Friday, February 26, 2010

Is your child a genius, or just plain lucky?

A case for Education Vouchers...

I come across many parents who boast about their "child prodigy", mainly due to the 95%+ marks she gets in the school exams. I know they should be happy just as I am when my daughter's teacher tells me proudly that she is one of the best in her class. And then, on my way back home, I look at some of the children on the roadside languishing in the dirt. I do wonder about the undiscovered potential of these kids, and whether my daughter is truly the genius she is made out to be, or is she or thousands like her, just plain lucky to have born into a better-off family! That is nothing to take away from her efforts and accomplishments. I know she has been working hard...

While doing some tutoring assignments for some of the US kids, I was fortunate to have read about the NCLB related efforts by successive US governments. My understanding of this effort in some points:

1. Hold the school, and in general, the teaching community responsible for student performance. In India, we tend to blame the child for failing. Imagine putting the blame on your child's teacher and the school!

2. If the school fails to improve falling performance, choke its funding. So, in a market-driven economy, the best schools survive.

3. Provide Education Vouchers to the "needy", so that they can help themselves improve too. These vouchers are like cash in the hands of the needy, and they are then free to encash them in return for quality education support.

Further followup in this interesting method of trying to solve declining academic levels in US schools revealed the problems on the ground. "Needy" section was not really difficult to identify, and the students mostly fell into the "free-meal scheme". The schools were very particular about not divulging the identity of these students, for obvious reasons of not creating classes in the community. But when they were offered the Education Vouchers as well, the students got a double-whammy! They were now also identified as weaker ones. In a social context, this meant an unwanted privilege. I remember reading somewhere that not more than 20% of those eligible for the vouchers actually used them!

I have studied in a school, way beyond my family's means, due to one such government scheme. And I don't remember a single instance when my super-rich schoolmates would have made any kind of derogatory remarks due to my financial background.

I believe a la NCLB scheme will do wonders in India, and empower the less privileged children. I would love to see a child from the slum getting a 1000/- voucher and get into a tuition centre in the neighbourhood. Skeptics may scoff at the child being ridiculed by his fellow students, or not being able to "adjust" to their class. But is that really a valid concern, when you are trying to build equity into a nation as large as ours?

Whether your maid's child will be able to compete with your daughter is not the right question, but at least, lets allow her to! And then you would be even more proud of your daughter's great marks!