Education in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was thriving on open competition. Then the government came up with sponsored education scheme leading to more colleges without any real intention to provide education. Add the draconian Right to Education law and you know how and why education is deteriorating in India. This is first part of a two part series
A recent survey
conducted by Pearson India revealed that 60% of the students in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were not employable. Though the survey does not take anyone by surprise, it gives us an opportunity to reflect upon our dying education system. In my last post
, I explained how the government intervention is killing research and affecting teaching standards in the country. Here, in the light of the survey, I want to look at the education system in Andhra Pradesh and study its passage in the last two decades to see how the government handled it. You will see how the education system benefitted when the government loosened its grip, and how it got destroyed when the same government intervened and distorted the market.
Government loosening its grip
When Chandrababu Naidu became the Chief Minister (CM) of Andhra Pradesh in 1995, the state was on a complete decline financially. He had to somehow revive the economy. Realising the potential of the information technology (IT) sector, with a single-minded focus, he worked to attract investments into the sector by de-regulating the processes. In his book "Plain Speaking", Naidu recounts how he went out of his way to convince Bill Gates to set up Microsoft in Hyderabad, which completely changed the face of AP. It was a huge achievement considering the fact that Bangalore had already grown into an IT hub by then. As a part of creating the IT ecosystem, the first thing Naidu did was to make it relatively easy for people to set up engineering colleges. When he assumed the office, there were only some 20 odd engineering colleges in the state, when he left, that figure went up to 220. All through his stay in the office, his party was part of the ruling alliance at the centre. So he was able to pressurise the centre to get permissions for establishing new engineering colleges since the whole process was under centre's purview. Yet times, he had to literally fight
with the central regulatory authority, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) to ease up rules.
Once the engineering colleges started adding up, and the IT industry started coming in, it created an enormous interest in the people of the state to take up engineering course. This created huge demand for junior colleges offering Engineering, Agriculture and Medical Common Entrance Test (EAMCET) (state entrance exam for engineering) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) oriented coaching. To cater to the demand, a lot of corporate junior colleges started mushrooming. The state government eased the rules a bit in this area, but mostly bribing would work in overcoming regulations. Once colleges were established, there was intense competition between these colleges. This created an unprecedented phenomenon, where in, these junior colleges would scout for the best talent in the state and compete to enrol them in their colleges, in the hope that if properly coached they would secure good ranks in EAMCET, and increase the college’s reputation. So they would offer concessions ranging from 25% to 100% on college fees depending on the student’s score in the 10th standard. A student whether rich or poor if he had scored over 90% in his 10th standard would be eligible for free quality education (including boarding).
It didn't stop here. The idea percolated further down, and there started coming up lot of model and corporate type schools. Again, the competition forced them to find the best talent. These schools, dozens in number, every year, conduct scholarship test for students for 5th standard and above, and top performers are given free schooling
. Today, in AP, a 5th standard student, if he shows signs of merit, will not be left behind for lack of finances. This is disbursing Scholarships the market way, the right way. Not only that, James Tooley, a professor of Education policy from England, came to Hyderabad in 2001 to study how the poor were getting educated. He mentions this in his book "The beautiful tree
" about how he was delighted to find so many low cost private English medium schools costing only a dollar a month at that time. And they were incomparably better than any public schools in the localities.
But then the accepted wisdom is private education institutes are only there to exploit us. Yet they achieved this despite all the draconian rules and regulations. They made the best out of a very narrow opening they were provided. When there is a clear purpose and when there is competition fuelled by little to no entry-barriers, private businessmen, to earn profits, need to provide quality. It is only when government stifles entry into the market, existing ones become complacent. Here, in the case we discussed, there was a clear demand for technical resource for the IT industry. From parents to students to educational institutes everyone knew what they were doing. This is in a way, a purposeful education. Here, I am not talking about the purpose at the micro-level of how a particular lesson/subject would benefit the student…we have a long way to go before we talk about that, but on a broader level the purpose was evident.
The criticism is that people say this made robots out of the students, with virtually everyone being forced to become an engineer. Two things to this: one, it is a choice parents and students make, you cannot complain about that; you need to use your wisdom. Two, this was nowhere an ideal system. Growth was fuelled by the government, so there will be discrepancies like cronyism and concentration of growth in the sector the govt picks. But as long as the two important resources for industry: land and power are firmly in the government’s control, there is little choice but to look for the government initiative. This case study is only to give an idea of how even a little freedom can make a great difference. If we look at the number of students being admitted into IITs, we will understand the whole effect this little phenomenon had from a national perspective. Every year, an average of 20% of the students that get qualified to IITs are from AP alone. This has been happening for more than a decade now. No other state comes close to this achievement.