Anita Joshua

It was rejected by HRD Ministry in July

  • Scheme suggested for secondary education in hope of rising demand in this sector
  • It would not be consistent with National Policy on Education, says Ministry

    NEW DELHI: Despite opposition from the Union Human Resource Development Ministry, the voucher scheme as a pilot project has been retained by the Planning Commission in its final Approach Paper to XI Five-Year Plan. In July the Ministry had rejected the scheme mooted in the Draft Approach Paper as an experiment that had been "tried, tested and rejected" overseas.

    Still, in its final Approach Paper titled `Towards Faster and More Inclusive Growth' the Commission without using the term `voucher scheme' said accountability in schools could be enforced by enabling parents to choose the school for their children. "We need to experiment with this possibility by undertaking pilots that provide suitable education entitlements to children which are reimbursable to the school. This will create competition by allowing people to choose between public and private schools."

    The Commission has suggested the scheme for secondary education in anticipation of a surge in demand in this sector, as a result of the universalisation of elementary education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. At the same time, the Commission has maintained that advocacy of this scheme or greater private participation in secondary education does not mean that the Government would abdicate its responsibility towards secondary education.

    Originally, the Commission had suggested the voucher scheme to "promote equity and quality in schooling in areas where adequate private supply exists" as an alternative to setting up more government schools in such areas. It seeks to redirect the flow of education funding by channelling it directly to individual families rather than to schools. This allows families to select the school of their choice with the Government picking up the fees.

    However, the Ministry's position is that the scheme "would not be consistent with the National Policy on Education." Also it is not a viable alternative to setting up more government schools as the education gap is more in rural areas where private schools are few and far between.

    Further, it cited experiments with the voucher scheme elsewhere in the world; particularly in Milwaukee (U.S.), which is regarded as a pioneer of the system. Only 1.5 per cent of its students are covered by this scheme, the Ministry pointed out. It said that the scheme was struck down as "un-constitutional" by the Florida Supreme Court in January this year.

    As for India, the Ministry's view is that since the average cost of schooling in private unaided schools here is much higher than in government schools, the scheme would result in higher expenditure. Also, there is the added apprehension of private schools favouring relatively well-to-do students, and complaints of excessive attrition and lack of equity.