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PPPs, ICTs & Education: Lessons from India

Michael Trucano's picture

a public view of one particularly successful Indian partnership | image attribution at bottomNext week the World Bank is holding a forum on public-private sector partnerhips (PPPs) in the education sector as part of its ongoing initiative investigating this increasingly important topic.

Consideration of the formation and use of  PPPs is especially relevant in many countries when the use of ICTs at scale in the education sector is considered.  There a variety of reasons for this, but two of the most common reasons that governments give in support of the use of PPPs in this area are related to (1) cost and financing issues ("this stuff is expensive, so we need to find creative ways to share costs"); and (2) the perception that competence and experience in new, 'innovative' areas like the use of ICTs is best found in the private sector, and not government ("the IT people are more advanced than we are in government, so partnering with them is a way for us to 'catch up'").  While developing countries as diverse as Kenya and the Philippines are exploring this in a variety of ways, some of the most interesting and varied cases of PPPs to support the use of ICTs in education can be found in India.

India is currently exploring how to equip all of its secondary schools with computer labs, and discussions of the appropriate use of PPPs in this process are an explicit part of this exploration.  (India's Second National Consultative Meet on Public-Private Partnerships in Education ocurred in November 2009. A useful general overview of various approaches, based on actual experiences in India, can be found in ICT-based Education in Schools: Emerging Business Models in India [pdf]. )

One such PPP initiative in India with a high international profile is the Rajasthan Education Initiative (REI), which the state government has directed since 2005 targeting girls, rural children, urban underprivileged children, and children with special needs through various ICT and non-ICT interventions.  The REI has been implemented in close partnership a number of partners, most prominent of which are the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), the Global e-Schools and Communities Initiative (GeSCI) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Late last year, GeSCI released a very candid Review of the Rajasthan Education Initiative [pdf], which began by stating that

It is important to note that there is no real precedent to the REI. At some point the REI did derive inspiration from the Jordan Education Initiative, but as the REI started to take shape it soon became clear that the REI was pitted differently and the expectations and outcomes would vary considerably.

In terms of its vision, its ambitious plan, the scope of partnerships and international access set against a traditionally anemic education system with more than 90,000 schools, beleaguered with intricate socio- economic challenges, there was no model that the REI could replicate. Its mistakes and its achievements are all its own.

 
The GeSCI report is to be commended for its directness in assessing the difficulties that PPP initiatives of this sort can face. While the report does enumerate the various achievements of the REI, which it labels a "unique model of public-private partnership in education", perhaps more relevant to other places are the list of 'challenges' that the project found difficult to overcome in the first stage of its activities.  Key lessons learned from the first stage of the REI in this regard are, according to GeSCI, that

  • Managing a public-private partnership of the magnitude of REI is a very complex task.
  • Providing leadership for such a complex project requires significant fiscal and human resources.
  • Leading such a project requires superb project management expertise, extraordinary attention to facilitating communication between the partners and clearly articulated objectives.

 
The institutional and human resource requirements to make such a set of complicated series of interlocking public-private partnerships work are, to borrow a common term of many engineers, 'non-trivial'. The GeSCI report pulls no punches in its assessment of the project's 'failures' in this regard. To cite just one example :

Over time the REI began to accumulate a huge list of partners, and this list became large and unwieldy. Moreover there were no clear criteria for partnering, such as the minimum size of a collaborative project. The situation was compounded by periodic transfer of officers from the REI with the result that every time a new officer took charge of the REI he or she took time to develop an understanding of the initiative which slowed progress. Much of the Partners energy went into establishing their credentials with the new officers.

 
This phenomenon is not unique to Rajasthan, of course.  As India moves forward with its plans to increase the use of ICTs in its education sector through a variety of public-private sector partnerships, it would do well by studying the Rajasthan experience, for PPPs of this sort are complex undertakings. GeSCI concludes its report by stating that,

While the implementation of the REI to date has been uneven, the vision and objectives of the initiative continue to be of critical importance to schools across the continent. The vision may well have exceeded the practical bounds of its reach but the REI remains a ‘work in progress’, in which lessons are being learned and applied and the catalytic effects of the Initiative on schools, communities and Ministries of Education is already evident.

Irrespective of the net outcome of REI after the first phase, it cannot be denied that the REI helped to create awareness about Rajasthan all over the world and at the same time it helped to bring the world to Rajasthan.

 
Related information:

 
Of potential general interest:

 
Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post of recent double-hundred batsman Sachin Tendulkar and a teammate ("a public view of one particularly successful Indian partnership") is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons license, via Wikimedia Commons.
 

Comments

Submitted by Anonymous on
In supporting the computer lab for education the world bank has capitulated to the "let's dive in the first ditch" approach of India's education bureaucracy. Its much like asking people in a land where there are no roads to wait for the floods to come so that they may be able to use a boat to go across to some other place. What they need is an approach that provides the roads and the vehicles that the modern world can afford. Can someone help India's educational joint secretaries at MHRD and education secretaries understand that education that does not keep pace with the times is designed to keep the nation behind. Can they understand that Desktops MUST be banned from being deployed in villages. I visited 100 schools and nowhere they could be used. They have no electricity. Even where I was told by the Chief Minister or the PPP partner company's chairman with pride to go, desktops were well covered with plastics. One child in a village educated well is better than ten educated poorly. Provided, we help them get a degree only after they have put a year or two back into the villages educating the rest. What would you rather have Michael- a car in America or an India made bicycle with half a century old engine? Please do not screw up the education policies of the poor countries by succumbing to the pressures they put on you. Help them see the light of they day by working a little harder and finding tools to reach out to the bureaucrat who got half educated three decades ago and despite his/her innate brilliance is primarily an expert in making poor decisions for himself/herself and worse for the country at large.

Submitted by Peter on
Anonymous, If I understand correctly, you're saying that India (and other developing countries, for that matter) would require better infrastructure before they can use educational technolgies? Coming from a developing country, my own issue is with whether Teachers and students have the skill, incentive and pedagogical support to sustain the use of computers in class. No point having computer labs if students use it once a year. I've always understood the intergration of ICT in daily lives to be a social process. - to what extent can policies (and money) speed this up?

Submitted by Anonymous on
No. I do not mean that. I think there are ways we can overcome infrastructure challenges. Negroponte's One Laptop per Child is one such initiative. It helps children learn without changing anything else at a level that compresses acquiring the skills they learn in years into just months. It does not require any of the paraphernalia of traditional computing infrastructure either. Its human to see new ideas through the glasses of our experience. That is why we need more experiments like OLPC that look at a challenge holistically and address them as a challenge. Money needed for that is less than what the government spend. Just they spend wrongly. For $1 a week per child, they can make something work in the remotest villages where there is no electricity. Currently, there are thousands of schools where desktops are lying around covered in the plastic they came in because they cannot be operated despite expensive infrastructure created for their use.

Submitted by Joao Cossi on
Hi Michael, It is very interesting this post. PPPs are very helpful in these cases. You might be interested to know that the International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG) will be hosting an Academic Forum on the 12th and 13th of April in correlation to the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) summit to be held in Brasilia, Brazil on the 15th of April. I'd like to invite you to share your thoughts on the 'Ideas for Development' (http://www.ideas4development.org), and check the event Hot Site (http://www.ipc-undp.org/ibsa). Thanks for your post.

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