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Education

There are inherent information asymmetry problems in education that are characterised using the lens of the principal-agent framework. Principal-agent problems exist when the principal hires an agent to act on her behalf but the interests of the principal and the agent are not perfectly aligned. This necessitates that the principal has information to monitor the agent’s effort. Typically, in education, there is information asymmetry between parent-child, teacher-child, parent-school/teacher, parent-administrator, administrator-administrator, and administrator-teacher. Administrator means administrator at different units—school, block, district, state and nation (Bergbauer, Hanushek, and Woessmann 2018). These principal-agent problems can be linked to different uses such as child diagnosis, child progression into university, school information to parents, school regulation, teacher evaluation and so on (Figure 1).

Design of SSRA
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Figure 1: Tree of principal-agent problems and different information uses; Adapted from Bergbauer, Hanushek, and Woessmann 2018

A common solution to some of these information gaps is to use learning outcomes assessment. In the two decades preceding 2020, India has had some measures of learning outcomes. These include initiatives by the government institute, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT); non-governmental organisation, Pratham; state governments; and private organisations such as Educational Initiative. In addition to national assessments, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh also participated in the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2009. Besides these, we also have in-class assessments.

Although the proliferation of multiple assessment organisations and tools is commendable, the assessments have had a limited impact on driving change in school or administrative practices. There is a lack of systematic thinking on the question of the right tool and the right use. This is evident by the low learning outcomes across the country, despite years of assessments pointing in the same direction. This requires a rethink of the assessment framework—what are the different tools and tests available currently, how may they be best used to fill the existing information gaps and what gaps remain to be filled with new tools.

Assessments that solve one kind of information problem may not be suitable for another. For example, tests that evaluate children for progression to university, such as board exams in India, are different from tests that evaluate schools or tests that evaluate teacher performance. The conflation of multiple uses in one is seen for assessments such as Board exams. Board exams are designed to assess child performance for progression but have been at times used as indicators of school performance. Unless we isolate the child effort and background from school effort, board exam results are not valid indicators of school effort.

The latest draft of the National Education Policy released in 2019, led by Dr Kasturirangan, proposes multiple ideas to reform existing assessment practices and also introduces new ways to employ assessments. The document lays out a number of new test uses—low stakes assessments to personalise teaching, national achievement survey for periodic health check-up, census assessment for disclosing school performance and board exam reforms for student progression. Yet, even as the draft policy lays out these different tests, it lacks lucidity on the problem each of these tests solves, the information gap it fills, and the use it will be put to. Critical terms such as ‘developmental purposes’ and ‘health check-up’ remain vague and open for interpretation. In light of these developments, it is critical to identify clear and plausible objectives of each test that we carry out currently. What are the principal-agent problems NAS can solve? What are the principal-agent problems board exams solve? What is the role of in-class tests? How can census assessments be used for school accountability? To answer these, we need to tackle each principle-agent problem systematically—parent-child, parent-teacher, teacher-child, parent-administrator, administrator-teacher.

This brief looks at three uses of information, i.e., school information to parents, school regulation, and system health, and explores the role of assessments in each.

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The Kasturirangan Committee Report 2019 proposes that “the three distinct roles of governance and regulation, namely, the provision/operation of education, the regulation of the education system, and policymaking, will be conducted by separate independent bodies, in order to avoid conflicts of interest and concentrations of power, and to ensure due and quality focus on each role.”

In our view, separating the regulatory and service delivery functions performed by state school education departments/directorates and creating state-level independent regulators for all schools is the most significant reform proposal in the Report for school education.

As per the Report, each state should set up a State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) to regulate all schools, public and private, on the same set of minimum standards to assure quality education for all. The revised state education administration structure envisaged under the Report is:

  • the existing Directorate of School Education (DSE) to oversee government schools operations;

  • a newly-formed State School Regulatory Authority (SSRA) to have exclusive responsibilities over rule-making for all schools, public and private, and ensuring compliance;

  • the Department of School Education to be the primary institution for overall monitoring and policymaking (without any involvement in service delivery or regulation).

Design of SSRA
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Figure 1: Governance and regulatory architecture of School Education post-NEP 2019

Promise and perils of State School Regulatory Authority

Independent regulation will likely bring competitive neutrality, focus and efficiency. A dedicated regulator for a marketplace of a variety of suppliers, public and private, is an approach increasingly followed in India and several other countries. Conflicts of interest that currently exist between a government service-provider regulating itself and other service providers will be contained. SSRA, as a regulator, will function separately from any government department. As a result, the role played by discretion and quid pro quos in licensing, school recognition, inspections and fee regulation can be minimised. SSRA will be mandated to draft specialised rules only for the K-12 sector. This can encourage a symbiotic relationship where the regulator receives feedback on the efficacy of its rules from regulatees and consumers.

However, an independent regulator makes rules, checks compliance, and enforces the rules. This fusing of powers vests extensive authority in unelected officials. It needs to be countered by assigning the regulator a limited and well-defined mandate and developing an agency design accountable to Parliament/Legislature, regulatees, and parents and children whose interests it is to protect.

Design Elements for an effective State School Regulatory Authority

In this How To Note, we discuss the five design considerations that should go into the setting up of SSRA:

  1. Defining clear and narrow objectives: Assessment of SSRA’s performance, metrics to hold it accountable, governance structure, and management processes, all hinge on a clearly articulated objective. This objective should be limited and measurable, and subscribe to the principle of regulatory neutrality.

  2. Preparing a legislative framework delegating authority to the regulator: Since SSRA will be at the state-level, the state Legislative Assembly has to pass the Act enabling its creation. Furthermore, the powers relating to K-12 education are currently scattered across numerous Union and state Acts, and enforced by different officers and agencies. These need to be brought under the purview of SSRA to avoid regulatory cholesterol from building up.

  3. Structures that ensure independent functioning of SSRA: Independence will insulate SSRA from regulatory capture while making room for guided discretion. Moreover, it will allow SSRA to be held accountable for its decisions. This can be achieved by making appointment process for its Board members transparent, maintaining a balanced and lean Board composition, instituting working processes that incentivise performance, and imposing term limits on Board members to minimise conflicts of interest.

  4. Setting up accountability measures for performance via internal separation of functions and information disclosures on processes; and

  5. Establishing checks on executive discretion and against the abuse of power: Since SSRA will be formed by fusing quasi-legislative, executive and quasi-judicial powers, fail-safes against potential abuse of power must be instituted. Only its Board must hold rule-making powers. An internal adjudication body, and an external Education Appellate Tribunal are necessary. The rules governing SSRA also must lay out procedural and substantive guidance on applying administrative actions.

The proposal of the Kasturirangan Report to establish an independent SSRA is a promising reform for K-12 education in India because it tackles the key impediments to improvement—conflicts of interest between service-delivery and regulation, absence of accountability, violation of natural justice, and unchecked discretionary power of officers. Embedding the above-mentioned design elements in an SSRA may not guarantee a world-class regulator, but their absence will certainly result in an ineffective regulator that compounds the problems in K-12 education.

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Separation of Powers is one of the foremost principles of good governance, and states that the rule-maker, rule-executor and adjudicator should be distinct from each other. Such a separation installs checks against conflicts of interest and abuse of power by regulatory authorities and increases institutional accountability for outcomes.

We need to separate the functions exercised in governing the school education sector of India, particularly at the state level. A state government's Education Department is responsible for the construction of schools, teacher hiring and management, distribution of funds for school activities and formulation of state-level education policy.

The blueprint identifies three key-problems with the current governance structure:

  • Violation of natural justice;
  • Ineffective performance monitoring and rule compliance; and
  • Differential laws for government and private schools.

To address these three problems, the blueprint proposes separating the functions of service-delivery, assessment of learning outcomes, and adjudication of disputes (from the state departments of education) into three independent bodies.

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Prior to the passage of the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009, government registration or recognition of private schools was not mandatory in most Indian states. The Act has drawn heavy criticism for its impact on recognised and unrecognised private schools across India. Its uniform input-oriented regulatory approach does not pay attention to the fact that children from all socioeconomic classes attend private schools. Application of uniform principles to all schools, irrespective of the fee charged, ignores the costs of compliance with the mandated input norms, and the implicit penalty imposed on low-income parents. Worst of all, the enforcement of the Act threatens to shut down well-performing schools who may not have the means to comply with input norms.

Nearly 10 years after the passage of the Act, we are yet to have credible estimates from the government on the regulatory impact of RTE, particularly on children attending low-fee private schools.

Against this backdrop, the report provides estimates on the extent of school closures as a result of enforcing private school recognition norms prescribed under RTE.

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The debate on low learning levels has spurred several actions by the state. India has enrolled to participate in the 2021 round of PISA. The NCERT has defined grade level learning outcomes for languages (Hindi, English, Urdu), mathematics, environmental studies, science and social science up to the elementary stage. NITI Aayog is developing an index to `institutionalise the focus on improving education outcomes' including learning, equity and access based on information generated by NAS, the largest national assessment survey in the country. NAS coverage has been expanded to include government-aided schools and the sampling unit is changed from state to district level. The moot question is: Are these reforms sufficient to bring improvement across schools or are we still just tinkering at the edges?

Taking note of the crisis and recent developments, this brief urges the government to use the power of information to strengthen its ability to hold individual schools accountable, parents' ability to choose, and schools' ability to improve.

For more information on the project, to share your feedback or to get involved, get in touch with us at research_feedback@ccs.in.

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The government has the power to write rules, apply standards, recognise schools, withdraw recognition, and resolve disputes. Our paper teases out the discretionary powers conferred to the state governments for the regulation of education. We study the use of discretionary powers at three touchpoints—the government as a licensor, fee regulator and inspector of private schools.

What did we find?

We find evidence of excesses in the exercise of discretionary powers by the executive—the state education department. Below, we have listed a few instances:

Rigid and intrusive rules that some would argue are ultra vires: There are three key regulatory requirements to open a school in Delhi (Figure 1). Rule 44 of Delhi School Education Rules 1973 authorises the state Administrator to decide if the new school is necessary for the area. This objective has taken the form of an Essentiality Certificate. The Essentiality Certificate, however, does not have a statutory basis in Delhi School Education Act 1973, nor in the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.


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Figure 1: Three regulatory requirements needed for opening a school in Delhi

Proving that a school is essential in an area does not feature in DSEA 1973 or RTE 2009. It only finds a mention in DSER 1973, a glaring instance of quasi-legislative discretionary excess.

Ad-hoc and arbitrary rule-making: Rule 192 of DSER 1973 states that every inspection should 'be as objective as possible'. A close reading of the proforma that objectivity is a far fetched dream, especially when it comes to academic supervision.

Figure 2 highlights some of the constructs used to evaluate the academic quality of the school.

The first principle of a good questionnaire is to avoid ambiguous/abstract and loaded terms. The question "Were the questions put to the students thought-provoking and well-distributed?" is an example of the former and "Is it (homework) regularly corrected and followed-up?" is an example of the latter.

The absence of objective measures and defined standards for compliance raise many questions: Is evaluation solely dependent on the interpretation of the inspecting officer? If a school gets positive notes on some aspects and negative on others, where does that leave a school? Are reports of different schools comparable?

Poor procedural fidelity and absent transparency on procedures followed: Higher courts in India have in many judgments pronounced an aversion to the commercialisation of education but allowed schools to retain a 'reasonable surplus'. By default, the determination of what would count as a reasonable surplus is left to the administrative machinery.

In 2018, the Directorate of Education in Delhi passed an order instructing all districts to form a Fee Anomaly Committee, as a forum to attend to the complaints of parents. Yet, Fee Anomaly Committees have either not been formed or are defunct.


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Figure 2: Inspection proforma — Constructs evaluated and ways of measurement

Parents report that officials often fail to register complaints or take punitive action against schools who do not comply with orders. Given the lack of any codified procedure for processing complaints and limited transparency, it is often difficult for parents to establish a clear complaint trail and follow up.

The Uttar Pradesh Self-Financed Independent Schools (Fee Regulation) Act 2018 regulates fee for schools that charge an annual fee of over Rs 20,000. We found that the fee regulation committees only make decision summaries of its decisions available rather than the full minutes.

Inconsistent and subjective exercise of punitive measures: Section 24(3) of DSEA 1973 authorises the Director to issue instructions to the school manager 'to rectify any defect or deficiency found at the time of inspection or otherwise in the working of the school'. If the 'manager fails to comply with any direction given', then the Director may take any action including— (a) stoppage of aid, (b) withdrawal of recognition, or (c) except in the case of a minority school, taking over of the school'. From this, two challenges emerge.

First, the Director has a free hand in taking any action as deems fit to her if a school fails to comply with any direction. Further, there is no escalation—one mistake and your recognition may be at risk. Second, implementation is skewed—although the Act gives the power to the Director to act as she wishes, measures higher up on the penalty ladder are rarely used.

Learnings for future

Part of these excesses is borne of the lack of documented guidance on how the department should exercise its functions. Others are violations of the letter of the law, sometimes for the understandable reason of limited state capacity. These necessitate the establishment of norms that constrain the actions of those in positions of authority and determining who should be accountable to whom and for what (Posani and Aiyar 2009).

The administrative architecture needs to distinguish and separate the government's role as regulator, service provider, financier, and assessor. Even if full functional separation is a long term endeavour, an independent grievance redressal mechanism is an immediate need to balance executive discretion (Centre for Civil Society 2019).

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Different state governments of India have notified through Government Orders (GOs) the amount they will pay out in reimbursement to private schoolsfor each RTE child the school admits. For example, Tamil Nadu has fixed the reimbursement amount at Rs. 2351 per pupil per month; Delhi at Rs 2225, Himachal at Rs. 1593, Uttarakhand at Rs 1380, Karnataka at Rs. 1333, Rajasthan at Rs 1252, Bihar at Rs. 465, and Uttar Pradesh at Rs 450 per month per child. These amounts are meant to represent the states’ per pupil expenditure in their respective government elementary (primary + upper primary) schools. However, there has been some doubt and dismay about the accuracy of these estimates, and also some research estimating per pupil expenditures in the different states of India in Dongre and Kapur (2016), World Bank (2016) and NIPFP (2017).

The NIPFP (2017) found that the Uttar Pradeshgovernment’s actual per pupil expenditure in 2014-15 on its government and aided schools was Rs. 1529 per month. If this Rs.1529 estimate were to be inflated up to 2018-19 by 10% per annum, the per pupil expenditure today would be equivalent to Rs. 2239 per month on account of the increase in expenditure alone. If the fall in enrolment from 2014-15 to projected enrolment in 2018-19 is taken into consideration, then the average per pupil expenditure as per NIPFP would be Rs.2652 per month in 2018-19. This can be compared with the Rs. 450 pm upper limit of reimbursement set by the Uttar Pradesh government in June 2013, which has remained at the same level until 2018-19.

This short paper seeks to estimate the per pupil expenditure in government elementary schools in Uttar Pradesh using the government’s own expenditure data and enrolment data.

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Called “Faces of Budget Private Schools,” the BPS report 2018 is an attempt to explore both the data on the current education challenges and needs and also bring to light individual stories from the stakeholders in the system to set the data in perspective.

The Report consists of 3 main sections, which looks at 'Reach and diversity', 'Solving the problem of quality' and 'Educating children for an uncertain future'.

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The report brings together research and perspectives from relevant stakeholders with the aim of updating and pushing forward the discourse on BPS in India, by providing a platform for informed and inclusive interactions on the sector.

The Report consists of 17 chapters and is categorised into four themes which represent the different aspects of the BPS sector: demand, supply, ecosystem, and regulation.

The chapters of the Report are authored by experts representing a variety of backgrounds and organisations with a deep understanding and expertise of the BPS sector, representing research, policy and practice.

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