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World Bank STARS project – issues and way forward

World Bank STARS project – issues and way forward

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2- Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Atmanirbhar Bharat:

  • Atmanirbhar Bharat calls for an India that is able to produce and deliver local goods and services to its citizens.
  • This applies equally to education for all children.
  • Delivering a service, like education, requires a capable state, especially given the scale and complexity of its large and diverse population.
  • Building state capability involves a process of learning to do things on one’s own.
  • This is precisely the idea behind an Atmanirbhar Bharat. Fundamentally, therefore, it cannot be outsourced.
  • In other words, state capabilityis about getting things done in the government, and by the government, by ensuring effective implementation that is responsive to local needs, but also about being able to design and conduct reforms.

World Bank’s STARS project – issues:

  • However, the World Bank’s STARS project,a $3 billion project to improve education in six Indian States, has the understanding that state capability should be built by giving a larger role to non-state actors and by increasing the use of technology.
  • This may not be entirely correct.
  • The service delivery by State has many advantages; hence, non-state actors should complement not replacestate as an education provider.
  • Non state actorsdo not contribute to the capability of the state to deliver better education.
  • The reason is that there are some preconditions for effective governance within the public sector that must be met before either technology or non-state actors can be useful.

What is the STARS project:

The World Bank Board of Executive Directors today approved a $500 million – Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States Program (STARS) to improve the quality and governance of school education in six Indian states. Some 250 million students (between the age of 6 and 17) in 1.5 million schools, and over 10 million teachers will benefit from the program.

The STARS program builds on the long partnership between India and the World Bank (since 1994), for strengthening public school education and to support the country’s goal of providing ‘Education for All’

Prior to STARS, the Bank had provided a total assistance of more than $3 billion towards this goal.

India has, over the years, made significant strides in improving access to education across the country; between 2004-05 and 2018-19, STARS will support India’s renewed focus on addressing the ‘learning outcome’ challenge and help students better prepare for the jobs of the future – through a series of reform initiatives. These include:

  1. Focusing more directly on the delivery of education services at the state, district and sub district levelsby providing customized local-level solutions towards school improvement.
  2. Addressing demands from stakeholders, especially parents, for greater accountability and inclusion by producing better data to assess the quality of learning; giving special attention to students from vulnerable sections – with over 52 percent (as a weighted average) of children in the government-run schools in the six project states belonging to vulnerable sections, such as Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST), and minority communities; and delivering a curriculum that keeps pace with the rapidly evolving needs of the job market.
  3. Equipping teachers to manage this transformation by recognizing that teachers are central to achieving better learning outcomes. The program will support individualized, needs-based training for teachers that will give them an opportunity to have a say in shaping training programs and making them relevant to their teaching needs.
  4. Investing more in developing India’s human capital needsby strengthening foundational learning for children in classes 1 to 3 and preparing them with the cognitive, socio-behavioral and language skills to meet future labor market needs. 

At the national level, through the Samagra Shiksha, and in partnership with the states of Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, and Rajasthan, STARS will also help improve learning assessment systems; strengthen classroom instruction and remediation; facilitate school-to-work transition; and strengthen governance and decentralized management.

In line with the Sustainable Development Goal for education (SDG 4),. India’s participation in PISA is a historic strategic decision by the Government of India to obtain data on how India’s learning levels compare globally. STARS will assist India in this major step forward.

. However, for many children, secondary education is the stage when they leave school and enter the workforce. Under STARS, each state is expected to not only stabilize this downward trend but also improve the completion rate for secondary education.

Physical, financial and human resources:

  • First, the administration must be equipped with adequate physical, financial and human resources.
  • An overburdened bureaucracywith vacancies and without basic equipment cannot be expected to be effective.
  • It is said that increasing inputs is a waste of resources as they are used inefficiently.
  • This criticism neglects the fact that for efficiency, a critical minimum level of resources is a precondition.
  • Unfortunately, in the education sector we are short of that level in all areas.

Discretion to innovate:

  • Second, administrative or governance reforms must give greater discretion to the front-line bureaucracyto address local issues and innovate if required.
  • This is as much a function of better resources at the local level as of greater decentralisation of decision-makingor political authorisation.
  • The movement against corruptionand towards accountability has had unfortunate fallout on innovation for fear of misuse of an increased room for manoeuvre.
  • Yet, for reforms to be successful, public sector entities need to be able to try new things, and at times, to fail.
  • Outsourcing to non-state partners not just takes away discretion from state actors but also a sense of accountability and ownership towards their job.

Building trust:

  • Third, there needs to be trust within the administration among peersand across different levels within the administration.
  • If suspicion is the guiding principle, institutional arrangements will be geared to monitoring and surveillance, not support and improvement.
  • The goal must be to improve, not to judge and punish.

Issues with the STARS:

First, it fails to address the basic capacity issues:

  1. Major vacancies across the education system from District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs)
  2. district and block education offices
  3. teachers in schools, all remain remain unaddressed.
  4. Without capable and motivated faculty, teacher education and training cannot be expected to improve.
  5. Similarly, at the block level, an already overburdened bureaucracy cannot be expected to perform miracles without a substantial increase in trained manpower, support staff and other forms of institutional support.

Second, the Bank ignores that decentralising decision-making requires the devolution of funds and real decision-making power.

  • Greater decentralisation can allow accountability to flow to the people rather than to supervising officers.
  • It requires not just investment in the capacity of the front-line bureaucracy but also in increasing their discretionary powers while fostering social accountability.

The issue of discretion hinges crucially on trust – the third, important element requiring attention if state capability is to be enhanced.

  • Trust, which implies listening and collaborating across different levels within the administration, is entirely ignored in the World Bank project.
  • Instead, the Bank displays yet again an over-reliance on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a panacea that lacks any backing in evidence.
  • It is based instead on the idea that a flawed system can be fixed merely through the injection of more and better technology.
  • In fact, technology can address most of the systemic or governance challenges only to an extent.
  • This is not to deny that technology has its uses, but its usefulness depends on whether preconditions for an effective use of ICT-systems have been put in place.
  • Otherwise the likelihood of exacerbating, rather than solving, problems increases.
  • Technology as a short-cut to creating a capable state has not worked in the past.

Fourth, measurement is seen as a way to improve performance.

  • Service delivery does not improve by measurement alone.
  • It is important to know that temperature is high, but more important to understand why it is so.
  • Schools in India need improvement.

Lastly, outsourcing basic governance functions by “expanding private initiatives” and “reducing government tasks” will not make education “more relevant to local needs” or “democratically promote people’s participation by empowering local authorities” as stated in the project document.

What is needed:

  • Institutions of the state, from State-level officials who design policy changes, to district-, block-, cluster- and school-level officialswho adapt those policies for solving local problems rely on past experience (institutional memory) to meet new challenges and build additional memories with every new reform they undertake.
  • New private initiatives do not have these institutional memories, nor do they have a grasp of socio-cultural realitiesthat play an important part in the delivery process.
  • While state structures need to develop more skills to enable them to solve both local and structural problems more effectively, it is not clear how they can be imparted by agencies that are extraneous to both the context and the system.
  • If we want DIETs, block and community resource centres, and schoolsto be atma nirbhar, we need to enable them to develop their own capability to reform themselves.
  • Outsourcing, an over-reliance on measurementby standardised assessments, and an excessive use of ICT will not get us closer to an Atmanirbhar Bharat.
  • The World Bank would do well to learn from its past mistakes and use evidence, often times generated by its own research arms, to formulate projects.
  • In its current form, STARS is bound to fail to deliver its core objective: to reform the governance architecture in order to improve the quality of education.

Source:” The Hindu“.


While engagement with non-state actors is necessary to develop education, the primacy of the state as an education provider is non-negotiable in a nation like India. Analyse.