A Perversion of Purpose: Education Accountability Infrastructures in India

Year: 2018

Author: Gorur, Radhika

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Over the past couple of decades, India has made an enormous effort to reform its education system. It has introduced schemes to realise universal primary and secondary education and enacted the landmark Right to Education Act. Other reforms include the ‘mid-day meal’ scheme, the distribution of vitamins, the provision of uniforms, the construction of toilets in schools, professional development for teachers, changes to the teacher education programs and so on.
With greater resources allocated to realising better education outcomes for children, India has created a complex accountability infrastructure to support the regulation of its highly decentralised education system. Every school is required to develop an annual report card based on a number of parameters such as infrastructure, community participation, and student achievement. A student tracking system has been launched to track the ‘educational journey’ of every one of India’s 25,454,000 students across 1,516,865 schools.
A key part of this accountability infrastructure is the central government’s flagship management information system, U-DICE, which aims not only to keep track of expenditure, outcomes, resources and so on, but also to reduce corruption, increase transparency, ensure the fidelity of data and provide information in formats that can be used  by various actors to improve service delivery and thus benefit students and communities.
This paper explores how this accountability infrastructure is encountered and negotiated by different actors across the system. Based on in-depth ethnographic interviews, it describes the disjuncture between the accountability ambitions at the centre and the quotidian experiences of a teacher, a headmaster, NGO officials, and mid-level bureaucrats in the state of Karnataka in India.
Following scholars in Science and Technology Studies, the accountability infrastructure here is not regarded merely as technical enterprise, but as a platform for action that is at once imaginative as well as practical. It is argued that the currently, the technical aspects are being emphasised without the accompanying conceptual, imaginative or cultural aspects being assembled coherently. As a result, there is a perversion of purpose; rather than promote the smooth functioning of the system, the accountability infrastructure appears to be preventing actors from performing their assigned roles. The generating and gathering of data has become an end in itself, rather than a means to improved outcomes.
With accountability seen as the key driver of reform globally, this research provides a timely, empirical counterpoint to current reform orthodoxy.