Thursday, July 26, 2007

Education Vouchers: A Success Story in Delhi

Education Vouchers are a pet peeve with libertarians at GMU. I am not sure how successful they are in the US, but it is a reality in at least Delhi in India and I am proud of the team from CCS who has made education vouchers come true. This is a story of humble beginnings and huge motivation. Parth who is the idea behind this scheme has a PhD in Economics from Auburn University. He was interested in the Education sector and came back to India to start CCS and this amazing voucher scheme. So the idea began with small campaigns using volunteers. I talked to Parth about it and he mentioned that they had volunteers go out in Vans with loud speakers and talk about the scheme. They also handed out pamphlets, held skits and told jokes about the pathetic state of government run schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods where the children attended the local government school. They explained to them how vouchers worked and, volunteers went back to fill out application forms from people in these neighbourhoods. They anticipated about 400-500 applications and had a whopping response of approximately 120,000 applications. This was way above their expectations. The ingenuity of their scheme lay in how to got the support of local government officials. Since most people were not even aware of the scheme and its implications, they invited the ward inspectors (similar to block level bureaucrats) to a ceremony where they picked 6 children from each of the 82 wards in Delhi through a lottery. The response was overwhelming and they apparently also had people who were not eligible who had applied to be part of the voucher scheme. That is, families whose children were not in government schools had also made out applications for their children. Apparently there were a lot of disappointed people the day the lottery names were picked out by the ward inspectors. That is understandable. Today the first batch of children is going to shift out of government run schools to private schools thanks to CCS. The cost of the vouchers is Rs.3600 (~$40) per year, per student. The campaign has been so successful that Parth has teams working out of other cities in India doing something similar. He has also found a Middle East based research Organization that is funding a huge research project in educational vouchers in India. This is another feather in his cap, because obviously research is more expensive than the actual act of giving out vouchers. What we need right now is more sources of funds and more sponsors. Once citizens really notice what a huge difference vouchers make to the lives of their children I am sure there will be an even more overwhelming response. The success of this whole scheme shows that the power of ideas and tenacity go a long way in achieving results in India. People are ready for change as long as they are made aware of it and part of the scheme. I am proud of Parth and his team who stopped complaining about the pathetic state of education in India and went ahead and did something positive. It makes me even more motivated to come back to India, and do things here. There is tremendous untapped potential in this country, we just need to look for it and find ways to bring in the change. Educational Vouchers were totally unknown, and while the rest of the NGOs and other groups were talking in terms of educational reforms through education of women and blah blah Parth’s success is something we should pay attention to. We expect many more such inventive and innovative ideas from you and your team Parth. Great Job!!!

1 comment:

Ali Hasanain said...

While I don't have a strong opinion either way, I think the Austrians would argue that direct money transfers to the amount of the vouchers would potentially have made the recipients better off.

On the other hand, as Muhammad Yunus showed us, our shiny economic theories are of tertiary importance at best compared to just going out and helping people, and for that, your friend is to be commended!