legislation attempted to set standards and keep checks on the school education system, though it did not link standards and financing with learning outcomes in the way the No Child Left Behind Act does.
The Bush administration’s has also proposed changes such as a federal fund that would give extra pay to teachers who are most effective in raising children’s test scores, or who agree to teach in the neediest schools; and allowing districts with failing schools to first offer children tutoring before allowing them |to transfer.
EFA : Education For All