Connect the Dots to make Indian Education Policy Work

28 Oct

Linking pieces for the big picture

Thursday, 18 September 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

The good news is that the Government has a clear sense of what is required in the primary education sector. The shift to outcome-oriented assessments is welcome

The new Government is learning as it goes along, making a few mistakes, getting some things right and repeating some patterns that are dictated by the existing structure of the education sector. Much is awaited such as the New Education Policy and a National Education Strategy leading on from that policy. Without these two in place, it is easy to miss the big picture and judge the initiatives that are announced as piecemeal and merely tinkering at the edges of the problem.

The good news is that the Government seems to have a clear sense of what is required in the primary education sector. The shift to outcome-oriented assessments of schools has been announced. As has the school report card — which is seen as a tool to improve schools, not judge them. Schools are expected to get the basics right, starting with toilets, and the tight deadlines set for this augur well for the future. The need of the hour is implementation, and successful implementation of this will set the tone for the next few years. GIS mapping of schools is another basic — India really does not know exactly how many schools or students there are in the country let alone their facilities, competence or needs.

Some of the initiatives go to the grassroots — for example, an emphasis on scholarships at various levels. It is the responsibility of a nation to make sure that no competent student is denied the next level of education for lack of funds. The new scholarships are an excellent move though it would be good to see a multiplier effect in place via innovative PPP models. Education always benefits from including its multiple stakeholders and the Shaala Darpan programme that brings school news to parents via SMS is a good move to bring better governance to schools. Schools will now be tracked by those who truly care about getting it right. Ideally, this is something that should be implemented via private sector and governed by the administration.

There are a few other initiatives where one realises that the Government support is essential though it could be implemented by vendors from the private sector. For instance, the Swayam platform, which is an attempt at indigenising the Massive Open Online Courses will benefit from oversight, support and direction from the Government but does not need to use up Government machinery for what is essentially a market driven education delivery implementation project. It should ideally be a level playing field for competing vendors and content providers and multiple platforms to both strive and thrive in this space.

The National e-Library is a great, and much needed mission, but again the headline declaration says that ‘quality’ materials will be kept in the e-library. The others may have value too, if only in understanding the spread of work that is done in the country. Much of the research work is a tiny drop in the ocean of knowledge and cannot be prejudged — it may have its place in history yet. A battle against plagiarism might be a good idea, but for that, again, the e-library must have all the work done in the nation. Surely, in this day and age, curation costs more than data storage.

Some initiatives seem to be only a step in a long chain of evolution, such as the National Repository of Open Educational Resources and the handbook of inclusive curricula for the less-abled students. Without the right context, they seem to be strangely lost — for example the handbook makes little sense unless it is a part of a larger holistic programme for the less- abled, including teacher training, specialised centres and support groups. Similarly, the new funding for the literacy and numeracy campaign is excellent but how is it different from the current SSA programme? Similarly, one wonders why the community college programme should fall under the UGC if its objective is (sadly) limited to employability.

All the initiatives are excellent steps, all of them essential parts of the jigsaw, but the need of the hour is for the private and the public sectors to power through together in ways that complement each other towards a common goal. The big picture, the common goal is still not visible through these pieces.

This was published in the Pioneer newspaper:

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