Subversion of 'rigour' by interest groups

TL;DR: Rigour and objectivity are only being used as a mask to discredit others but not in search of truth.

Evidence-based policymaking', 'data', and 'rigour' are the buzz words these days. The idea is that evidence will help make informed decisions. While most have been focusing on generating evidence with the assumption that it resolves the differences, there is an unfortunate trend which is resulting in the opposite, creating more differences. Data is being used not for making informed decisions but for selectively nit-picking ideological opponents, while subjecting oneself not to the same.

The discourse follows an underlying theme of "If it is my idea, it has to be implemented because there is no data 'against' it. If it is your idea, it should NOT be implemented because there is no data 'supporting' it." Only the ideas that one doesn't like are subjected to the 'rigour' while one's own ideas aren't.

The 'anti-private' school activist group's campaign 'for' RTE is following the same approach. Some people subject claims on performance of private schools to 'objectivity' and 'rigour'. If anyone says that students of private schools perform better than those of government schools, it is argued that the difference may not necessarily be due to the private schools but due to the background of the children attending these schools.

So far, well and good. One should always have ruthless commitment to get down to the bottom of the things, which is commendable. The issue, however, is with the selective application to the rigour only to those ideas that one doesn't believe in. Consider the issue of closure of schools due to RTE. The same group which subjects private schools to the extreme 'rigour' of considering confounding factors while making conclusions, conducted a survey to identify the number of private schools closed due to RTE and made conclusions without similar rigour.

Azim Premji Foundation's survey on school closure due to RTE finds that only five schools were closed for non-compliance of RTE norms. Following this, the report comments
From this, it is absolutely clear that no large scale closure is happening – and the notion of “hardship to students” seems to be only a deliberate ploy to foment emotional response
The first and foremost problem with the number 5 is that its interpretation is blatantly wrong, crossing the border of lying with a huge margin. Following is the reply of MHRD on a question in parliament regarding school closure due to non-compliance with RTE.
All State Governments and UT Administrations had been requested to inform about the schools which were shut down due to non-compliance of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) norms.................... 
Punjab reported closure of 1170 schools, Himachal Pradesh 4 schools, Madhya Pradesh 998 schools and Puducherry 1 school due to failure to maintain norms under the RTE Act.
Since, Azim Premji University's (APU) report is being widely cited by those who are objective and rigorous with respect to private schools, subjecting the report to same rigour, the following questions arise, even after assuming that it's difficult to conduct a representative study.
  1. Since the APU study is about school closure due to RTE, does it mention the other older studies or sources which talk about this number? If there's a difference, does it explain the difference? This is the least expected from any study - literature review and comment on gaps if any.

    One should note that MHRD's reply to the question was much before the release of APU's report. MHRD's reply was on 5th August, 2015 while the APU report was released in January, 2016. This finds no mention in APU's report.
  2. In the case of private schools, the same group applies the reasoning of 'what about invisible and indirect factors responsible for better performance?' - referring to background characteristics of children.

    Applying similar reasoning to school closure - 'what about the invisible and indirect factors responsible for closure of schools, other than direct notices?'

    Closure of schools needn't happen only after the notices from the education department. It can also happen voluntarily due to the fear of punishment. Did the group which subject claims on  the performance of private schools to rigour, consider such invisible cases before making statements that there is no large-scale closure of private schools? The answer is - it didn't.
The lesson is that some people appearing to be objective and rigorous are not being so because they are objective and rigours trying to search for the truth. They selectively act in such manner to nit-pick ideas that one doesn't like. Evidence, which is supposed to be used to make informed decisions is unfortunately being used as a mask for such purposes.

As a friend keeps saying - anything sells in the name of analysis these days. Even if it's wrong, it at least creates confusion in people who don't have bandwidth to understand the nuances. As education gets more traction in discourse, such manipulations are bound to happen, may be even on larger scale. It's for everyone to be cautious about it. 

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