My Book

Book: 'UnpackED - The black box of Indian school education reform"
Pages: 240
PDF (free to download):
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The questions – “What’s the problem with Indian public education? What’s the bottleneck? Why do governments' reform attempts don't yield results?” have always troubled me. I got a variety of answers to these questions ranging from corruption to deliberate attempts of crooked politicians to keep people illiterates. However, I could never get a satisfying answer to this question. In the process of exploration, I ended up reading a great deal on Indian public education from diverse perspectives – economics, sociology, pedagogy, political etc. After few years of this journey, I could get a sense of a broader picture, when I put all these different pieces together. It's a big claim to make but I believe that I found answers to the above complex questions, at least to my satisfaction. I felt that this revelation must be shared with others. Hence, I wrote a book.

The book’s name is "UnpackED – The black box of Indian school education reform”.


I summarised key arguments of the book in four blog posts. Links below.

[Old note]

UnpackED – The black box of Indian school education reform” does a systematic data based analysis to answer the question – what’s the binding constraint in Indian public school education system? More importantly – why do governments’ efforts till now didn’t yield results and won’t yield results if the current approach to reform is continued.

The central argument of the book is that efforts of several governments in India to reform public education fail because of our (policy makers’) incorrect mental models of working of a public education system. Reforms carried out in the framework of these incorrect mental models don’t yield results.

The argument is that state capacity, the capacity to design and implement programs is the critical binding constraint in Indian public education system. Several attempts to reform have failed because the try to gloss over the aspect of state capacity and try to work around it.

State capacity is of course necessary to any government policy and failure in any sector can be attributed to weak state capacity but the key point is that policy actions of governments don’t demonstrate the recognition of weak state capacity as a constraint and hence the failure.

Does one need to write a book to say this? Apparently yes, for several reasons. One, state capacity as a binding constraint is not a matter of argument. It should be proven as the binding constraint using data. At the same time, several other often quoted binding constraints like teacher salaries, guest teachers etc. have to be proved as not binding constraints. Not just this, it should also be shown that governments’ actions gloss over this issue and that this results in failure. Further, the limitations and incompleteness and false presumptions of other proposals to reform like a laundry list of things to be fixed – teacher education, parents involvement etc. should also be shown as inadequate and inaccurate. In the process, the book puts together all the major evidence available till date (2015) on Indian education system across disciplines – education economics, pedagogy, sociology of education together in a systematic way. If not anything, the book will at least give the reader, a comprehensive summary of diverse research on Indian school education.

The book goes further ahead and presents a theoretical framework to understand the elements of state capacity and how their interaction leads to different outcomes. It also presents a summary of literature on common topics of debate – teacher incentives, private schools and school vouchers. 

Finally, it gives a framework to systematically improve the public education system. However, the solution framework is only a minor part of the book. In the stage where we are now, the first order problem is to recognize our incorrect mental models of functioning of education and change the approach to reform emanating from these incorrect mental models. Once that broad shift in approach to reform happens, the solutions follow. Fine details of solutions matter at that stage and are to be worked up on then depending on experience. One can only give first steps now.


1. A series of 42 blog posts that I have written on this blog in a series named "Ensuring a Learning India" (42 posts in 42 consecutive days imitating a 42 km marathon) form the backbone of the book. If someone is interested, they can check the 42 posts here.

2. Trivia about book’s name: ED in UnpackED stands for Education. UnpackED is thus Unpack-Education.

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