Book Reviews

Indian Education: Development since Independence by Marmar Mukhopadhyay and Madhu Parhar. eds. 1999: New Delhi, NIEPA and Vikas Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., p.276, Price Rs.395/- (US $ 9)

To commemorate the fiftieth year in the life of India as a free nation, the Institute of Education, Rural Studies and Development, Udang, Howrah, West Bengal, undertook a project of bringing out the volume under review in order to make, in the words of the editors, a professional assessment of what we have achieved, what we have missed and what opportunities await us in the future in the field of education. Twenty-six experts of education including the two editors have contributed to this symposia volume.

In the introductory chapter the editors have highlighted a few major developments and issues in Indian education, viz. policy evelopments, concern for quality, priority dilemma, ecentralisation, globalization and international involvement in our education. Other twenty-six chapter have been categorized under four broad clusters-levels of education, education of the prioritized groups, thematic issues, and educational planning and management, the book being a symposia volume, more than one viewpoint are sometimes available on the same issue.

Under the category of the levels of education, Chapters two and three deal with primary education, the expansion of primary education, central interest and initiative in this programme, organisation of content and process of education at the primary level, international participation in the programme of primary education, and specifically the problems of universalisation have been highlighted in these two chapters taken together.

In the category of the prioritized groups, the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) have been dealt with in chapters nine and ten. Chapter eleven deals with special education of the disabled children, different programmes and agencies associated with specifically mentioning the prospective salutary effect of the Disabilities Act of 1995 in such education.

Under the category of planning and management, chapters twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six are developed on the same theme of financing of education in India. Chapter twenty-four focuses on finances as a necessary condition for proper development of education and finds out that from this consideration of India#s performance has been mixed. Chapter twenty-five highlights financing of education in India during post-independence period in terms of problems and behaviour of educational finance and provides suggestions for proper resource mobilization. Chapter twenty-six deals with major trends and vital issues of policies as well as problems confronting Indian education system regarding resource allocation and the actual use of allocated resources. In the management of education, importance of infrastructure can hardly the overestimated. Chapter twenty-seven highlights the most important infrastructure, the administrative machinery at the state and central levels, which enable the educational administration, nay, the educational system itself, to function properly.

There is no doubt that the volume under review has reached a high water mark of success. Nonetheless, in terms of adequate coverage of such a vast system as Indian education , it shows certain limitations. The editors have admitted in the preface that in spite of their best efforts the growth and development of womens education could not be covered. When one examines educational developments since independence, one would very much like to study how education has affected different sections of our populations, especially those in the lower rung. The volume under review has covered only the SC and ST. What about others? Also there are other unavoidable questions. Whether rural-urban disparity in educational opportunities has increased since independence, and if it is so, what could be done to bridge the gap in terms of education? A contribution to this effect would have definitely enriched the present volume. It would also be a very meaningful study to look into the aims and objectives of education in order to pinpoint the fact whether these have suffered any change in the last fifty years. This would have been particularly meaningful in the context of the turmoil through which our multi-cultural and multi-religious society is passing today. As our society is fast becoming more and more industralised, mechanised, and will one say, computerised, specialisations in Arts and Humanities seem to be diminishing in their value. Does this pose a challenging problem in education? If so, what is the way out? Such questions in higher education have remained unanswered.

The above illustrations and questions have been added here only to suggest further possible enrichment of the book. Therefore, the lack of these should, by no means, reduce the intrinsic importance of the present volume which is a notable addition to the list of the very best reference material in education. All the articles of this volume are very well written. These are mostly based on or supported by research data in education. The overall language of all the articles is quite lucid and the arguments put forward are convincing. Only the addition of a few introductory paragraphs before each section would have cemented the articles into a more cohesive cluster.

However, considering overall success of the volume in terms of the useful information and knowledge it contains, availability of differing expert views on the same theme, and the smooth readability it offers, it is strongly recommended that this volume should be a vade mecum for all thr scholars, teachers and experts in the field of education.

Sunirmal Roy in Journal of Perspectives in Education Volume 15, Number 2, April 1999, Baroda.

Primary Education in India: Development in Practice Series, Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 1997, pp. xvi+307, price not mentioned

This book is published under the World Bank series `Development in Practice’ and, as per the blurb, the books in the series report on the progress and on the most promising policies and practices in the World Bank’s efforts to reduce poverty in the developing world. It comes at a time when primary education has received a lot of state attention since the declaration of Education for All at the 1990 World Conference at Jomtien, Thailand. It provides a contemporary perspective on a subject of nationwide importance.

The book is a work of collation and synthesis covering almost entire spectrum of primary education in India. It draws mainly on the latest statistics collected by government agencies, research and scholarship in the field. The vast amount of data put together will presumably make it accessible to a wide variety of educationists and non-specialists interested in primary education. It is written in a lucid style except for the economists’ jargon used in some chapters. The text is rich in figures and tables in addition to some in the appendix.

The ten chapters in the book cover almost all the dimensions of primary education. For example, Chapter 1 provides an overview of the situation on the ground and highlights the problems as challenges. The second chapter elaborates on economic and social outcomes as the reason for investing in primary education. The next chapter is on improving access and efficiency. The fourth chapter is on enhancing learning achievement, while Chapter 5 discusses gaps in enrolment, retention and achievement. The disparities due to poverty, gender, caste and tribe form part of this chapter. The next two chapters are on teachers’ performance and on textbooks respectively since the teachers and the textbooks are crucial instruments in improving all aspects of primary education. While Chapter 8 is on managerial and institutional capacity, the last two chapters devote attention to the financing of primary education.

Though not stated explicitly, the book is embedded in liberal- functional paradigm of development which is based on the premise that there is a direct link between education and development through the returns in the form of productivity, earnings and adaptation to technological change. Although a feeble attempt is made to relate primary education to health and fertility, i.e., to the latest paradigm of social development, it remains very superficial. The emphasis on increasing access, reducing dropout, improving retention and quality are stated as crucial problems and receive due attention. The inter-state and intra-state differences and the emphasis on diversity are also highlighted. The role of the community in motivating the teachers is underscored.

I approached this book with high expectations because I anticipated original data and new insights from the analysis. Unfortunately, my expectations were unfounded. The book suffers from conceptual and analytical weaknesses apart from lacking in historical rigour. I shall substantiate these points with a few examples. There are problems at the conceptual level, e.g., performance and educational outcome are used interchangeably. In addition, `performance’ of states/groups of children and of individual students and schools is referred to without clarifying as to what performance means in different contexts.

A more serious problem is with making statements with profound implications in the middle of nowhere but without any effort at explanation. For example, “education consumes the largest part of the state budget.” Does education really consume the largest part of the state budget? What does it mean for a lay person or for the non-economist? Demystifying some of these statements for the educated lay persons would have helped. Another such statement is that “the teachers’ salaries consume 97 per cent of the primary education budget in India.” What happens in other countries, developing and developed? How does one reduce the proportion of budget spent on salaries: by reducing the salaries, by increasing the budgetary allocations or through something else? Here, the economists’ understanding and its transmission in simple language would have gone a long way in making this information accessible to the non-converted. Is it not true that those countries which make higher allocations for education and other social sectors are better off in the growth and development of education, as well as on dimensions of fertility and health? It is indeed a very glaring flaw of the book that except for cursory references, it does not use an international comparative framework. The minimum expectation from an international organisation working in different parts of the world is that it would provide a comparative perspective and insights which would have enriched the analysis.

Further, there is a lot of emphasis on decentralization as defined in the DPEP which has in practice meant decentralization from the top-down and stopping at the district level. Again, the district is equated with `local’ (p.2). Is it feasible to do so where the size of the districts varies tremendously and where a village or hamlet is the smallest habitation? Moreover, strengthening the leadership of the central government is underscored in the five steps mentioned for expanding access and improving learning. What does it mean especially when there is so much stress on decentralization in DPEP? Again, plenty of attention is being given in DPEP to community involvement. But the question arises: Is an Indian village a homogenous community? Can a village be the basis of community based action? Such problematics are left untouched.

Apart from analytical weakness, it also lacks empirical rigour. To give just one example, it is mentioned on page 1 that 67 million children in age group 6-10 years are attending school. On page 3 it is stated that in 1993 a total of 100 million children were enrolled. Again, on the same page, it is mentioned that 105 million children in the 6-10 age group are enrolled. Is a differentiation being made between children attending school (i.e. 67 million) and those enrolled (100 million)? Should we assume that the 28-32 million children who are not attending school (p.1) are enrolled? Apart from clarity of usage of words, it raises another issue: that of the data discrepancies on primary education collected by different state agencies. This has been pointed out by scholars such as Dreze and Sen and R. Chattopadhyay in recent times. This book, while using the same statistics, completely sidelines this problem.

Again, while talking about teachers and their role in motivating students to learn, it is mentioned that their salaries be linked to work performance. Has it been done elsewhere, especially in a state supported primary education system, and has it worked? How is it operationalised? Is it being suggested that primary education should become private? Again, the question of making the teacher accountable has not been raised? Also, why not revive the old inspection system? Further, there are lessons from history that have to be acknowledged, e.g., the suggested innovations are not necessarily new because they were practiced in colonial India, namely, employment of married couples or recruitment of wives of married male teachers. This innovation was introduced in colonial Punjab as early as the 1930s.

The gaps or disparities by caste, gender and class have been given the importance due to them. However, the rural-urban differences are conspicuous by their absence. Again, while discussing the gaps in the education of children by gender, caste and tribe, it is stated that poverty only explains them partially. Therefore, poverty reducing interventions may help only partially. The other constraints, it is stated, are more cultural than economic. This, it is mentioned, is especially true of gender gaps. Women’s groups have for the last two decades demonstrated that even the so-called cultural constraints have roots in economic factors or administrative lapses, and that the explanations based on cultural constraints may not be used by the state to abstain from providing minimum facilities of primary education to girls. For example, if a school is located in an isolated area of the village and parents refuse to send their daughters to the school because they do not consider its location safe, is it a cultural constraint or should the government relocate the school? Again, Malaysia is a good example of a country where active state policy and intervention pushed Muslim Malays, including girls, into schools. Prior to that, cultural explanations may have sufficed for the non-interest of Muslims towards `modern’ education.

Explanations of educational backwardness in terms of either culture or poverty are fraught with danger because it diverts the attention of the state or of those responsible for education from their main responsibility, i.e., to provide the minimum infrastructure for primary schooling. In a country where habitations do not have schools, where single (male) teacher schools are set up in areas practicing seclusion of the sexes, it is difficult to sift the two constraints, namely, lack of economic resources or absence of provision of schooling facilities which take account of social sensibilities of parents. Also talking of poverty as a factor along with culture reminds one of the controversial and now happily outdated `culture of poverty’ argument used by anthropologists to explain the backwardness of people belonging to `other’ cultures.

Although the book claims to be original, it only put together a lot of macro-statistics collected by various state agencies and Indian scholars. Most of the discussion is undebatable. Thus, for example, the iniquitous and unjust spread of primary education is too well known to need repetition. Similarly, the completely appalling state of primary education among the poor, the tribals and the girls is also well known. It is a pity that so many experts of such high international repute should be able to do just this. Since the data collected through DPEP are marginal, the claim to originality is also lost. The book not only focuses on the governmental efforts alone, it also fails to provide a critique, e.g., while alternative modes of transacting the message to the young child are being explored, so much emphasis on textbooks seems misplaced. Again, emphasis on uniform Minimum Learning Levels (MLL) for children from a wide variety of backgrounds have already been criticized by Indian experts in education. Further, while mentioning total literacy campaigns, the non-government efforts or alternative movements have been ignored. In doing this, an opportunity has been missed to bring out a book which readers apart from cognoscenti will really treasure.

While outlining the quantitative contours of the growth, development and the problems relating to primary education, the book also make an attempt to support them with qualitative inputs. But this effort is marred by far too many boxes which seem to provide qualitative information or case studies as referred to in the project reports sponsored by international development agencies. While the effort is laudable, their non- integration in the text means that they break the flow of reading. Therefore, one has to choose between reading them at the cost of the text or vice versa.

It is brought out in a project report format, and has not been converted into a monograph. Again, it is brought out on expensive paper with excellent coloured figures and tables which raises the price. This restricts circulation and ensures that it is not widely accessible. But perhaps the book is meant only for the converted ones. If viewed from that perspective, my criticism of the book seems misplaced and the limitations of the book entirely understandable.

Reviwed by Karuna Chanana, Zakir Hussain Centre for Educational Studies Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi -110067 in Journal of Educational Planning and Administration, NIEPA, Volume XIII, Number 2, April 1999, New Delhi (INDIA).

Education of Indian Scheduled Tribes: A Study of Community Schools by Dr. K. Sujatha, NIEPA, New Delhi, 1999

Review of book by JACQUES, DELORS: Learning the Treasure Within, UNESCO, 1996

Education for All in India: Enrolment Projections by Arun C. Mehta, Vikas for NIEPA, New Delhi, 1998

Forty Years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019 (e-Book)

Forty years of Arun C Mehta at NIEPA: 1980 to 2019

Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021

UDISE, Interview of Prof. Arun C Mehta in Times of India, New Delhi, 21st September 2021