Editorial Notes

[Editorial Notes] The World Bank’s STARS project needs an overhaul

The STARS program is aimed at strengthening the school education system and to support the goal of providing education to all.
By IASToppers
June 30, 2020

Contents

  • Introduction
  • STARS project
  • Factors for effective governance
  • Flaws in the STARS program
  • Conclusion

The World Bank’s STARS project needs an overhaul

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Introduction:

Atma Nirbhar Bharat calls for an India that can produce and deliver local goods and services to its citizens. This applies equally to education for all children. Delivering a service, like education, requires a capable state, especially given the scale and complexity of its large and diverse population. Building state capability involves a process of learning to do things on one’s own and therefore, it cannot be outsourced.

STARS project:

  • Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States Program or STARS program builds on the partnership between India and the World Bank since 1994.
  • It is aimedat strengthening the school education system and to support the goal of providing education to all.
  • The World Bank has recently approved a project worth $500 million to improve the learning outcome under the STARS program, which in turn is a $3 billion project to improve education in six Indian States.
  • The project will be implemented through the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the flagship central scheme, in the states: Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan.

Factors for effective governance:

1. Basic Infrastructure:

  • The administration must be equipped with adequate physical, financial and human resources.
  • An overburdened bureaucracy with vacancies and without basic equipment cannot be expected to be effective.
  • Increasing inputs is indeed a waste of resources as they are used inefficiently, but for efficiency, a critical minimum level of resources is a precondition.
  • Unfortunately, in the education sector, we are short of that level in all areas.

2. Giving discretion to the state actors:

  • Administrative or governance reforms must give greater discretion to the front-line bureaucracy to address local issues and innovate if required.
  • The movement against corruption and towards accountability has had an unfortunate fallout on innovation for fear of misuse of an increased room for manoeuvres.
  • Yet, for reforms to be successful, public sector entities need to be able to try new things, and at times, to fail.
  • Outsourcing to non-state partners not just takes away discretion from state actors but also a sense of accountability and ownership towards their job.

3. Building Trust:

  • There needs to be trust within the administration among peers and across different levels within the administration.
  • If suspicion is the guiding principle, institutional arrangements will be geared to monitoring and surveillance, not support and improvement.
  • The goal must be to improve, not to judge and punish.

Flaws in STARS program:

Reasons, why the STARS approach to build state capacity, is flawed:

1. Ignores capacity issues:

  • It fails to address the basic capacity issues: major vacancies across the education system from District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), district and block education offices, to teachers in schools, remain unaddressed.
  • Without capable and motivated faculty, teacher education and training cannot be expected to improve.
  • Similarly, at the block level, an already overburdened bureaucracy cannot be expected to perform miracles without a substantial increase in trained manpower, support staff and other forms of institutional support.

2. No real discretionary power:

  • The Bank ignores that decentralising decision-making requires the devolution of funds and real decision-making power.
  • Greater decentralisation can allow accountability to flow to the people rather than to supervising officers.
  • It requires not just investment in the capacity of the front-line bureaucracy but also in increasing their discretionary powers while fostering social accountability.

3. Over-reliance on technology:

  • An important element requiring attention is if the state capability is to be enhanced.
  • Listening and collaborating across different levels within the administration requires building trust, which is entirely ignored in the World Bank project.
  • Instead, the Bank displays an over-reliance on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a panacea.
  • It is based instead on the idea that a flawed system can be fixed merely through the injection of more and better technology.
  • The usefulness of technology depends on whether preconditions for effective use of ICT-systems have been put in place.
  • Technology as a short-cut to creating a capable state has not worked in the past, and will only exacerbate the situation.

4. Mere Assessment is insufficient:

  • Measurement is seen as a way to improve performance, but service delivery does not improve by measurement alone.
  • It is important to know that the education system is flawed, but more important to understand why it is so.
  • Hence, the question arises that should money be invested in improving the capability of the system to improve learning or in testing infrastructure?

5. Outsourcing basic governance functions:

  • Outsourcing basic governance functions by expanding private initiatives and reducing government tasks will not make education more relevant to local needs or democratically promote people’s participation by empowering local authorities.
  • Institutions of the state, from State-level officials who design policy changes, to district-, block-, cluster- and school-level officials who adopt those policies for solving local problems rely on experience (institutional memory) to meet new challenges.
  • New private initiatives do not have these institutional memories, nor do they have a grasp of socio-cultural realities that play an important part in the delivery process.
  • While state structures need to develop more skills to enable them to solve both local and structural problems more effectively, it is not clear how they can be imparted by agencies that are extraneous to both the context and the system.

Conclusion:

If India wants DIETs, block and community resource centres, and schools to be Atma Nirbhar, we need to enable them to develop their own capability to reform themselves. Outsourcing, an over-reliance on measurement by standardised assessments, and an excessive use of ICT will not get us closer to an Atma Nirbhar Bharat. The World Bank would do well to learn from its past mistakes and use evidence, often times generated by its own research arms, to formulate projects. In its current form, STARS program is insufficient to deliver its core objective: to reform the governance architecture in order to improve the quality of education.