Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Small-Scale Voucher Effort in India Could Be Model to Transform Education System

Students take exams outside of a school building in India.
We here at School Choice Now! have tried to give you a look at issues broadly related to school choice, and while our name might indicated otherwise, we're interested in how successful models of educational options abroad can help shape sound policy here at home.

And it looks like we're not the only ones.

In India, officials are looking to voucher programs in the United States and elsewhere to give them insight into how to structure similar programs in the world's second-most populous country. In fact, this has been an ongoing effort -- since 2007, the country's Centre for Civil Society (CCS) has been managing a voucher program that has given scholarships to 408 students in 68 wards in Dehli, India's second-largest metropolitan area.

Voucher amounts are only 3600 rupees (just under $70 here), which might not seem like much, but consider this:  spending is so low in Indian schools that, on average, 59 percent of the schools have no drinking water and 89 percent have no toilets. With that in mind, a 3600-rupee scholarship is a significant amount, and the voucher program is achieving a remarkably large return on that investment.

Academic gains by voucher students are particularly notable for outpacing both students at schools run by the Indiana government as well as students studying at private schools. Check out the details, courtesy the India Education Diary, which interviewed CCS president Dr. Parth J. Shah:
While the government has a constitutional mandate to educate every child, it cannot accomplish this task by building more government schools. It has to remain a sponsor and facilitator, and let edupreneurs execute the task of delivering the service. This will bring choice of schools even to the poor while improving the quality of education delivered through competition.
Sound familiar? If so, it's because it is.

These models are not unique to American schools -- nor is, more importantly, their record of success. As the story points out, vouchers for low-income children are showing gains for children from Denmark to New Zeland to Holland. What's more, the fundamental ideological reasons behind choice here and there is the same. It's not rooted in serving special interests or accomplishing some political end. It's about the kids.

Says Dr. Shah:
...[E]ducation is really all about outcomes. Parents want their children to learn and be able to do maths, read and write, speak English, understand basic science and have some sense of history. We should worry less about inputs and more about outcomes. 
The government should free up teachers to teach, schools to determine the specifics of curriculum and resources, and parents to choose the education that is best for their children. This is the best way to improve education for all: Not just the right to education but the right to education of choice.
Indian's opportunity lies not only in helping its own citizens, but serving as an example for the rest of the world. Though it has started small, a growing surge of support for school vouchers in a country home to more than 1 billion people can do much good to show how vouchers can work on a large scale.

The Indiana people -- of whom 25 percent are still illiterate, only 15 of whom reach high school, and just 7 percent of whom graduate -- deserve better. We hope that, through vouchers and other education innovations, children begin to get access to the quality options they deserve.

If it can happen there, it can -- and should -- happen any/everywhere!

- American Federation for Children | Alliance for School Choice, MAG

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