Myview A new de­vel­op­ment mantra for politi­cians

Mint ST - - VIEWS -

Dear politi­cian, you have shown us that bi­jli-sadak-paani (BSP, elec­tric­ity-roads-wa­ter) has been a win­ning mantra for elec­tions. Vot­ers test the de­liv­ery of elec­toral prom­ises of in­clu­sive de­vel­op­ment or vikas (de­vel­op­ment) against the re­al­ity of BSP. A good track record on BSP has got par­ties re-elected in states.

But in the third decade of the 21st cen­tury, BSP is ta­ble-stakes in the elec­toral game. If you are (with) the rul­ing party, you are un­likely to win only on BSP. And if you are (in) the op­po­si­tion, you have no chance of win­ning on a prom­ise of BSP, es­pe­cially if the rul­ing party has done even a half-de­cent job on it. You need an en­er­giz­ing new mantra. It must also cut through the fluff, re­ally mat­ter­ing to every­one in the kasba, basti (town, set­tle­ment) and farm.

Let me pro­pose this new mantra for you: SSS, which is shik­sha-swasthya-surak­sha (ed­u­ca­tion-health-safety). Safety will get women vot­ers for you, even more than pro­hi­bi­tion. Good health ser­vices will pro­vide de­liv­er­ance from hu­man mis­ery and un­bear­able eco­nomic bur­den, for ev­ery house­hold. Ed­u­ca­tion is the most im­por­tant as­pi­ra­tion in al­most ev­ery fam­ily to­day, meet­ing it will glue vot­ers to you for three to four elec­tion cy­cles. You are way smarter than most of us and al­ready know the im­por­tance of SSS.

I sus­pect that you have not em­braced this strat­egy be­cause you are un­sure of its re­turn-on-in­vest­ment fac­tored for fea­si­bil­ity. You may need a little bit more help in de­vis­ing the win­ning elec­toral equa­tion with ed­u­ca­tion and health than you did with BSP. It was so much more phys­i­cal and sim­ple with BSP, and with sub­stan­tial op­por­tu­ni­ties to keep every­one happy with their fair share of the cut. In this un­so­licited let­ter of ad­vice to you, I will only make the case for ed­u­ca­tion. There are oth­ers who have the ex­per­tise to make the case for health.

This mis­sive has a 10-point pro­gramme for shik­sha, based on three prin­ci­ples. First, the ac­tions sug­gested are ac­tu­ally re­quired to im­prove school ed­u­ca­tion. And if pur­sued with vigour and tenac­ity, will show vis­i­ble re­sults. Sec­ond, these ac­tions do not re­quire big in­creases in gov­ern­ment ex­pen­di­ture, small in­creases com­bined with ef­fi­ciency will be enough. Third, the graft-chain in school ed­u­ca­tion is like petty change in the over­all scale of po­lit­i­cal fund­ing, so dis­pens­ing with some of it will not even be no­ticed. But these are re­quired to make ed­u­ca­tional change hap­pen, en­abling the elec­toral div­i­dend of shik­sha. The spe­cific 10-point pro­gramme fol­lows.

En­er­gize and rally pub­lic school teach­ers. Em­pathize with them and sup­port them. This is not a dis­hon­est strat­egy, but the treat­ment that teach­ers truly de­serve. Most of them are a ded­i­cated lot, falsely and un­justly vil­i­fied. Change in ed­u­ca­tion will be brought about by teach­ers—you need them to be en­thu­si­as­tic lead­ers of change. For this you need to in­vest in their ca­pac­ity de­vel­op­ment on a sus­tained ba­sis, and fos­ter a cul­ture where they are treated with re­spect. This ac­tion re­quires vir­tu­ally zero in­cre­men­tal ex­pen­di­ture, and will have the great­est ed­u­ca­tional and elec­toral re­turns.

Re­cruit and fill va­cant po­si­tions of teach­ers rapidly. Do this with the great­est hon­esty. If your fis­cal sit­u­a­tion is pre­car­i­ous, re­cruit on three-year con­tracts with lower salaries, which get au­to­mat­i­cally con­verted to stan­dard pub­lic school em­ploy­ment terms, un­less the teacher has been tru­ant. Fo­cus on re­gions and ar­eas with poor teacher-stu­dent ra­tios. Trans­fer teach­ers there or staff through re­cruit­ment.

Make the lo­cal lan­guage the medium of in­struc­tion, but start English as a sub­ject from class I.

4. Im­prove text­books, from classes I-VIII. I am sure you will want your par­ties’ ide­ol­ogy to have play. But don’t do that at the cost of the qual­ity of books. It is not so dif­fi­cult to achieve both ob­jec­tives, un­less the book-writ­ing com­mit­tees are full of only in­com­pe­tent ide­o­logues.

Front­line man­agers can en­able or stall ev­ery ef­fort. Em­power good of­fi­cials at the district and block lev­els. Side­line the cor­rupt.

Me­thod­i­cally or­ga­nize schools in clus­ters to share re­sources, in­clud­ing teach­ers. Done well, it needs no money, and will also have a cul­tural ef­fect. Get these clus­ters to own and help with an­gan­wadis, early child­hood care has a huge im­pact on all out­comes.

Make sure that the fol­low­ing reach on time—they are usu­ally de­layed for months, with no ben­e­fit to any­one:

a. Ba­sic school sup­plies: school uni­forms, cy­cles for girls, text­books and grains for mid-day meals.

b. Funds al­lo­cated to schools, es­pe­cially for the elec­tric­ity bill and in­gre­di­ents for the mid-day meal that have to be bought in the lo­cal mar­ket.

Don’t let pri­vate schools fleece the pub­lic. Reg­u­late them lightly but tightly. And en­sure that they main­tain ba­sic hy­giene and safety.

9. Run a mas­sive pro­gramme of pan­chayat en­gage­ment through the ex­ist­ing school man­age­ment com­mit­tees. Get them to re­pair the build­ings and to make sure that there is good wa­ter sup­ply. Get them se­ri­ously into first-level school gov­er­nance.

Brand this whole ef­fort and com­mu­ni­cate re­lent­lessly and di­rectly to the peo­ple.

For your next elec­tion cy­cle, I have the next 10-point pro­gramme ready. I am avail­able pro bono, for de­tail­ing and help­ing you with this pro­gramme. I have no party pref­er­ences, so long as you are com­mit­ting to SSS.


Anurag Behar is the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Azim Premji Foun­da­tion and leads the sus­tain­abil­ity ini­tia­tives for Wipro Ltd. He writes ev­ery fort­night on issues of ecol­ogy and ed­u­ca­tion.

Com­ments are wel­come at oth­er­ Read Anurag’s pre­vi­ous Mint col­umns at oth­er­sphere

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