India needs to address education issues if it is to become a global leader

The last Indian general election transformed Prime Minister Narendra Modi from an international pariah, accused of human rights abuses, to a superstar and raised hope that India had turned a corner. Prime Minister David Cameron praised Modi, saying he “got more votes than any other politician anywhere in the universe,” and investors and political strategists have India back in their good books.

But this new optimism is at best unfounded, and perhaps completely wrong. Even if we take Modi at his word — that he is a reformer more interested in building high-speed train systems than temples — it is unclear if the Indian people have the will to lift themselves out of poverty and disease. The case study of education reform, an area in which I have worked for more than a decade, is instructive.

India has over 400 million school- and college-age citizens, more than any country. Yet it has an educational system that has failed its people and simply has not taken steps to redress the issue. For example, when India last participated in the global PISA test, a standardized test of math, science and literacy designed to compare school systems across the world, it came in second to last among more than 70 participating countries.

Teacher absenteeism is 25 percent in government schools, even though teachers often receive the highest salary in an Indian village. The deficiency of public schools has created the largest private school system in the world, with some private schools costing less than $100 per year and producing outcomes far better than those from public schools.

Children sitting on floor looking at their books

Source: Corbis

Children study inside their classroom after having their free midday meal, distributed by a government-run primary school, in a village in Bihar, India.

How has the Indian government redressed the collapse of the public school system? For starters, India’s bureaucrats declared the PISA test unsuitable for India and withdrew the country from further rounds of testing. Instead of encouraging competition against decrepit public schools, the government has placed onerous operating burdens on private schools through the misleadingly named Right to Education (RTE) Act.

On the surface, RTE is a “pro-poor” piece of legislation as it allocates 25 percent of seats in all private schools for poor students who otherwise would go to public schools. In reality, RTE creates more opportunity for political patronage as the allocation of that 25 percent is influenced by corrupt local politicians in exchange for favors or cash. In short, RTE accepts that private schools are doing a great job by mandating that one-quarter of their capacity be reserved for poor students, while simultaneously punishing them through added regulation.

India Education Facts

  • Total Number of Students (Primary and Secondary): 179 million
  • Number of Schools (Primary and Secondary): 1.3 million
  • Typical School Year: April to March
  • Top Schools: Doon School (Dehradun); Cathedral and John Connon (Mumbai); Delhi Public School (Delhi); Mayo School (Ajmer); Welham Girls’ School (Dehradun)

In higher education, the situation is no better — contrary to the impression that India has a quality higher education system given the performance of its graduates abroad. This impression is the result of sample bias: Students graduating from the top 1 percent of institutions (nearly 200,000 students) tend to leave India in search of economic opportunity, masking the reality of the country’s subpar higher education system.

Overall, India has approximately 20 million students in higher education. The government, however, refuses to encourage private investment in higher education by mandating that it remain a “nonprofit” activity.

Meanwhile, private nonprofit colleges, often owned by corrupt politicians, take advantage of the excess demand for higher education by eliciting cash bribes for admission, a practice that is so prevalent in India that locals have invented a term for it: “capitation fees.”

Students outdoors filling out forms during the day

Source: Getty

Students fill out forms during the admission process for the 2014–15 academic session at Daulat Ram College in New Delhi, India.

And what has changed since that last dramatic general election? The new minister responsible for education, Smriti Irani, is a 38-year-old soap opera actress without a college degree (despite her recent declaration that she has a “degree” from Yale based on a six-day course). Her first publicly announced reform to the educational system is a campaign to introduce buttermilk in public school lunches. Not a word against RTE or investment in higher education to build the millions of new seats of capacity we need each year.

How can India get out of this mess without money and develop an improved educational system? The answer lies in implementing Prime Minister Modi’s own mantra of “more governance, less government.” Unlike India’s health care system (the most privatized in the world), its educational system is not deregulated to allow for-profit investment in schools and universities.

The government claims it is loath to allow for-profit education in order to protect students from poor quality. But why is it acceptable to allow a profiteering hospital to perform brain surgery but objectionable to allow a student to take a math class at a for-profit university?

The Indian government should set up the accreditation framework and stand back. Whether the capital comes in the form of for-profit or nonprofit investment should not matter. Presently, the government is tying the hands of investors in the Indian educational system by mandating nonprofit institutions and, in doing so, limiting the amount of capital invested and the quality of education provided. India should learn from the successes and mistakes of other countries such as the U.S., Brazil and China that have deregulated education.

Deregulation is usually opposed because it comes with the threat of job cuts or closure of government-run facilities. But in this case, deregulation does not require government investment or reduced support to existing public educational institutions. It will, however, generate more competition for public schools and private “nonprofit” schools owned by politicians and influential industrialists.

I ask once more: Do the Indian people have the will to move forward? When it comes to education, that is really all it takes to solve the problem. And in a nation of nearly 1.3 billion people, surely there is enough collective energy and willpower to make that investment in the nation’s future.

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Egyptian education system doesn’t prepare youth for Jobs

Interview with Salma Wahba, youth and adolescent development officer for Unicef Egypt

How would you describe youth unemployment in Egypt?

The unemployment rate overall in Egypt is 13.4%. Unemployment is one of the most pressing concerns among young people as it affects them the most. According to national statistics in 2013, 55% of all those unemployed are aged 15 to 24, and an additional 23% are aged 25 to 29. The unemployment rate among young women is almost double that of young men.

What are the main causes?

Egypt has been facing three years of serious economic challenges and an unstable political context. This has led to growth stagnation, increased unemployment and poverty.

There is also a significant mismatch between the skills of new labour market entrants and the requirements of the labour market. The education system is not preparing young people with the skills for the modern workplace and career guidance in general, is not available.

In Egypt, youth still prefer to work for the government, rather than the private sector, perceiving it to be a secure job. Many young people are waiting for the job that best fits their qualifications rather than actively seeking employment and accepting jobs that they think are below their level. This is a major cultural barrier among youth in Egypt.

What do you see as the long term consequences?

In a country like Egypt where youth constitute one-fifth of the population, more than 16m people, not dealing with youth unemployment could have serious consequences. It creates frustration among youth about their future and their role in society as productive individuals. It also wastes Egypt’s great opportunity of benefiting from the potential of its demography.

Where should youth unemployment fit into the international agenda?

Youth issues and particularly youth unemployment should undoubtedly feature strongly in the post-2015 development agenda as it is an issue of global concern. It is clear that the post-2015 agenda must give a higher focus on equity and inclusion, and supporting the young generation, particularly the most disadvantaged.

What are the solutions to the crisis?

The most obvious solution is to create jobs for youth entering the labour force. More innovative solutions need to be investigated and put in place such as providing incentives to employers to reserve jobs for youth.

Partnerships need to be developed among government, private sector, civil society and young people themselves to develop and implement an integrated strategy, focusing on those most disadvantaged. Addressing the mismatch between the skills young people have and the requirements of the job market is essential. This could be either through the formal education system or through non-formal education with important distinct skills.

In Egypt, Unicef’s interventions are focused on the skills development of young people, focusing on those most marginalised, through the ‘Building Young Futures’ programme. The programme has demonstrated the importance of focusing on the youth at an earlier stage (15-17 years) before they venture into the labour market. This proved to be very rewarding as they are, in general, more receptive to change and to new modes of thinking.

EfA Day 2014!

Today is EfA Day 2014 and pupils all around the United Kingdom are doing all sorts of different activities to raise awareness about the serious issue of global education.

Whitehall Infant School in Uxbridge did a non-uniform day and raised money for their partner school in Nepal:

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Cherbourg school in Eastleigh had a great morning and mate an animated video about Education for All (which we’ll be putting up next week). Here’s a picture of Cherbourg’s schools council:

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Director Mary Sinnott and Fundraising Coordinator Nick Evans visited Orchard Primary School. Their year 3 pupils wrote letters to David Cameron explaining why global education is such an important issue and used no technology like PC’s or whiteboards (or even lights!). Year 6 and reception pupils took a mile-long walk during school hours to know what it would be like to take a long walk to school.

How will we fund global education post-2015?

“If global leaders invested more in education they could help reduce poverty, create more sustainable livelihoods, improve long-term health benefits, ensure greater gender equality, and promote democratic governance: investment in education now can help to fund a better future tomorrow.”

Global Campaign for Education: Funding the Future report 2014

Extensive research by the UN’s High Level Panel and Sustainable Develop Solutions Network has found that education is instrumental in expediting progress in solving issues such as gender inequality, healthcare and agriculture in developing countries.

Despite the evidence, there are still 57 million children out of primary education globally and a further 69 million out of secondary education. This is a serious issue but equal gravitas must be given to the fact that there are enormous financing gaps for global education, to the tune of $4billion.

Demand from developing countries is vastly outstripping supply from the GCE, this is due, in part, to the fact that member countries of the GPE are not pledging significant donations to global education; for example, the Netherlands has pulled their funding completely. This has provoked the GPE to hold a ‘funding replenishment’ on June 26th 2014 in Brussels. The intention is that cumulatively, the GPE will contribute $1billion p.a. from 2015-2018, providing a total of $4billion for global education. The GPE has claimed that assuming the predicted level of replenishment is achieved, an ‘ambitious’ target of 92% enrolment in primary education can be reached, meaning an extra 17 million children enrolled in basic, primary education.

However, the weight is not solely on the shoulders of the GPE, there is also the call for developing countries to dedicate more of their budget to education, 20% to be precise, with at least 10% on primary education or a higher figure where necessary. This is a crucial development which will see developing countries engaging with their educational issues and creating change in a way that foreign aid could never achieve. Since the MDG’s were created, there has been increased average spending of 6% on education across all Sub-Saharan countries so we can see developing countries are heading in the right direction.

Lastly, there is a hope that the private sector will show greater dedication to the issue of global education. One suggestion has been that multinationals pay their ‘fair share’ of tax in developing countries where they operate. Making multinationals more accountable through taxation will produce steadier, more regular income within developing countries, again producing change and internal development that international aid cannot achieve.

These are all logical and necessary steps toward funding global education, the GPE replenishment meeting in Brussels on June 26th will set the precedent for global education funding post-2015.

MP Richard Harrington hosts afternoon tea for Steve Sinnott Foundation 31/11/13

On Thursday 7th November Richard Harrington MP hosted an afternoon tea in honour of the Steve Sinnott Foundation, celebrating the success of foundation’s first Education for All Day and continued work towards to Universal Primary Education. Baroness Walmsley joined us for a cup of tea and a cake before dashing off to debate the progress that has been made on the Millennium Development Goals covering the improvement of education for girls in developing countries.

The event was also attended by Robert Lindsay, star of shows such as Spy, My Family and Citizen Smith (in which he, ironically, drove a tank directly at Parliament). We are delighted that Robert was able to attend and look forward to his ongoing support for the important work of the foundation.

Richard Harrington MP introduced Steve Sinnott Award Global Campaigners Ramani Chandramohan and Raina Bardhan who presented their research on the current state of global primary education to all who attended the afternoon tea. Raina and Ramani outlined that since MDG 2’s inception, universal primary-level education has risen to 90% from 82% in 1999 which is a fantastic achievement, and everyone who has supported Education for All deserves a pat on the back. But not for long, there is still a great deal of work left to be done as there are still 57 million children deprived of a basic education around the world, a fact that lead to many an agape mouth and dropped french fancy.

The Steve Sinnott Foundation believes that hard working and inspiring young people like Raina, Ramani and the hundreds of other students who took part in Education for All day are the fuel that will really drive global change and reform.

MP Richard Harrington, Raina, Ramani and Robert Lindsay.

MP Richard Harrington, Raina, Ramani and Robert Lindsay.

A number of supporters and project partners joined us including representatives of Macmillan Publishing, Children in Crisis and Usborne Books. We would like to thank them for their continued support and contributing to the success of the afternoon.

EfA Conference 8/11/13

The first annual Education for All day held on Friday 21st June 2013 was a great success. Over 50 schools, 26,000 young campaigners and 1,600 teaching staff took part to raise awareness of the barriers to education worldwide. Several of the schools who took part in EFA day attended a conference on December 8th 2013 at the National Union of Teachers headquarters in London. The objective was for young people to meet, share and discuss what they did for EFA day, what worked well and how to make EFA day 2014 bigger and better.

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Mary with the pupils from Grange Infant/Primary School.


A number of the attending schools held a ‘stall’ which displayed resources and images displaying their campaigning efforts on EfA Day. The stalls were visited by all attending pupils offering a fantastic opportunity to visualise the activities and efforts by others in their shared campaign towards Education for All. For example, students from Gustons CoE Primary School in Dover partner with Bhagwati School in Nepal. The schools exchanged letters written in Nepali and English discussing the barriers to education the pupils in Bhagwati School faced. The pupils at Gustons realised that two of the biggest challenges their fellow pupils in their partner school faced were the distance they had to walk to school and the fact that they had no furniture and so lessons were taught on the floors of classrooms. On EFA day, the pupils therefore organised an early-morning walk around a local park (apparently it was very cold and foggy)imitating a long walk to school and experienced what school would be like if lessons were taught with no desks, spending the remainder of the day working sat on the floor. Learning about young people so eager to participate in demonstrations that exemplify social empathy is fantastic and very inspiring.

Gustons CoE Primary School are one of many EfA Day schools who are partnered with a school overseas, sharing experiences and working across continents on curriculum based projects. Please contact us if your school is interested in partnering with a school overseas, it’s a very rewarding and enriching experience for young people working together with their international peers.

Pupils from Gustons CoE School wrote to David Cameron

Pupils from Gustons CoE School wrote to David Cameron

A common action in attending schools and in 70% of schools that took part in EFA day was to write to Prime Minister David Cameron, illustrating the importance of EFA day and urging him to prioritise education in the international agenda.

Nicki and Penny getting everyone warmed up

Nicki and Penny getting everyone warmed up

The Steve Sinnott Foundation’s education team, Nicky Anastasiou and Penny Clayton did a fantastic job leading the activities on the day, engaging pupils and teachers alike in activities that, rather than demonstrating the differences between pupils, enabled them to think about the similarities they shared as students in the UK.

Eilidh and Billy discussing with fellow pupils

Eilidh and Billy discussing with fellow pupils

Eilidh Naismith and Billy Davidson will be hosting a Scotland based EfA Day conference on Monday 9th December at their school, Hutcheson’s Grammar in Glasgow. The conference will challenge participants to demonstrate how they would improve education opportunities for children in a developing country. The conference will conclude with the winning school walking away with £500 to put their plan into action. We’re extremely proud of Eilidh and Billy for their enterprising spirit.

Lastly, the Steve Sinnott Foundation would like to give a massive thank you to: Farnborough Grange Primary School, Hampshire; Ringwood Secondary School, Hampshire; Dore Primary School, Sheffield; Hutchesons’ Grammar School, Glasgow; Simon Langton Girls School, Kent; Gustons CoE Primary School, Dover; Cherbourge Primary School, Suffolk; Broadstone Middle School, Poole and Grange Primary School, Ealing for attending and making the conference such a great success. It is ideas like theirs and of every school that took park in EFA day 2013 that will ensure EFA day 2014 will be more successful, more engaging and most importantly, will raise even greater awareness about Millennium Development Goal 2 and the right to Universal Primary Education.

Sam, Millie, Raina, Mary, Ramani, Eilidh, Billy

Sam, Millie, Raina, Mary, Ramani, Eilidh, Billy