In September 2018, the Indian government unveiled a massive three-billion-dollar project—Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States, or STARS—designed in collaboration with the World Bank to improve the country’s education system. While 85 percent of the project’s cost would be borne by the Indian government, the rest would be financed through a World Bank loan. The loan is still being negotiated, even as the Indian government prepares for the project’s implementation. But, unfortunately, the project has not seen much public discussion or scrutiny.
On paper, the programme seems promising. Besides taking on some national-level initiatives, the project seeks to reform the education system in six states: Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha. It promises improvement in early-childhood education, teacher and school-leadership development, and building infrastructure, among other noble objectives. But a closer look at the project document reveals a flawed understanding of the kind of intervention the country might need. The project ignores what many experts consider the most immediate problem—an underfunded public-education system. Instead, it focusses on simply improving education delivery, through a greater inclusion of private-education providers in the sector, despite the well-known shortcomings of similar projects in places such as Liberia and Pakistan. The project ignores not only the countless failures of public-private partnerships in education, but also the abysmal track record of India’s private schools.
According to the government’s own data, less than thirteen percent of India’s schools adhere to the minimum norms laid down by law. These are rock-bottom basics: a roof over children’s heads, a teacher in every classroom, availability of basic teaching and learning material, and basic sanitation facilities in every school. In northeastern India, Bihar, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, this number is lower than five percent.