Niti Aayog’s recently-released School Education Quality Index (SEQI) is yet another pointer towards the yawning north-south divide in education outcomes, with Kerala leading the ranking of 20 large states’ performance in school education, and Uttar Pradesh finishing last; West Bengal did not participate in the survey. More importantly, however, it highlights severe infrastructural and governance lacunae that hinder the improvement of outcomes, even in the better-performing states. The index consists of 30 indicators assessing the quality of education, including learning outcomes, access to and equity in education, infrastructure, availability of in-service teacher professional development, accountability, financial discipline, etc. While the survey, which uses 2015-16 as its base year, and 2016-17 as the reference year, gives the highest weightage—almost 50%—to learning outcomes, governance processes aiding these outcomes carry a 30% weight. Whereas the learning outcome score for the top three performers—Kerala, Rajasthan, and Karnataka—for the reference year ranged from high-70s to mid-90s, their infrastructure scores did not even touch 50. Rajasthan, in fact, raked in a sub-20 score in this domain. Among the smaller states, too—Manipur, Tripura, and Goa are the best performers—this trend of lagging infrastructure is maintained (excepting Goa). Governance scores lagged those for outcome in half the large states, and all but one of the smaller ones.
This data is meant to be used to incetivise states to improve the quality of their education outcomes through “competitive and cooperative federalism”. The Centre is already taking the first steps towards this by tying bonus grants for education to states’ performance on learning outcomes. While that should indeed be the key focus area, the Centre should also look at ways to incetivise states to improve school infrastructure, else, the gains that a Kerala has made can’t be sustained in the long run.