School Governance and the Need for the State School Standards Authority
By The EDge Editorial Team
Apr 28, 2022
We spoke with Bhuvana Anand, Founder-Director at Trayas, about the need for an independent regulator of schools like the SSSA and its role in shifting the focus of school governance towards a learning-outcomes. Trayas is a knowledge-driven public purpose enterprise that works on transformational regulatory initiatives.
The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 identifies ‘conflict of interest’ as the core issue of the current school governance framework. It states, “all main functions of governance and regulation of the school education system – namely, the provision of public education, the regulation of education institutions, and policymaking – are handled by a single body, i.e., the Department of School Education or its arms. This leads to a conflict of interests and excessive centralized concentration of power; it also leads to ineffective management of the school system…” (NEP 2020 Para 8.2)
As the way forward, the policy recommends a clear separation of roles among different government bodies and setting up an independent, neutral regulator for the sector, i.e., the State School Standards Authority (SSSA). The SSSA will be responsible for the effective self-regulation or accreditation of all schools: public, private, and philanthropic.
We spoke with Bhuvana Anand, Founder-Director at Trayas, about the need for an independent regulator of schools like the SSSA and its role in shifting the focus of school governance towards learning-outcomes. Trayas is a knowledge-driven public purpose enterprise that works on transformational regulatory initiatives.
CSF: What are the regulatory challenges currently faced by private school owners w.r.t. setting up a school, and daily operations?
Bhuvana: An educator has to grapple with regulatory challenges the minute she starts to think of setting up a school. For starters, one requires an immense amount of capital to comply with the RTE Act’s mandates. The mandates range from infrastructure requirements to staffing qualifications and salaries. In addition, since schools (in most states) can only be set up as a trust or society, the edupreneur cannot raise capital from the market to meet these mandates. And, of course, she must then grapple with the license-raj tradition. For example, opening a school in Delhi requires 125 documents which move through 155 steps and over 40 officers!
In several states, private schools are required to match government teacher salaries. The implication of this for a budget private school is tripling the school fees they charge from students. There are also periodic inspections riddled with unpredictability; schools cannot even freely set their admission policies or class size. This apart, where schools admit children under the RTE’s 25% reservation mandate, they wait for long periods to be reimbursed. How do you pay teachers, electricity bills and rents, without getting paid or raising fees? Schools in many states are still awaiting reimbursement from state governments for students already admitted under the RTE Act Section 12(1)(c).
CSF: The NEP 2020 attempts to address these regulatory challenges by setting up a State Schools Standards Authority; especially challenges concerning the government’s conflict of interest where it provides education in public schools and monitors education delivery in private schools. How can we achieve this vision of the NEP?
Bhuvana: Imagine a cricket match where the captain of one team is also the umpire. This wouldn’t even pass gully cricket conventions. In the current education structure, the state education department sets the rules, runs government schools, and regulates private schools. Predictably, there is large asymmetry in the government’s approach and handling of private and public schools.
The NEP recognises this conflict of interest, and sets out to correct it by introducing an independent regulator:
‘At present, all main functions of governance and regulation of the school education system…. are handled by a single body, i.e., the Department of School Education or its arms. This leads to conflict of interests and excessive centralized concentration of power; it also leads to ineffective management of the school system, as efforts towards quality educational provision are often diluted by the focus on the other roles, particularly regulation, that the Departments of School Education also perform…The goal of the school education regulatory system must be to continually improve educational outcomes.’
But in typical fashion, this could become a paper tiger. The way to ensure that the NEP’s promise of separation of powers is delivered in reality is through thoughtful agency design. First, the State School Standards Authority must be backed by law. Second, its charter must explicitly commit to promoting the autonomy and accountability of ALL schools, empowering parents with information, and encouraging innovation born out of diversity in the market. Third, we must carefully set up its ways of working and governance such that it puts private and public schools on equal footing.
CSF: Recently, the central government notified CBSE as the SSSA for central schools. Sikkim and Punjab have designated the SCERTs as the SSSA. Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand have notified the State School Examination Board as their SSSA. How might these decisions play out?
Bhuvana: These decisions are likely to run counter to the intention of the NEP. It is one thing to repurpose existing agencies, but another to just expand their roles. A regulator must do one thing and one thing only: regulate. Take the example of a board acting as a regulator. Boards compete to attract schools to their fold. They do this by offering different syllabi, standards, pedagogy, testing and so on. Asking one board to decide the fates of schools affiliated with them and with their competitors is not separation of powers.
Currently, there is just high level guidance and system inertia. Together these are giving us measures like the ones you list. State governments need to think in longer time horizons: what is the right thing to do for the future of millions of our children? Get the system right. Start with drafting a law that defines the purpose and objectives of the SSSA, its mandates, constraints, powers and procedures. This clarity and specificity will allow edupreneurs to invest in children’s education and parents to get the accountability they rightly deserve.
The SSSA should focus on setting out metrics for what is a good school and how to deliver that information to parents to help them make informed school choices based on learning outcomes.
There are eight elements to SSSA’s design that I and my colleagues at the Centre for Civil Society felt needed to get right: what should it aim to accomplish, how will it go about accomplishing this, who will run it, what powers are held by those who will run it, what procedures will they follow, who will they be accountable to, how should it be challenged, and how will we know if it has met its objective. Each of these elements needs to be thought through and specified.
Lastly, the SSSA should focus on setting out metrics for what is a good school and how to deliver that information to parents to help them make informed school choices based on learning outcomes. The SSSA will likely have a role in determining the frequency, pattern, usage, and structuring of such outcomes measurement.
*The views expressed are the author’s own and are not reflective of CSF.
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The EDge Editorial Team
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