On the Design of Quality Measures

28 Jun

Quality, not just more, schools

Author:  Meeta W Sengupta

Neither larger funding nor higher resource allocation alone can ensure a higher level of teaching. New benchmarks must be set

The challenge before any education policy is to find a balance between the various forces that shape it. The role of policy-makers is to give direction to that. A balanced policy is not necessarily a good one — scarce resources have to be allocated for impact as well as for equity. This is the fine line that needs to be managed. In recent years, the education policy has veered towards quantity over quality. Funding in the previous Five Year Plan was largely allocated to building infrastructure and to maximising enrollment across the board. This thrust was at the cost of quality of education. As our international reputation suffered with the publication of a series of rankings both at the primary and secondary education level, the attention shifted to managing the quality of what was being delivered in the name of education. This is also reflected in the new Five Year Plan.However quality can never be measured by funding, nor can it be improved by mere resource allocation. These are only the first step towards creating an environment where better learning can be delivered. At the same time better resources are no guarantee of either student engagement, teacher satisfaction or good administration. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they would be classified as a hygiene factor. And therein lies the tragedy of our nation —that in 65 years, we have been unable to ensure that these are in place. We are late to the party, and must now work harder at matching the world in giving our children the best chance of success. Today, even as Indian brains are lauded over the world, most of them have been educated abroad —our education has not been responsible for their success. We will fail our next generation if we cannot show them how to rise above their current mediocrity.

While quality of education has become a priority for our policy-makers, it is sadly a rather limited vision that is being enforced. This version of quality control is being driven by the Right to Education Act in the primary school sector that focuses on the physical requirements of a school. This just reinforces the inspector raj, where schools have a set of codified requirements that must be met regardless of what actually happens in the classroom. This not only denigrates and even puts at risk the excellent efforts made in small resource constrained schools, but also makes it impossible to actually measure the learning efforts in larger schools.

In higher education, the stated intent is to move away from the current inspection regime to self-regulation and reporting. The assumption that this step makes is that the self-regulated reporting will be honest and accurate. While daring, this is a very smart move in response to those who complain of over-regulation and centralisation of control. This is a long rope that is going to be handed to institutions who must be careful not to hang themselves with it.

Here too, the core issue remains: What is being measured? It is not enough to ensure that the right resources are available. One must be able to measure how these resources are being used and who benefits from these. Our criteria for measuring success must not stop at measuring the input factors.

At the same time, as we define and design our measures of  quality education that must be monitored, we must also remember that mere output too does not define success. First, it is not certain that a school or college that produces toppers each year is taking care of all its students. Measures of average student performance may end up ignoring the range of learning (or not) that the institution may be delivering. Output measures, like examinations, can be managed as institutions divert attention only to what will be measured.

It is time for us to open the discussion on what we mean by quality where the students, their long term potential and their prospects for a good life are ensured. Current measures, while a necessary first step, need to be revamped rapidly. For we deliver to what is measured. Policy-makers must now design the right measures that will encourage better education for each and every student enrolled.

This op-ed article was published in the Pioneer newspaper on June 28, 2012 and is linked here.

 

(http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/51890-quality-not-just-more-schools.html)

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