Have you ever heard of advocacy for low-cost private schools as means to provide education or regularizing quacks (untrained doctors) as means to provide health care or encouraging solar home systems as means to provide electricity, in the context of countries like the UK, US etc.? Probably not. But these are widely debated in the context of developing countries.
“I didn’t see anyone entrepreneur-ing around public schooling in the U.S. You all went to public schools, you know, and then made it to Harvard or whatever. You turned on your light and it came on. No one is trying to innovate around your electricity power company. So why are we being made to do that? Our systems need to work and we need to figure our shit out” [source] [Video]What's the way out?
Two, recognize that the alternatives proposed are second best solutions. Untrained quacks, off-grid solutions etc. are second-best solutions at the maximum and this has to be recognized. Often, these are pitched as ‘the best’ solutions and sometimes with the ideology backing it up.
Three, don’t let stigma towards certain ideology come in the way. One needn’t support any ideology but at the least one shouldn’t have a stigma towards different approaches, public or private. For instance, the question of education should not be viewed only through the lens of public vs. private, what if India had the education system like that of Finland, would the proposals for low-cost private schools have come up?
Four, don’t let the temporary become the enemy of the best. Temporary solutions even if they are second-best may have to be adopted till a long-term solution is in place. But, the existence of temporary solutions shouldn’t relax the concerned governments. The temporary satisfaction and thus lack of demand of accountability shouldn’t let us into the illusion that the problem is solved. Efforts have to continue on designing long-term solutions.
The long-term solution in these critical areas is to strengthen public delivery system. The question however is, can it be done? Two recent examples from India give us the hope that with necessary commitment, some of these issues may not be that complex to solve. They are hard, for sure.
Piped water supply to households in Delhi: Earlier the water supply in Delhi was poor with inefficiencies, leakages, and corruption. This led many people to demand privatization of water supply and charge people for money so that they don’t waste water etc. At this juncture, a new government of Aam Aadmi party came up with a poll promise of 20,000 liters of free water per month to every household. Everyone called it a populist move and predicted that the government would go bankrupt. After one year, the water board is in a surplus of Rs.176 crore, after giving free water. The reason being, the government controlled leakages and made the administration efficient. When such inefficiencies continue for long, policy proposals emerge with these inefficiencies as a given condition but this example shows that such conditions need not be taken as given and working on them can yield disproportionate benefits.
Increase in teacher attendance in Deoria district of Uttar Pradesh: This is a story of a District Education Officer (in-charge of education of a district) increasing teacher attendance from 40% to 90%.
The conventional wisdom is that teachers are hard to deal and marginal solutions like incentives etc. are proposed. Such proposals take the existing situation as a given constraint. The DEO, in this case, worked on this constraint and the effects are again disproportionate.