The cost of education (The Hindu)
Unhealthy Binaries (The Indian Express)
Ineffective and arbitrary (The Hindu)
The cost of education
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of private schools arbitrarily hiking fees.
(GS paper III)
- Over the years, the issue of skyrocketing tuition fees has confronted parents, which had aided to their burden is the annual and steep hike in tuition fees along with additional costs such as fees for transport, extra-curricular activities and sports.
- Regulating school fees is one of the most significant legal and political challenges policymakers in India face. The issue of fee regulation finds itself at the intersection of constitutionally protected freedoms enjoyed by private schools and the need for making quality education affordable and accessible.
- The managements of such private schools claim that these hikes are reasonable and justified as the costs of maintaining a fully functional private school with quality teaching and world-class infrastructure are quite steep. In this context, balancing the autonomy of private schools and their public welfare function becomes a contentious issue.
- In T.M.A. Pai Foundation v. State of Karnataka (2002), the Supreme Court held that regulatory measures imposed on unaided private educational institutions must, in general, ensure the maintenance of proper academic standards, atmosphere and infrastructure and the prevention of mal-administration by the school management.
- Subsequently, in Islamic Academy of Education and Anr. v. State of Karnataka and Ors (2003), a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court held that these institutions have the autonomy to generate “surplus” which must be used for their betterment and growth.
- While private schools are ‘entitled to a reasonable surplus for development of education and expansion of the institution, there has to be a balance between autonomy of such institutions and the measures taken to prevent commercialisation of education’. However, there is not much clarity on what the terms “surplus”, “reasonable surplus” or “commercialisation of education” entail.
Law in different state
- In order to prevent private schools from charging unreasonably high fees and to prevent misuse of funds, several State governments have either enacted fee regulation laws or are in the process of framing them.
- States such as Tamil Nadu follow the fee fixation model whereby a government committee is empowered to verify and approve fee structures proposed by private schools. Karnataka is for a formula that caps fees for schools by way of framing rules under its school education legislation. Maharashtra has a weakly enforced legislation to regulate fees and has multiple government bodies to approve school fees.
- Recently, the Maharashtra government’s decision to cap proposed fee hikes at 15% was widely criticised by schools. A recent order of the Gujarat High Court upholding the validity of the Gujarat Self Financed Schools (Regulation of Fees) Act, 2017 is now being reconsidered by the Supreme Court. The Court has directed the Government to not take any coercive steps against schools in the interim period.
- Though laws can be effective, but these models are affected by the challenges of weak implementation, a lack of capacity and constant legal challenges posed by private school associations.
- There is a larger irritant which is entrenched in the way private schools operate. In 2010, the Comptroller and Auditor General slammed 25 well-known private schools in Delhi for arbitrary fee hikes. According to the report, money was being collected from parents under false heads, while at the same time, teachers were being underpaid, and accounts misrepresented.
- Existing legislative efforts have made an incomplete assessment of the deeper problems with financial management and accounting practices adopted by private schools.
- The new fee regulation laws is being debated and enforced in States has the potential to address the problems Indian parents face. However, there is still a lack of jurisprudential clarity on what private schools can or cannot do, how much “surplus” they can make, or what “commercialisation” actually means.
- In order to make these laws more effective, the solution would be to address the disease of financial mismanagement and misreporting, and not the symptoms. In Modern School v. Union of India (2004), the Supreme Court recommended accounting standards for private schools.
- Measures such as regular government supervised audits, generating capacity in State-level Departments of Education, regular inspections, and stricter sanctions for fraudulent reporting could be considered
Question- Explain how balancing the autonomy of private schools and their public welfare function becomes a contentious issue.
(The Indian Express)
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of tracking health status of patients.
(GS paper III)
- India moves towards creating structures for universal healthcare with the National Health Protection Scheme, but there is need to get rid of some bugaboos that have kept important providers of healthcare out of the purview of public good in India.
Private and public sector
- The most deep-rooted misleading belief is that private practitioners are less suited to deliver healthcare services than public healthcare professionals. This is based on the baseless presumption that private practitioners are committed to profit while government doctors exist to serve the public.
- The second is that health outcomes of patients are immaterial, that there is no need to track patients or maintain records, spending more money on healthcare is enough. Consequently, it is believed that all that is needed is ideological goodness and commitment. That there is no need to create institutional systems to either rope in private practitioners into the public health system or to keep track of patient outcomes anywhere.
- It is believed that the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) will promote corporate hospitals and put healthcare out of reach of the people. Whether it does or not will depend on the institutional systems that are put in place to regulate the NHPS.
- An institutional infrastructure which tracks health outcomes is not difficult to set up. Tracking health status really means is that patient outcomes like disease, death, infection and so on, be regularly ascertained, reported and monitored.
- In some countries, it is routine to set up such reporting systems. They even set up disease-specific registers in which a variety of hospitals and physicians participate. In India, till date, there has been no institutional framework fixing such key indicators, nor is there any general rule mandating that these should be reported regularly, whether in the public or private sector. Since India already had enough IT professionals for setting up such systems, we conclude that the need to track patient status is not given the importance it deserves.
- Doctors, like all professionals, whether in the public or private sector, respond to institutional signals. If there is an institutional requirement to report patient-related indicators by the government, that in turn would pressurise the managements of private institutions to set up systems for tracking health status.
- In the absence of system-wide requirements, it is merely ideology and individual conscience that determines the quality of care available to patients. Systems that are driven only by ideology and individual conscience can hardly perform optimally.
- It is counterproductive to insist that private practitioners should not be an integral part of the overall government effort to provide good healthcare to people. Such an insistence makes the notion of maintaining disease-specific countrywide registers in which individual doctors and hospitals participate almost impossible.
- The universal healthcare system is driven by protocols that care for the patient and integrate all practitioners. Once such a system is put in place along with regular reporting, the distinction between private and public becomes meaningless.
- Today with setting of user-friendly software application, we can simply operationalise patient tracking. This could be used to record patient data on a few key parameters. Many state governments like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu use such software applications for secondary and tertiary care programmes. These applications could be modified for patient tracking.
- To successfully put care and quality back into healthcare, it is important to set up this kind of system to track the health status of patients. Whether we spend one rupee or one thousand rupees, whether we use public healthcare professionals or private practitioners, will matter far less. Tracking health status will.
Question – India’s healthcare needs monitoring systems, not public vs. private sector debate. Comment.
Ineffective and arbitrary
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of the death penalty for child rape.
(GS paper II)
- The recent amendments to the Indian Penal Code passed by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh introducing the death penalty as a possible punishment for the rape of a girl below the age of 12 years is a perfect example of lawmaking that is as thick on rhetoric as it is thin on empirical evidence.
- Though child sexual violence is one of the relatively better documented areas in criminal justice, little of that research is reflected in the imagination and passing of these amendments.
The purpose of these amendments
- Statements from politicians in the two States will reveal the three interests that drive this move-firstly, there is the belief that harsher punishments will deter people from committing child rape; secondly, justice for child survivors demands that the law provide for the death penalty; and thirdly, our abhorrence for the crime makes the perpetrator ‘deserving’ of the death penalty.
- The deterrence argument is attractive because it appeals to our intuition that fear of the harshest punishment will prevent individuals from committing child rape. But social, economic, cultural, psychological and other factors in each of our lives interact in far more complex ways than just that simple equation.
- In 2012, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S. published a comprehensive analysis of deterrence studies and came to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine whether the death penalty is a deterrent or not. The specific counter in the context of child rape is that there is an extensive body of work that documents many preventive measures and policies that have a definitive impact on preventing child rape.
- By diverting resources to the death penalty, we are taking away from developing strategies like risk assessment and management, cognitive behavioural treatment and community protection measures that have proven to have far greater preventive potential.
- Death penalty as justice to the child survivor is a disingenuous argument because it seeks to cover-up the real reasons that prevent justice to survivors. Child rights groups have often expressed grave concerns over the manner in which investigations and criminal prosecutions take place under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, and low conviction rates.
- The lack of specialised investigators, prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals, doctors, forensic experts and social workers working on cases of child rape specifically has been repeatedly cited as the need of the hour.
- Further, our efforts to ensure justice for child survivors have suffered from grossly inadequate child protection and rehabilitation services, lack of compliance with child-friendly legal procedures, and no real system of positive measures to reduce vulnerabilities of children in this context.
- The research on child sexual violence in India shows that a large proportion of perpetrators are family members or those close to or known to the family. This results in massive underreporting of such crimes. This concern will only intensify with the death penalty because we are effectively asking the child’s family to risk sending a family member or a known person to the gallows.
- For the third reason- the abhorrence associated with the crime and perpetrators of such crimes drives the sentiment that such individuals ‘deserve’ the death penalty. Under Indian Constitution, legislation has to always give a sentencing judge the option of choosing between life imprisonment and the death penalty; death penalty cannot be declared as the only punishment for any crime.
- The sentencing judges will have to make this choice in the context of child rape too. If our abhorrence is a valid constitutional consideration, how is a judge to choose which child rapist deserves or which one doesn’t deserve to die? Are we then to signal that the rape of a certain child matters more than the rape of another? This will inevitably become a judge-centric exercise where the individual predilections of a judge will take precedence over any rule of law. In essence, this would be a ‘lethal lottery’ that will express our abhorrence for some perpetrators but will do very little for the survivors or those at risk of such violence.
- Arbitrariness in imposing death sentences has been explicitly discussed in judgments of the Supreme Court and also led the Law Commission to recommend the gradual abolition of the death penalty in its 262nd report.
- The arbitrariness of the death penalty in India also arises from the discriminatory impact of the choice of what constitutes ‘rarest of rare’. The Death Penalty India Report of 2016 found that a very large proportion of death row prisoners (over 75%) are extremely poor and belong to marginalised groups with barely any meaningful access to legal representation.
- Thus the weakest sections of society bear the burden of the death penalty. It is important to understand the implication of this for the discussion on child rape. While there is widespread agreement that child rape is a concern across all sections of society, by choosing the death penalty as a response we are focussing on a punishment that structurally targets the poor.
- The death penalty for child rape is a counterproductive diversion that helps the government presents the illusion that it is serious about child rape. Governments are looking for the easy way out on an issue that requires sustained planning, engagement, and investment of resources.
- The measures required for protecting children from sexual violence and providing survivors with justice require governments to take steps that are very different from steps meant to convey our abhorrence.
Question– The demand for death penalty for those who rape children is thick on rhetoric and thin on empirical evidence. Analyse.