Who Decides Quality?

22 Mar

 

The true judges ought to be the many stakeholders who make decisions that affect their learning and their lives. They put in their hard-earned money

With near full enrollment reported in primary schools in India, the discourse has moved to retention and quality of education delivered. The two are obviously connected. If students receive quality education that continues to provide them value and retain their interest, then they will tend to continue in education. Those who leave education at or after primary school are sadly often stuck at lower income (and health) levels than those who are able to complete higher standards. The value to higher education as reflected in salary levels is clearly proven in India, even though it is not so clear in many other countries. Yet, the efforts to retain students in education may not be fruitful if the quality of education they receive is not good.

The Annual Status of Education Report, the Programme for International Student Assessment rankings among others have clearly shown up Indian education as inadequate. At the same time, we hear reports that Indians do better than Americans in exams such as the General Management Aptitude Tests. Indians are still valued candidates at the best schools across the world. So clearly some education is high quality, while the rest is not up to the mark. This is when one begins to question the term ‘quality’.

What determines quality? How does one know if the learning is good or not? Should the Government take on the responsibility of certifying quality? To an extent it already does so via the recognition and inspection or appraisal processes. The National Assessment and Accreditation Council also publishes a ranking, and certifies equivalence with international degrees. A number of newspapers and magazines also rank schools and institutions based on standard criteria that are a composite of achievement, resources and other outcomes which is a change from the traditional ratings that were based only on academic achievement. Even the The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act tries to include awareness of quality and imposes input measures as a proxy for quality of education. This requirement of minimum acreage, playgrounds and libraries may be good in theory but offers no insights into how much learning is actually happening in a school. If schools are tested on inputs rather than on realisation of individual potential then we are certainly not clear on what quality education means and are measuring the wrong things.

How would a parent or a university candidate know what their educational options are and which ones are the best fit. In the absence of good counseling and mentoring services, one often flocks to the most popular options that have guaranteed employment in the past. Thus the emphasis on engineering, medical and now management degrees — as these professions almost always guarantee employability. Yet we see many engineering and management institutes fall by the wayside while medical education too is rife with rumours of many institutes providing mere paper degrees.

Where does a candidate look to find quality education? It is not enough for them to be able to tap the grapevine; informal advisers can only support as far as their knowledge extends. Current students and alumni are a great source of information, but they too are limited to their own experience. Formal advisers are often commercial entities who step in to fill the gaps that universities or colleges leave uncovered. The fact that the demand for good institutes often far outstrips the supply of seats also places the onus of search and fit on the candidate. It is entirely possible that the candidates apply merely to ‘hoard’ and capture scarce seats rather than as a best fit for their potential. If students are a misfit then quality will suffer even with the best intent and resources.

So, who should decide what quality really means? Should it be decided by academics in their ivory towers? Or by policy making babus in their bastions? The true judges of quality ought to be the stakeholders who make decisions that affect their learning and their lives. They are the ones who are the ultimate arbiters of quality and vote with their money and effort investments. Their investments must be supported with better information but must be led by those who must earn or pay the price of quality education.

This Op-Ed was published in the Daily Pioneer on March 6, 2013

and is linked here and http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/item/53555-we-talk-of-quality-now-let%E2%80%99s-grasp-it.html

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: