Mrs Irani’s New Job
Published in New Indian Express 16 June 2014 as “Task Cut Out For Smriti Irani”
When there is success in Indian education it is because of the genius of our children and youth, the deep involvement of parents, our stable families and cultures, and the efforts of thousands of dedicated unsung teachers and professors. Education is the ladder of social and economic mobility, allowing within a generation the children of labourers to become teachers, electricians, nurses and pharmacists, the children of teachers and tradesmen to become engineers, doctors and industrialists.
It is a universal task of government to make sure such ladders of learning exist to be climbed everywhere and that they’re sturdy and spacious. The ladders do not have to be government-provided; there can be as many or more privately offered alternatives too, and the choice should belong to parents and children as to which ladder of which kind they invest their hard-earned money and time in, so their families are best able to climb out of poverty or misfortune.
Education can be government financed without being government provided. For example, government can provide the parent or guardian of each school-pupil a handsome voucher to be used at any school of choice, public or private, for the child. This would allow a vast resource to be tapped which is the local knowledge that parents and pupils have about specific educational problems and opportunities in their own area.
Besides public financing of at least school education, government’s role remains one of ensuring and enforcing academic and financial discipline, so that any education provided at any level by any purported provider is worth its name. At its loftiest we may want education to nurture the child’s soul and build character, and consist of science, mathematics, literature, as well as music, sports and games. At the very least in Indian circumstances, we may insist upon a minimum of the three traditional Rs of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic reaching every child without fail. There is a vital public interest in wanting every citizen to comprehend the world around him or her and function in it productively and thoughtfully as an adult.