Reading Comprehension – Will a day come when India’s poor

Will a day come when India’s poor can access government services as easily as drawing cash from an ATM? . . . [N]o country in the world has made accessing education or health or policing or dispute resolution as easy as an ATM, because the nature of these activities requires individuals to use their discretion in a positive way. Technology can certainly facilitate this in a variety of ways if it is seen as one part of an overall approach, but the evidence so far in education, for instance, is that just adding computers alone doesn’t make education any better.

The dangerous illusion of technology is that it can create stronger, top down accountability of service providers in implementation-intensive services within existing public sector organisations. One notion is that electronic management information systems (EMIS) keep better track of inputs and those aspects of personnel that are ‘EMIS visible’ can lead to better services. A recent study examined attempts to increase attendance of Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANMs) at clinics in Rajasthan, which involved high-tech time clocks to monitor attendance. The study’s title says it all: Band-Aids on a Corpse . . . e-governance can be just as bad as any other governance when the real issue is people and their motivation.

For services to improve, the people providing the services have to want to do a better job with the skills they have.  A study of medical care in Delhi found that even though providers, in the public sector had much better skills than private sector providers their provision of care in actual practice was much worse.

In implementation-intensive services the key to success is face-to-face interactions between a teacher, a nurse, a policeman, an extension agent and a citizen. This relationship is about power. Amartya Sen’s . . . report on education in West Bengal had a supremely telling anecdote in which the villagers forced the teacher to attend school, but then, when the parents went off to work, the teacher did not teach, but forced the children to massage his feet. . . . As long as the system empowers providers over citizens, technology is irrelevant.

The answer to successfully providing basic services is to create systems that provide both autonomy and accountability. In basic education for instance, the answer to poor teaching is not controlling teachers more . . . The key . . . is to hire teachers who want to teach and let them teach, expressing their professionalism and vocation as a teacher through autonomy in the classroom. This autonomy has to be matched with accountability for results—not just narrowly measured through test scores, but broadly for the quality of the education they provide.

A recent study in Uttar Pradesh showed that if, somehow, all civil service teachers could be replaced with contract teachers, the state could save a billion dollars a year in revenue and double student learning. Just the additional autonomy and accountability of contracts through local groups—even without complementary system changes in information and empowerment—led to that much improvement. The first step to being part of the solution is to create performance information accessible to those outside of the government.

Q.1 The main purpose of the passage is to:
  1. find a solution to the problem of poor service delivery in education by examining different strategies.
  2. analyse the shortcomings of government-appointed nurses and their management through technology.
  3. argue that some types of services can be improved by providing independence and requiring accountability.
  4. critique the government’s involvement in educational activities and other implementation-intensive services.
Q.2 The author questions the use of monitoring systems in services that involve face-to-face interaction between service providers and clients because of such systems:
  1. improve the skills but do not increase the motivation of service providers.
  2. are not as effective in the public sector as they are in the private sector.
  3. do not improve services that need committed service providers.
  4. are ineffective because they are managed by the government.
Q.3 Which of the following, IF TRUE, would undermine the passage’s main argument?
  1. If it were proven that increase in autonomy of service providers leads to an exponential increase in their work ethic and sense of responsibility.
  2. Empowerment of service providers leads to increased complacency and rigged performance results.
  3. If absolute instead of moderate technological surveillance is exercised over the performance of service providers.
  4. If it were proven that service providers in the private sector have better skills than those in the public sector.
Q.4 In the context of the passage, we can infer that the title “Band Aids on a Corpse” (in paragraph 2) suggests that:
  1. the electronic monitoring system was a superficial solution to a serious problem.
  2. the nurses who attended the clinics were too poorly trained to provide appropriate medical care.
  3. the clinics were better funded, but performance monitoring did not result in any improvement.
  4. the nurses attended the clinics, but the clinics were ill-equipped.
Q.5    According to the author, service delivery in Indian education can be improved in all of the following ways EXCEPT through: 
  1. recruitment of motivated teachers.
  2. elimination of government involvement.
  3. access to information on the quality of teaching.
  4. 4. use of technology.


Q1: Option (3)
Q2: Option (3)
Q3: Option (2)
Q4: Option (1)
Q5: Option (2)

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