Why States' School Education Laws Are Difficult To Understand
Laws governing schools should be easy enough for students to make sense of them. As states prepare to reform education laws under the National Education Policy, our analysis shows that most states’ education laws are verbose, restrictive and incomprehensible even to college graduates
New Delhi: On April 8, 2021, union education minister Ramesh Pokhriyal launched the 'Students' and Teachers' Holistic Advancement through Quality Education' (Sarthaq) plan as the first step toward materialising the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020). Sarthaq "links recommendations of NEP with 297 Tasks along with responsible agencies, timelines and 304 outputs of these Tasks", said the Ministry of Education release.
Education in India is on the concurrent list, meaning it is governed by both state and central laws. Under Sarthaq, states and union territories, which have their own education laws, must establish their respective State School Standards Authority (SSSA) to regulate, set standards for and provide certification to private schools. Setting up an SSSA would require overhauling the regulatory architecture for K-12 education at the state level, NEP 2020 says.
Legislative reform can be based on qualitative or quantitative assessment of the law in question. As India undertakes a K-12 overhaul, the RegData India project of the public policy think-tank Centre for Civil Society (CCS), Delhi, and the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, Arlington, US, undertook a quantitative analysis of all 145 state school education laws in India in January 2021. RegData India is one of the first attempts to quantify Indian laws, using custom-made text analysis and algorithms.
State education laws were reviewed on three metrics: law volume (or total word count), the number of restrictions a law imposes, and the complexity of the law. How voluminous, restrictive and complex a country's laws are, affects its economic growth, productivity and cost to consumers, according to an analysis of laws in Australia, Canada and the United States by Mercatus Center in March 2019.
For state school education laws in India, these metrics may indicate the extent of regulatory burden and restrictions on schools. While quantitative indicators may not necessarily guarantee the best performance on education, they can reveal the ease with which regulatees can understand the law. A law governing schools should be easy enough for students to make sense of.
West Bengal has the most voluminous school education laws and Nagaland the least, this analysis found. Uttar Pradesh has 11 laws regulating school education and Andhra Pradesh 10. Arunachal Pradesh, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland and Uttarakhand have just one each.
Arunachal Pradesh has the most restrictive school education law with terms such as 'seize', 'punished', 'fine' and 'suspend' appearing after every 231 words. Nagaland and Odisha have the least restrictive education laws.
A law that's difficult to comprehend may increase costs in terms of effort, time and money for regulated entities to comply with it. Mizoram and Delhi have the most difficult-to-read school education laws, the study found.
How long are state education laws?
There is a strong positive correlation between the volume of a law and its complexity, the analysis found. As the volume of a law increases, it also tends to become more complicated to read. The total word count of all 145 state school education laws is over 650,000 words. On average, an education law is 4,700 words long--more than twice the length of this article. The average word count per state is over 21,000 words.
West Bengal has the most voluminous education laws, with a total word count of 61,458 words, followed by Telangana (43,333), Karnataka (43,267), Maharashtra (42,811), and Uttar Pradesh (41,651). Arunachal Pradesh has the highest average word count. States with the least total voluminous education laws are Nagaland (1,002), Chhattisgarh (4,322), Odisha (6,056), Sikkim (7,006), and Kerala (7,312).
How restrictive are state education laws?
A sample of 29 of the 145 education laws was analysed to identify words that restrict individuals' actions, such as those willing to set up schools, existing school owners, or other non-government entities. Nineteen binding words--'bound', 'binding', 'deemed to be guilty', 'comply', 'impose', 'shall be punishable', 'punished', 'fine', 'imprisonment', 'withdraw', 'withdrawal', 'suspend', 'suspended', 'supersede', 'shall be liable', 'discontinue', 'contravene', 'contravenes', 'seize'--were identified.
Along with a total count of binding words, the density of restrictiveness in each law, referred to as 'normalised binding words', was also assessed to facilitate comparison between states. It counts the average number of words after which a binding word appears--a score of 300 implies that a binding word appears after every 300 words. A lower count of normalised binding words would mean that a law is more restrictive.
On average, a state school education law uses 10 binding words. Arunachal Pradesh has the most restrictive school education laws, with a restrictive term appearing after every 231 words, on average. In Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, binding words appear after every 254 and 259 words, respectively. Nagaland is the only state that uses only one binding word in its law. The five states and union territories with the least restrictive laws include Odisha, Nagaland, Jharkhand, Jammu & Kashmir and West Bengal.
The most commonly used restrictive terms are 'fine' (as in, 'monetary penalty', 233 times) and 'comply' (200 times). Karnataka Education Act, 1983, has the highest usage of the word 'fine' (31 times). Arunachal Pradesh Education Act 2010 has the most frequent use of the term 'comply' (14 times).
How complicated are state education laws?
A law that is difficult to comprehend may also increase the costs (in terms of effort, time and money) for regulated entities to comply with it, the RegData project has established. The RegData study uses four sub-metrics--the Flesch reading ease score, sentence length, use of conditional or branching words, and the Shannon entropy score--to estimate how complicated or straightforward a law is.
The Flesch Reading Ease Score measures the ease of reading a document, in this case, a piece of legislation. Each law is assigned a score on a scale of 0 to 100, with the higher the Flesch score, the easier the reading. To understand laws that fall in the 30-50 score-band, an individual must be at least a college graduate. A Flesch reading score can also be negative.
The average Flesch score of state school education laws is 30. Mizoram is the worst-performing state on this metric, with an average Flesch score of 2.5, followed by Delhi (7.5). The three worst-performing laws have a negative Flesch score. These are the Mizoram Education Act, 2003; Maharashtra Educational Institutions (Transfer of Management) Act, 1971; and UP Self-Financed Independent Schools (Fee Regulation) Act, 2018. Even a college graduate will struggle to read and understand these laws.
The three best performing states on this metric are Manipur (49.75), Telangana (46) and Himachal Pradesh (44). However, even their laws fall in the 'difficult to read' category, and only a college graduate can understand them. The three easiest-to-read laws are the UP Educational Institutions (Taking-Over of Management) Act, 1976 (73), West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education Act, 1975 (65) and Manipur Elementary and Secondary Education Act, 1972 (64).
Shorter sentences are easier to read while longer sentences tend to be more challenging. The average sentence length in a state education law is 39 words. (For comparison, the first sentence in this paragraph contains 14 words.) Three states and union territories with the highest sentence length, on average, include Chhattisgarh (68), Delhi (66) and Puducherry (60). The worst performing law on this metric is the West Bengal Non-Government Educational Institutions and Local Authorities (Control of Provident Fund of Employees) Act, 1983, with an average sentence length of 81.52. Next is the Mizoram Education Act, 2003, at an average sentence length of 74.55.
Punjab is the best-performing state on this metric, with an average sentence length of 10 words. Telangana and Manipur follow with a sentence length of 22.63 words and 24.78 words, respectively. The three best performing laws include the UP Educational Institutions (Taking-Over of Management) Act, 1976 (6.58); Telangana Private Educational Institutions Maintenance Grant (Regulation) Act, 1995 (12.86); and West Bengal Council Of Higher Secondary Education Act, 1975 (13.81).
Terms such as 'if', 'but', and 'provided' create logical branches in a law and add to its complexity. These words are called 'branching words' or 'conditionals'.
On average, state school education laws have 23 branching words. The Arunachal Pradesh Education Act, 2010, has the highest count with 151 branching words. Nagaland uses only four branching words in its law. Odisha follows by using approximately five branching words per law. These laws are likely to be easier to read.
Lastly, a law's Shannon entropy score reflects the likelihood of encountering new words and concepts. It measures the amount of information conveyed in a given text. A high score would imply that a lot of new information is being communicated in the text, making it difficult to comprehend. The average Shannon entropy score of state school education laws is 8.23. The three worst-performing states on this metric are Arunachal Pradesh (9.58), Uttarakhand (9.15), and Manipur (8.92). The three best-performing states on this metric are Nagaland (7.44), Odisha (7.49) and Tamil Nadu (7.85).
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