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Politics of Low Cost Schooling and Low Teacher Salary

Another response to Pankaj S Jain and Ravindra H Dholakia (20 June 2009 and 20 February 2010) on the cost and options of low cost schooling.


Politics of Low Cost Schooling and Low Teacher Salary

Manish Jain, Sadhana Saxena

and Dholakia is not simply a matter of learning from each other.

Jain and Dholakia propose that the only remaining alternative is “PPP in which low cost providers of school education, who pay much lower salaries, cover a significant part of school education” (2009: 41,

Another response to Pankaj S Jain and Ravindra H Dholakia (20 June 2009 and 20 February 2010) on the cost and options of low cost schooling.

Manish Jain ( is with the Centre for the Study of Sociology of Education, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and Sadhana Saxena ( is at the Department of Education, University of Delhi.

e have been following with interest and concern the debates on the right to education generated by the writings of Pankaj S Jain and Ravindra H Dholakia (2009, 2010). From the paradigm within which the proposals are made it is clear that the authors are not interested in questioning the new economic order. On the contrary, the economic order is considered as a given or may be desirable or inevitable and the readers are being persuaded, through mathematical manoeuvring to fit education within this blatantly unjust order. What are the historical and theoretical roots of these proposals and economic choices? How do they visualise education, teaching and teacher and what are their silences? What are the ramifications of their suggestions?

Parental choice, promotion of private budget schools, public-private partnership (PPP), cost-effectiveness, and thus reform of public schooling along managerial lines form key issues in global educational policy discourse and research supported by multilateral agencies like the World Bank. International management consultants, education businesses, researchers and research networks, policy think tanks, advocacy groups, partnerships between local and global actors, corporate philanthropic and charity foundations together form a strong interest group promoting these reforms (Nambissan and Ball: forthcoming).

Nambissan and Ball have shown that James Tooley, with a firm grounding in think tanks in the United States and the United Kingdom and financial support from the right wing foundations supporting the philosophy of free market and even the World Bank, has been able to operate in/with a complex network of research, advocacy and funding involved in promoting discourse of parental choice and advocating private schooling. Thus, use and defence of Tooley’s work by Jain

Economic & Political Weekly

may 1, 2010 vol xlv no 18

2010: 80). They argue that private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and hiring of para-teachers under different programmes like the Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS), Shiksha Karmi and alternative school/centres under SSA have shown the viability of this option.

Not just recognition but celebration of the policy of hiring teachers at low costs to justify its intensification by the duo itself indicates their agreement with the neoliberal policies pursued in education since the 1990s. Decentralisation of appointment of teachers and contract appointments were seen as an effective way of dealing with the teachers’ collective opposition to the reform process (Govinda and Josephine 2005). Weakening of the government school system and increasing privatisation of education happened simultaneously in these reform years.

In the neoliberal ethos, deregulation of education and imposition of market discipline were seen as necessary to discipline the unjustifiably privileged middle class professionals like teachers and contain or reduce the educational expenditure. Concern about privileging the state employees and the high “compensation paid to civil servants” was also expressed by the World Bank (2003). It calculated that the “wages for selected categories of staff are consistently higher than they could expect to make in the private sector”. In comparison to 39 Asian countries where teachers’ salaries were 1.7 to 1 with reference to per capita GDP, in India the ratio was 5 to 1 (ibid: 36). It was argued that “more emphasis needs to go to local market comparators” (ibid: 37). Jain and Dholakia also argue that “the salary of a schoolteacher in the private sector is almost 25% to 35% of the cost of government salary” (2009: 41). They also calculate that primary teacher salaries in India exceed per capita GDP by seven times (2010: 79). If the GDP/teacher salary ratio in all other cited countries is


taken as a norm, then the primary teacher’s monthly salary in India must range from Rs 2,129 to Rs 4,344.

In this perspective, paying this salary without the benefits of job security and pension and health-related benefits is not seen as exploitation, but the introduction of market discipline in the period of globalisation. Clearly, different sets of market rules apply to the chief executive officers of India inc and fresh management graduates.

Education, Teachers and Teaching

Jain and Dholakia (2010: 78-79) admit Sarangapani’s (2009) criticism that Gyanshala is a model of non-formal education for three hours but stay shy of answering if such model fits well with the continuation of child labour. Instead, they assert that better performance of children, adherence to state/national norms of curriculum, learning environment and development opportunities result in delivery of good education “even with non-formal teachers”. To understand the Gyanshala model and its defence, we need to ask what connects these untrained teachers, better learning and supervision together.

With globalisation, human capital theory and efficiency became predominant models to decide and evaluate the purpose (economic) worth, processes and outcomes of education. Efficiency translated as cost-effectiveness and “measurable student achievement” became a key marker to define education and educational outcomes to plan, predict, measure and compare the role of education in enhancing the economic growth of different national economies. Deeper engagement in education for creating new types of citizens, for justice and equality, and education as a human right are deemed economically irrelevant, and thus un important to policymakers. Both state and non-state agencies began to measure, publish and circulate student achievements in reading and numeracy to compare private and public schools. Public choice theory and the doctrine of efficiency view teachers as merely rent-seeking agents. With a large unemployed labour, teachers are seen as an easily available human resource, a replaceable cog, as one input among many whose purpose is defined with reference “to quantifiable outputs, namely, the learning achievement of students” leading to greater workplace productivity (Welmond 2002: 41-42).

The management model of education adopted by Gyanshala treats teachers as workers in the education assembly line, who perform the teaching/learning tasks decided by the management. In it, the teacher lacks any training and agency to deliberate on the curriculum, to conceive, plan and design teaching and learning strategies for specific groups and individuals. The curriculum supervisors break the “complex jobs into specified actions with specified results”. The “management controls both pace of work and skill” of teachers to attain specified learning goals set for students (Apple 1995: 128-33). Thus, an attempt to look for any possibility of the personal, intellectual or professional growth of the teacher in this model that exploits teachers is bound to cause disappointment. This economic and management model and discourse inspired by the neoliberal ethos has no space to conceive the teacher and teaching in a holistic manner where it is not just the salaries, but also the autonomy, academic excellence/support, intellectually stimulating environment and recognition of the work that sustains an interest in education and ensures quality teaching.

The Gyanshala model may achieve greater success with its students in problem-solving tasks, in producing citizens who are technically skilled and accept the existing social and political structure, but whether it can lead to classroom discussions based on critical theories of education and pedagogy that question the neoliberal path of development remains doubtful. Art, music, drama, sports and other co-curricular activities have no space in the Gyanshala model’s conception of learning tasks in three hours of education. One wonders if this minimal education to the children of the marginalised qualifies as an adherence to state/national curriculum, as claimed by Jain and Dholakia.

Given the needs of first generation schoolgoers, there is an even greater need and urgency to appoint qualified teachers in government schools for reasons of equity, justice, rights and democratic citizenship. This would require intensive training inputs, rethinking on the existing models of pre-service and in-service teacher trainings, creation of work environment where teachers are part of wider deliberations on meaning and functions of education in an inegalitarian society. But would a teacher who is unskilled and low on pay as recommended by Jain and Dholakia have the necessary qualification, confidence, selfimage and motivation to undertake such an effort? To paraphrase Erich Fromm, can a servile and docile teacher create independent learners?


Apple, Michael W (1995): Education and Power (New York: Routledge).

Govinda, R and Y Josephine (2005): “Para-teachers in India: A Review”, Contemporary Education Dialogue, Vol 2, No 2, Spring, pp 193-224.

Jain, Pankaj S and H Ravindra Dholakia (2009): “Feasibility of Implementation of Right to Education Act”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 44, No 25, 20 June, pp 38-43.

– (2010): “Right to Education Act and Public-Private Partnership”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 45, No 8, 20 February, pp 78-80.

Nambissan, Geetha and Stephen J Ball (Forthcoming): Advocacy Networks, Choice, and Schooling of the Poor in India.

Sarangapani, Padma (2009): “Quality, Feasibility and Desirability of Low Cost Private Schooling: What Is the Evidence?”, Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 44, No 43, 24 October, pp 67-69.

Welmond, Michel (2002): “Globalisation Viewed from the Periphery: The Dynamics of Teachers Identity in the Republic of Benin”, Comparative Education Review, Vol 46, No 1, February, pp 37-65.

World Bank (2003): India: Sustaining Reform, Reducing Poverty (Delhi: OUP).

April 24, 2010
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