Does Massification mean Standardisation

22 Sep


With hundreds of millions to be educated and skilled, the challenges for India are known. As is the fact that despite a lot having been done in the past few years to shore up the investment in education — both by the Government and the private sector — much more needs to be done. The challenge for all is that of scale. While the high achievements of many countries are showcased in league tables, the unsaid part needs attention too. Most have had the advantages of small classes, fewer people to educate, a tighter range of socio-economic issues to deal with and of course far more money per student than India can afford yet. China has successful models that deal with scale, but they too have had to make decisions that would be uncomfortable to some. India’s ask is much more — we want quality, we want scale and we want equity.

The jargon bandied about is ‘massification’ — the scaling up of education opportunities at a mass scale so that everybody has a chance to access basic good quality education. This is ambitious, of course. But, how will this be possible? The classic response to this kind of a challenge is via standardisation and replication. This is a model that is used in a lot of industries and has been successful for mass market products. Mapping it to the education sector might not be such a bad idea though it clearly has its hurdles and nay sayers.

The first stage is to design a product that is replicable. The design must be sturdy and must stand not only the test of time, but the test of people too. Not people, persons, but the individual. This is where it gets very difficult — if designing for scale, one is creating standardised units. The schools then must look the same, operate in the same manner and must have the same teaching and curriculum standards. And must cost the same. This is the model adopted with mass market products all over the world, be in burgers or soaps. When one purchases a packet of soap, there is little doubt about the value one will receive for the investment only because the product is standardised. It is reassuring to walk into a McDonalds anywhere in the world because one knows that there will be a clean place to sit, some bread (even if strictly vegetarian) and a clean toilet, if lucky — free WiFi too. A standardised school will certainly have to deliver that level of reassurance and confidence.

More so because much will be sacrificed at the altar of standardisation. Every school will have to have the same type of resources, will have to use the same books, the teachers will have to teach in the same manner and will have to answer the same test so that they can be compared against each other. In fact, much of the provisions of the much-faulted Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act seek to impose such standardisation across schools.

Education is not about creating products out of people, it is about skilling individuals to achieve their potential. Students are not the same in every school, nor are their requirements. Resources and costs vary too — a professor may be willing to live in a beautiful city while a dirty district in the desert may not attract good faculty. The massification of higher education is an even bigger challenge than that of primary education.

Even if we accept standardisation for primary education, as children grow older and discover their interests and more importantly, their talents, standardisation across the board is going to damage the bio-diversity of training. Those designing the system must know that the cost would be irretrievable. Diversity in learning institutions is essential to a system and the massification effort has to build in a diverse range of institutions. Even at the cost of standardisation. Do not conflate the two — loss of standardisation and a loss of standards. Quality is not measured or compared only across identical units — surely we are smarter than that. The task at hand is to build standarised metrics across a diverse system.

Not enough is being done to create a diverse and deep secondary to higher education system that allows students to create their own learning pathways. Schools and universities continue to exist in their crumbling silos, certificates allow only linear passage through the halls of learning. Our youth need choices that deliver value. Let the students grow in line with their talent and the market.






This Op-Ed was published in the Pioneer newspaper on September 20, 2012, linked here


2 Responses to “Does Massification mean Standardisation”

  1. Geeta Rathinavel September 27, 2012 at 10:28 am #

    You are driving at the thought that massification means falling of standards. There is no statistics to prove that education cannnot be provided to the masses. The meaning of education is that there is an awakening of the mind after the process of education takes place. If education is given there is awakening or if it is not given,there is no awakening. You have to believe that there wont be massification will erode quality of education.


    • meetawsengupta September 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

      On the contrary. Massification may lead to standardisation as a tool to ensure quality standards do not fall. That may be restrictive for those who do not want standardisation – do not want to be like every other .

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