Professor James J Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, where he also serves as Professor in the University of Chicago’s Law School and Harris School of Public Policy. In 2000, Professor Heckman won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (Nobel in Economics). In an interview to Forbes India, he speaks on the various aspects of education.
Q. In India we have launched the right to education where we are trying to put children from poor families into good schools run by the private sector. Do you think this kind of approach will work?
Engaging the private sector is always a good idea, but you have to make sure that it is fully responsive to a particular question. From my own experience in the US, I can say that the private sector in early childhood education programmes can help respond to cultural, social and parental religious values that would adapt programmes to be where the children and parents want to be. It can also generate funds and support outside the government. So, not only can it communicate information about diverse groups’ interests, but it can also help finance those programmes and raise support apart from shaping the agenda in a way that is fully responsive to different elements of society.
Q. In India, the poor have shown an increasing preference for paying higher fees and shifting their children to private schools. This is what prompted the government to say that private schools have to take in a huge diverse population from different backgrounds. Is it a good approach when 90 percent of the schools are run by the state?
I don't want to pretend to be an expert on the Indian education (system). But I have seen some of the studies and I don't think if they completely control for the issue of selectivity, which is that children attending private schools have parents who are more motivated. That is a problem that runs throughout the world, not just in India. But it does seem like the private schools are doing a better job, at least superficially, but again, I haven't studied the problem in depth.
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