India passes compulsory school attendance law

July 23rd, 2009

Looks like India is on a massive catchup spree; first ID cards for everyone there, and now a compulsory school attendance law:

India makes education compulsory and free under landmark law

The Indian parliament has passed a bill to provide universal, free and compulsory education for all children aged between six and 14.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi

The law, passed more than 60 years after India won independence, has been hailed by children’s rights campaigners and educationalists as a landmark in the country’s history.

India’s failure to fund universal education until now, and its focus on higher education, have been cited as factors in its low literacy rates. More than 35 per cent of Indians are illiterate, and more than 50 per cent of its female population cannot read.

Official figures record that 50 per cent of Indian children do not go to school, and that more than 50 per cent of those who do drop out before reaching class five at the age of 11 or 12.

Campaigners say children from poor families are often discouraged by parents who need them to work, while financial obstacles are put in the way of families who would like their children to be educated. Families are often deterred by the cost of school books and uniforms.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Bill will now guarantee 25 per cent of places in private schools are reserved for poor children, establish a three-year neighbourhood school-building programme, and end civil servants’ discretion in deciding which children will be given places.



First of all, the headline is incorrect. This education is not going to be ‘free’ someone is going to pay for it. A little Googling tells us that the state is going to pay for each child who sits in the 25% of places that are reserved for the poor. That money has to come from somewhere.

I think we have all had more than enough of ‘children’s rights campaigners’ and ‘educationalists’ don’t you?

Its clear, even from this article, that the Indian state cannot provide an education infrastructure like the western countries do; that is why they are going to simply take the resources from the private schools to meet their needs.

Once again, how people run their affairs in their own countries is non of our business. I am simply observing and asking obvious questions, like, “how are they going to pay for this, and the ID Cards, and the sanitation problem, and whatever else they have coming down the pipeline? By inflating their currency?” As far as I can tell, the Rupee is a fiat currency, based on nothing, that they can print whenever they like in whatever quantities they like.


This brings us neatly to the this great blog post:

Most libertarians agree public schooling is a form of slavery and morally evil. In addition to this moral argument, the utilitarian case against public schooling is a strong one. While many libertarians and social theorists have written on this, Ivan Illich should not be missed. I recently came across his works and found great insight in the following article: “Why We Must Abolish Schooling.” It is no wonder he was referred to in the Libertarian Forum so much.

I just wanted to highlight some great quotes from the article. (I am guessing his excellently-titled book, Deschooling Society (Open Forum), will come out from the Mises Institute at some point.)

This is a long quote (below), but very insightful. I have thought for a while about the socially negative effects that stem from education. But Mr. Illich points out how the process vs. substance outcome has led to such effects. This is in every aspect of where taxpayer’s money is spent. I think this is where the real value of an economist comes into play, or perhaps when the economist as social or political theorist is so useful. Pointing out the economic and social effects of bad ideas and policies–especially where this requires seeing the unseen cause and effect relationships, and some creativity–separates the better from the best economists imho.

Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question. Not only education but social reality itself has become “schooled.”

I maintain the belief that it is a widespread myth that government helps the poor in any significant way, at least when compared to a free society. Mr. Illich wrote about this modernization or institutionalization of poverty with great clarity:

Welfare bureaucracies claim a professional, political, and financial monopoly over the social imagination, setting standards of what is valuable and what is feasible. This monopoly is at the root of the modernization of poverty. Every simple need to which an institutional answer is found permits the invention of a new class of poor and a new definition of poverty. 

The more I read this article the more amazed I am at Mr. Illich’s profound insights. Most people think poverty comes from a lack of money. In contrast Mr. Illich wrote: 

The poor in the US are in a unique position to speak about the predicament which threatens all the poor in a modernizing world. They are making the discovery that no amount of dollars can remove the inherent destructiveness of welfare institutions, once the professional hierarchies of these institutions have convinced society that their ministrations are morally necessary. The poor in the US inner city can demonstrate from their own experience the fallacy on which social legislation in a “schooled” society is built.

What about the social effects of public schooling?

Obligatory schooling inevitably polarizes a society; it also grades the nations of the world according to an international caste system. Countries are rated like castes whose educational dignity is determined by the average years of schooling of its citizens, a rating which is closely related to per capita gross national product, and much more painful.

And the economic effects?

The escalation of the schools is as destructive as the escalation of weapons but less visibly so. Everywhere in the world school costs have risen faster than enrollments and faster than GNP; everywhere expenditures on school fall even further behind the expectations of parents, teachers, and pupils. Everywhere this situation discourages both the motivation and the financing for large-scale planning for non-schooled learning. The US is proving to the world that no country can be rich enough to afford a school system that meets the demands this same system creates simply by existing: because a successful school system schools parents and pupils to the supreme value of a larger school system, the cost of which increases disproportionately as higher grades are in demand and become scarce.

Again, I highly recommend checking out Mr. Illich’s works, most of which seem to be available here. Finally, this will be the last quote:

Rather than calling equal schooling temporarily unfeasible we must recognize that it is, in principle, economically absurd, and that to attempt it is intellectually emasculating, socially polarizing, and destructive of the credibility of the political system which promotes it.


It would be great if everyone in India could read. Heck, it would be great if everyone in BRITAIN could read (one in five adults in Britain are illiterate).

I read somewhere that ten percent of all software development is now happening in India. Its clear that the schools that are running in India are producing world-class results. I wonder if there is another, more 21st century way to increase literacy levels. A country full of software developers should be able to come up with a solution. That law seems to me to be a retrograde action, especially in a country where there have been successful new models like the micro credit projects started by entrepreneurs.

As for the Libertarian position on schools, it makes perfect sense, and the way schools are transforming into the most shocking and brutal crime ridden, ultraviolent, prison like, terrible places is just one aspect that demonstrates this.

You need to pay particular attention to that last link… UNBELIEVABLE.

Finally from another Austrian:

The formal education of a child is the natural prerogative of his parents. They possess custodial rights of the child and exercise them for his physical, mental, and spiritual development. Parents are in a position to know their child and care for the development of his personality. They bear the responsibility of attaining this end and are in a position to tailor formal education to the strengths and weaknesses of their child by either their own tutoring or the hiring of appropriate specialists to instruct their child. Parentally directed tutoring, then, is the best type of formal education since it is most apt to result in learning harmonious with the natural development of the child’s personality.

Private primary and elementary schools, with one teacher and many students, have been a compromise from parentally directed tutoring made out of economic necessity. In precapitalist societies only the richest elite had sufficient wealth to indulge in private tutoring. Most parents consumed their day with the labor necessary to scratch out a subsistence living.

As wealth has expanded under capitalism, it has become increasingly possible for middle-class parents to do what the rich have always been able to afford, i.e., private tutoring. Today, middle-class parents are wealthy enough to indulge in substantial private tutoring and could do much more if they were free from the burden of financing state schools. And even where wealth is not yet sufficient and parents choose schools, a market of private schools would suppress the deficiency of schooling as parental spending would guide schools to find the most effective arrangements for developing each child’s personality. As with thymological knowledge that the child gains from his own actions, formal education proceeds naturally and privately.


Mises Daily by Jeffrey M. Herbener

I don’t think that there is a single Home Educator out there that would disagree with that.

What people need to achieve academically is not state funding for schools, but a very small state that does not interfere with the free exchange between individuals.

The wealthier people are, the more able they are going to be to educate their children thoroughly. The very act of the state trying to provide everything for the people living in a country impoverishes them, and this is true across everything, from health care to education and everything else in between.

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