On March 20, 2013 Ashish Dhawan, CEO and Founder of Central Square Foundation,participated in a panel discussion at the launch of the 4th PAISA National Report. The PAISA Report, published by Accountability Initiative, tracks fund flows and expenditures for elementary education, in an effort to answer the pertinent question, ‘do schools get their money?’
The other panelists included Prof. Karthik Muralidharan, Assistant Professor of Economics at U.C. San Diego and Dr. M Govinda Rao, Former director of the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP). The panel was moderated by Mr. Michael Walton, from the Harvard Kennedy School. Some of the main points that emerged from the panel were:
- While the PAISA report is a significant step that actually monitors how public money is being spent on primary education, it only tracks two per cent of the annual education budget. The bulk of our education expenditure goes toward teacher salaries.
- An additional mechanism is needed to measure whether these outlays are resulting in learning outcomes for children. Most of the data available suggests that learning outcomes are declining in India. We need to monitor outcomes as well.
- The Central Government should focus on setting standards to measure these outcomes and goals to achieve them. Regular assessments are a possible step in this direction, and can increase accountability.
- The report identifies several inefficiencies in the state’s capacity. For one, there is excessive centralization in the system. States should be given more autonomy in return for greater accountability. By this principle, the center can hold states accountable for ensuring higher learning outcomes.
- We need to invest in better school leadership. The PAISA report shows that twenty per cent of districts lacked a District Education Officer. More professional incentives, performance based measurement and better management and governance practices should be brought in at all levels.