Why education in Mumbai is crippling despite a massive budget…

I still remember that afternoon when I walked into my neighbourhood gym, took an annual subscription and walked out with a beaming sense of pride as if I was already the fit person that I wanted to be. This was nearly 3 months back and the number of times I have actually been to gym is , well, laughable to say the least. This reminded me of the education scenario in Mumbai’s public schools, with regards to digitisation and free tablets. The intention of Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in introducing and investing in digital learning was probably good. Yes, we (me and BMC) put our money where our mouth was. But perhaps that was the problem. Before investing money, the feasibility should’ve been thought about more realistically before implementing the scheme.

BMC always has a massive budget for education. Every year Rs 50,534 is available to BMC in terms of spending per child. Yet the education scenario is crippling. Why is that so? 
Here are some reasons:

One, there is no one to hold accountable when the budget is mismanaged, resulting in a scam or some other setback. The politicians, bureaucrats, principal (school head) and contractors blame each other and there’s rarely anyone who pays the price of any misdeed. The bureaucrats managing schools are neither experts, nor do they have any incentive to boost the quality of education in schools. So parents face the consequences for the lazy actions of the bureaucrats.

Two, there is no transparency regarding the budget. The spending on schools by BMC has not even crossed 45% of the allotted budget in the past five years. BMC might be able to give us figures on where it’s spending the money, but it fails to show us why substantial part of the budget money is not spent. As also, the reasoning behind implementing a new measure, and the rationale behind allocating a certain amount to it should be available for people to know.

Three, most promises that politicians make related to education are almost always just a populist measure to lure people to vote for the party, and seldom has anything to do with actually improving the quality of education for kids. For instance, recently Shiv Sena promised free bus rides to school kids. But where will kids go in the bus if there aren’t any good schools. Also, municipal schools are mostly neighbourhood schools where kids walk to school, so is a bus really required?

Moving on, four, if at all the intention of introducing a new measure is sincere, the project either fails at implementation level or results in a scam. The system reeks of inefficiency and this clearly reflects on the state of education in Mumbai. The system also lacks of coherence and mutual co-operation between state and city governments in terms of planning and implementation, and between this crossfire it’s the students who suffer.

When such a situation plays out, it brings us back to points one and two, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle.

In all this, it’s the child who is devoid of the education that it deserves. And this is not a good sign for the country. Education should be the top agenda in any state.

I’ll leave you with a good thought though. There are some feasible measures that BMC can take to ensure that every child in Mumbai receives quality education. One of them is School vouchers, non-transferable, securitised monetary instruments that allow the recipient to pay fees at a chosen institution instead of money, are one of the great ways to ensure every child gets education. In this, parents have a choice of where to send their kids, it boosts healthy competition among schools, the revenue of school is performance based and it’s an efficient use of funds. For what it’s worth, the BMC must definitely give it a shot this time!

-Kiran Dave

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