Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Subject of Education and Healthcare: Some Random Musings

Last Sunday's Times of India has an interview with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on how India is lagging being because of its neglect of education and healthcare. We, as someone marginally related to the field (wifey is a teacher, I have run around for sonny's admission to colleges), can comment on both these vital services which the government has bungled.

We take the example of Kerala, a state that is foolhardily important to us. Our brother-in-law is a government-appointed teacher there. He has a good life, a good salary, a car, a house, property from which he gets a monthly income, and will retire with a handsome pension which will rid him of all worries of the future. But he is not a happy man. Why? Because every year, come admission time, he makes around 100 frantic visits in his car to get students for his class. Only around six of them join, after much coaxing (free books, uniforms, mid-day meal, holidays) which is what they need to run a class. His worry is that if he doesn't get so many students the government will close the school.  In the same state there is rush for admission to private English-medium schools, where the admission rate is around Rs 30, 000 for a student. Come hail or high water these students from well-to-do families will not join a government school.

The government has spent crores of rupees on buildings and playgrounds and, yet, the schools are empty. Much the same thing happens in cities also. The craze is for education in a private institution, whatever their dictats (Which among other things include: donations, activity fees, tuition fees, and sundry other ways of drawing blood). These schools somehow manages to get good teachers and principals. And, also, their performance is measured by their results.

Now our questions are these:

Why can't the government schools get good teachers and principals, considering the pay is so good?

Why can't teachers with proven skills join government schools after a certain age? This is considering the government doesn't offer employment if a person is above the age of thirty.

If the results are good, and a good education is coming from government schools, will fidgety parents send their children to government schools?

Why can't the government be strict in evaluating its teachers and sacking a few (relegate them to desk jobs) if they don't perform?

Now on the subject of health care:

Many moons and many suns ago, when we were suffering from an ailment we saw an ad in the lobby of a nearby government-subsidised hospital stating that free medicines are availabe there for the ailment. We approached the desk and asked for those medicines. The clerk immediately came and took away the poster saying those medicines were no longer available. Some weird logic this! So where do all the free medicines given by the government go? You guessed it.

Recently, we had to undergo a surgery in a private hospital and spent Rs 80,000 on it. We put a claim for the amount with our insurer and were paid only Rs 20,000. Reason? We took an air-conditioned room with a television. The only reason we took that room was because it had a western toilet. But my semi-government insurance company woulddn't listen. We didn't have the energy to fight.

When we talk of free healthcare, which is a given in developed countries, our country fares very badly. We are dependent on private practitioners such as the private practitioners of education we mentioned above. We don't trust government-run hospitals because the staff there are rude and crude and are only doing a government job.

Now our questions are these:

Why don't people trust a government hospital where treatment is supposed to be free?

Why don't the government sack doctors and nurses who don't perform and, instead, give jobs to good nurses and doctors who have good private practises?

Where are the free medicines given by government to hospitals going?

Why can't the government pest control its hospitals? Some time ago we visited a colleague in a government hospital and was told that he can't sleep at night because of the bites of bed bugs.

Why can't the government which is getting so much money from software and outsourcing exports earmark some money to build clean, efficient, and effective healthcare system as even countries like China and Brazil have done.

Why does the common man have an inborn fear to approach a doctor, any doctor? People have lost their homes and entire savings trying to save sick relatives.

Has the government any answers to these questions? If they have I would like to know about them.

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