“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela
Throughout his long, distinguished life led largely in the public eye, and even during his imprisonment, Nelson Mandela pursued education with dogged determination. He saw it as a means of upliftment and escape from the confines that shackled his potential.
The spirit with which he pursued education so zealously still rings true today. The world is brimming with knowledge, but its benefits have still not trickled down to those it might matter most to. All is not gloomy though, for we have seen countries across the globe make major inroads into deepening access to education at all levels, and basic literacy levels have improved remarkably with technology and committed partners as enablers. Even so, quality education outcomes continue to remain a challenge in many emerging countries, with low and middle-income families facing the most daunting challenges of all.
In the Indian context, the National Education Policy (NEP) showcases a demonstrable commitment to the goals of universal quality education and lifelong learning. The flagship government scheme, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, is aimed at achieving universal quality education for all Indians, and is complemented in this effort by targeted schemes on nutritional support, higher education, and teacher training. But while these are steps in the right direction, there are many miles to go before we sleep.
The argument for PPPs
In myriad developing economies much like India, private sector involvement in government-led systems are the norm. Education is no exception to this, and as scant public resources strain to meet the demands of access to high quality education, the private sector can improve the delivery of services in a manner that is high quality, efficient and effective, thereby increasing access and equity across the system through strategic Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs).
Such alignments offer the best of both worlds; the focus on productivity and result orientation of the private sector, and the scale, policy measures, and the public focus on the greater good.
Government schools could greatly benefit from joining hands with private players with deep-seated expertise in teacher training, pedagogy, performance management, and extra-curricular activities. The Central and state governments do recognize the need for our children to not only be literate, but to be so in English across the country, not just in urban areas. India’s growth story needs to be inclusive to be truly successful, and improved literacy can give these children life-changing opportunities.
Building the future
Increasingly, private players are partnering with the government and capitalising on the scale and reach of the existing system to focus on delivering superior outcomes at more affordable rates. In many Indian cities, basic physical infrastructure is available, but primary school education has a lot of ceiling for growth. The true challenge lies in creating a cadre of qualified teachers that can impart learning to those that need it most. Else our demographic dividend could be quickly squandered, and a generation lost.
Building on the back of pilot projects that have shown early success, PPPs in school education can be the way forward for us all. If education is the soul of a nation passed on from one generation to the next, it is time that private players, the government, and the social sector work hand-in-hand to greatly improve the quality of student learning outcomes across India.