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Education Quality: Equity or Achievement

2 Mar

“Who is the best doctor here?”

The question echoed down the hallway. I could understand the need for wanting to be treated only by the best. Then I wondered about all the rest – peers to this best doctor. Were they substandard? Clearly not. Would it not be less stressful to know for sure that all doctors were of the same calibre and one was safe wherever one went for treatment? Wasn’t it better for all if equity of output was the goal of all education?

Is that the desired goal of an education system or institution? Do we seek excellence, differentiation or do we want everyone in the class to perform to a certain standard? True equity in education could equally be measured in terms of outcomes.

Is it even fair to expect everyone to perform to the same level? This has been the key question in the equity vs. equality debate. Is it fair for a school or university to educate people to exactly the same level? This denies merit, talent and extra hard work that some candidate manage to invest. Many agree that excellence is fostered by competition, and without competition the result is likely to be a slide beyond mediocrity. It is the differentiation, the need to win that motivates us to work harder and evolve.
school

Image: Shutterstock

The question matters now in India as we come to almost a universal acceptance that the quality criteria as defined by school inputs under the RTE (Right to Education Act) will certainly need to be changed. A school is not good just because it has the right amount of land, or because its teachers received certain certificates. A school is good when its students learn and achieve. We all agree so far, but this is when the troubles begin.

First – what do we mean by student achievement. Average scores in examinations? Should that average reflect the achievement of all the children – does a good school ensure that all students get similar success? Or should a school foster excellence and invest in those who show greater potential? Is a school that has a few super achievers better than a school with many average performers? Equity demands that all students be given an equal chance and equal attention (inputs again!) but the achievement focus helps a school work towards maximising every student’s potential. Both high up in the fairness rankings.

Choosing between those two is not easy. Can both not be attained? Of course every honest teaching institution tries to make sure that equity and achievement are both fostered. Excellent schools achieve this with large monetary and non monetary investments. But even the best schools will only be able to give assurance that their basic minimum standards were maintained – no one can guarantee equity in outcomes. Everyone would have achieved to a certain standard, with outliers. This is how we judge the institution, do we not? By the success of its students – outliers and average.

I hypothesise that the institution gains a reputation not because its graduates perform to the same predictable level, but because it has a consistent record of excellence. The demand for admission to that institution depends upon this reputation. When we choose a school for our children we want the best, a place where they will be given a chance to shine. Not just one where everyone will achieve to a common standard.

When it comes to designing a measure for judging school quality, one cannot deny that input criteria are important too. Inputs do affect outputs, but these are not solely a function of inputs. It is not just your resources, but what you do with them that matters. The best schools are often accused of cherry picking at the time of admissions which accounts for their excellent results. A school with a better playground, better trained teachers, laboratories and libraries is clearly superior. But a qualified teacher who spends their class contact time knitting or catching up with administrative tasks will probably count as a great school input on paper, but it is highly unlikely to have much impact. What matters more to a student is the quality of school time.. what did they learn when they were at school? Did they learn to be confident? To communicate well? Did they learn to learn? The value add that the school provides is a better measure of quality than either input or output measures. This can be further refined to allow for consistency over time.

The real debate begins here – does the value add of the school get measured only in student achievement in standardised tests? Or should it be a more holistic measure that includes a wider range of achievements? Does one include benefits to wider society? These are questions for policy makers to ponder on as the next five years in education in India promise an emphasis on quality.

All the discussion on quality and equity is at its peak at the time of admissions. For now, I have a simple rule of thumb – ask the market. The school with more applicants per seat available is judged to be doing a better job. The task now is to tabulate and articulate this sense of value into a rigorous metric, so that we students of education, can understand what true value add is in the eyes of its consumers and seek to embed that value across the spectrum.

This very battle between quality and equity is being played out in admissions in Delhi again this season. Schools that are much in demand have a very high number of applicants. The state has legislated on entry criteria with no discretion given to schools. Centralised criteria seek to deliver on equity but end up effectively restricting choice both for schools and students. Schools would ideally like to be able to focus on quality while still offering fair access are forced out of the dialogue. The battle between equity, access and choice continues real time in this arena.

http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/quality-equity-or-achievement/

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Teacher Connect

2 Mar

 

Teachers should be in tune with times

Thursday, 23 January 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

The technology and teacher inter-connectivity boom in India is still at a nascent stage. It needs to spread for results to be evident

The tide has silently risen — and teachers are better off because they join. I speak of the conversations between teachers across schools, networks and geographies. Teachers are acknowledged to be at the centre of improvements in education — they are the single factor that determines the quality of teaching and learning that happens in a classroom. While much of these have been measured by student achievement, a teacher’s contribution is a lot more in terms of the values, the team skills and the emotional support that they offer to their classroom. Teaching is an act of transformation — it takes a lot out of the teacher and they too need validation and renewal.

A decade ago, the only place where teachers gathered would be in teacher-training sessions organised by their authority or in consultation meetings — where only the senior teachers had access. Training sessions were designed to be top down, and were often honoured in the breach rather than in actual renewal. Teacher training often became just about compliance. The past year has seen significant changes because of sterling work done by many to address the systemic issues that teachers face on a day to day basis. The first being isolation.

It is not only single-teacher schools in far-flung rural areas where teachers feel isolated. This can happen in a large, populated urban school too. Teachers who wish to innovate in their classroom, or have an idea that they think will work for a school, or maybe an interesting activity or lesson plan do not always find support within their schools. Every teacher has much to share based on their experiences and efforts. But for such sharing to happen teacher communities needed to be enabled both within and outside schools. One of the positives about team-teaching is that all teachers share materials and plans, which makes them effective support systems for each other. The downside is that it takes an initial investment of time from the teachers who will see benefits only once they make a success of it. Team-teaching has been seen to be effective only in schools that are technology enabled and where the teachers themselves naturally integrate technology with their teaching preparation and practice.

It is this technology boom that has enabled teachers across the world to connect with, teach one another and share what they can. This change has been slow in coming to India — many of the schools here barely see electricity, let alone have computers. Those that do find the journey as digital immigrants varied — the schools that have been able to enable open access with well- designed content have benefited the most, other schools find ‘computers’ to be a chore since it is seen as a separate subject and task. Teachers lead the change and those who have had support and are able to adopt it for use as seamlessly as a textbook or a blackboard are those who have more to share.

The technology and teacher inter-connectivity boom in India is nascent. Some of it is via Government networks such as those that link universities across the country. Many of these are enabled via email groups, Facebook and other social media. Large newspapers with significant education supplements have invested in developing communities of teachers across the country, as have social entrepreneurs who help create social learning platforms for teachers to share materials within school networks. The most ambitious of these is the open education resources programme that encourages teachers to share their teaching resources with others, for free, and to access and use other teachers’ shared resources.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/teachers-should-be-in-tune-with-times.html

Second Chance for Adult Learners

2 Mar

 

Second chance for adult learners

Thursday, 06 February 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Regardless of where you are on the education ladder, even if you are not on it, there should be a window of opportunity to improve

Two Hundred and Eighty Seven Million. People. Adults. This is the estimated number of people who are denied the dignity of literacy in India. These are people who are dependent on others to read their bank balance, to understand what they sign, and are unable to comprehend the laws they are held to, they cannot read the names of the medicines they ingest. They are handicapped when it comes to seeking opportunities because they cannot realise it. They cannot read. Four in 10 people in the world, an estimated 37 per cent according to the recently released UNESCO Education for All Report Global Monitoring Report, are illiterate.

This is not about the children who have had schools built for them; this is about the adults who are too old to go to school. And they have few other options. Yes, there are designated adult education centres, there are NGOs and there are programmes. Despite that India dominates the world in adult illiteracy. A visit to my local adult education centre revealed that it did not have admission forms, did not know when these would be available and was unwilling to commit to an annual cycle of admissions, if there was any. Being illiterate is a stigma that these people carry through their lives like an illness where seeking help is a matter of privilege. If you are lucky, you are rescued from this, for there are few systemic solutions for your plight.

There has been much invested in school infrastructure and capacity in the last Five Year Plan, and enrollments are said to be at 99 per cent at the primary school level. Without debating the quality of the capacity built, let us look at its utilisation. These buildings are accessible to living clusters. They already have roofs for bad weather, space outdoors and basic learning material. They are also not used for three quarters of a day. Allowing for poor electricity connections, there are at least three hours in a day when school buildings can be used as community learning hubs, specifically for adult education classes. If India wants to solve its literacy problems, it has to start using its resources better in addition to making targeted investments. Again, there is no real need to restrict school learning (and admissions) only to children. People can work according to ability sets, rather than age, which would bring other advantages of scale and opportunity too.

The current definition of school is narrow, and education is seen as an isolated bubble limited to books, examinations, teachers, tutors and buildings. These bounds do not allow in outsiders — such as the adult illiterates who were left behind — nor do they allow students to interact with the rest of the world. It is only in some excellent schools that students work on projects that engage the local area around them. Both groups suffer. Neither do the illiterate people get access to learning and opportunity, nor do the ‘literate’ students begin to understand the real world of life and work. Schools create barriers to engaging with real life problems when they should be doing the opposite — preparing the students for life, not merely examinations.

Schools and the education community need to open up their portals to engage with more sections of society to foster a culture of continuous learning. Regardless of where you are on the learning ladder, even if you are not on the learning ladder, there should be a chance to improve yourself. India needs a caring community college network that engages the local community in disciplined ways and engages the learning communities in ways that work for them.

This is an uphill battle — those who were unable to learn to read and write in their early years may not be suited to the traditional ways of learning. They may not be used to using memory and may need to see results soon. A daily wage labourer is used to instant results. Literacy requires patience, iteration, care, commitment and the resilience to fail and try again. Those who missed out by choice or circumstance in their childhood deserve a second chance and a life where they can live with true independence — that is a life of dignity and informed choice.

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/second-chance-for-adult-learners.html

Another chance

2 Mar

Sometimes it comes home in personal ways.

This Sunday, a student I knew went to take an examination, and the allocated seating was in a government school. A very good one, in the heart of government officers sectors in central Delhi. The school was large, the building impressive(sort of). He was seated in a class that was designed for children two years older than him. The seats however seemed to be designed for someone much smaller. He sat for 3 hours at 30 degrees to his normal straight posture, those larger than him had to sit at almost 90 degrees to their normal sitting position to be able to fit between the bench and the table.

And we wonder about dropouts?

Of course the school had the right number of chairs and benches. Well, almost. The chalkboard read ‘Class Strength = 50” and there were 48 seats in the classroom. The RTE norms for private schools mandate a maximum class size of 40 students. India is reaching full enrollment in primary schools at least – the pressure on classrooms is natural. Not excusable but natural. Fifty students, seated in a windowless room (other rooms had windows, not this one) in benches that are too small for them. I wonder how many will have the motivation  to bring themselves to sit in such seats, and once they get there how much work can get done. Bad seating can damage developing spines, but then in a place known for its potholes that beat a Disney adventure ride this might be seen as a minor problem. To put it simply, discomfort will drive them away, unless highly motivated.

It is the little things that matter… it really is not enough to have the right number of benches, or the right square footage in a classroom. Measuring quality by inputs is made even more meaningless when the input criteria do not actually speak to their context. How can the qualification of a teacher actually determine whether good quality learning is happening in the classroom? A certificate does not make for a caring, enthusiastic teacher, one needs more than just the certificate to even start building good classroom climate. Of course trained teachers tend to have more tools than untrained ones who may struggle if not supported. But even trained teachers, despite being well paid have turned over batches of non performing students. Even if one wanted to measure quality via inputs (rather than the currently popular call for outcomes driven measurements) the current criteria are not fit for purpose. The last mile problem rears its head here again. Criteria designed far away from the users and consumers will never be able to meet the needs of the users.

Dropouts may happen for reasons other than learning outcomes. There may even be little connection between these two outcomes. It sounds logical that schools will retain the students that are performing well, but that is an untested hypothesis. We do not know how many talented and sincere students drop out due to family circumstances. We do not know  what binds these students to school, and what brings them in everyday. Is there someone watching over their mental health or is their peer group their only support? Is the peer group a reliable mentor or can some be led astray? The rate of dropouts in India is steady after primary school and I would be glad to be informed of a serious study that has investigated the reasons for dropping out. Yes, there are studies that indicate that girls used to leave school at puberty due to lack of toilets. What about schools with toilets? What about the boys? How many had to leave because the curriculum did not reach out to them? Did any feel bullied at school either by teachers or peers – and if they did, was there any recourse? Was it more macho to earn a living like a man rather than go to school like a boy? Was there social pressure to get married a the traditional age? We know that life does not wait for degrees.

At the same time we do know that each year of education enhances the earning capacity of a child by – I believe the estimate is – 5%. The children who drop out of school lose out on higher lifetime earnings.

Which merely reflects on bureaucratic the education system.

Is there any reason for teaching to be managed by age bands? Especially after primary school different children may begin to invest in their abilities and must have a chance to be tutored in those – vocational or academic. Those who were uncomfortable at school at fourteen and dropped out cannot be abandoned – they must have other channels for learning. The sad truth is that there is just one bus for people to learn how to be literate – if you miss that bus, you are left behind. No wonder that 37% of the world’s illiterate population is in India. Adult literacy programs are inadequate, as is the concept of the community college which could easily become a learning hub for the community regardless of age or prior learning.

It is time education systems outgrew their ageism and created opportunities for everyone to learn in comfort and dignity.

 

03 February 2014, 11:31 PM IST

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/another-chance

Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce

2 Mar

Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce?

Meeta Sengupta
02 March 2014, 09:35 AM IST

“There will be no after-school class today”

 

As usual, I get much of my information about schools from the people I meet, including mothers at the school gate.

 

“Why?”, I asked.

 

“Haven’t you heard, there was a circular from some government body and they can’t conduct classes for the XYZ competitive examination now”

 

“But the other children are not interested in doing this work and they are only working with the same syllabus and textbook!”

 

“I don’t know. The children were enjoying the classes. But now it is not allowed”

 

This was a few months ago. Another circular was issued this week (by the CBSE) banning “commercial” use of classrooms for IIT-JEE (Will there be one soon saying that school premises cannot be used for summer school? Or community activities that will need some payment to cover costs?)

 

It raises a few questions – First of course – why is a board of examinations talking about school timetabling? Is it not upto the school to set its own timetables? How and when did the right to decide what happens in a classroom get taken away? This has been a slow and steady attrition of school autonomy as has been seen in the admissions cases in Delhi.

 

A school and a teacher must have the right to decide what works best for the students they have taken responsibility for as long as they adhere to the standards set for them. Any micro management of classroom time gives the teacher community leeway to merely read out the textbook and do no more – indeed, they could claim that they have permission to do no more than that. It is also extremely insulting to a highly trained and experienced (many are excellent) cadre to distrust their commitment and engagement with their students.

 

Taking away school autonomy to run their classes and insisting that all classes across the country run to the same script does not allow any attempt at improving student learning outcomes beyond the average (read mediocre). Where is the incentive or even permission to innovate, to improve, to respond, to challenge and to explore? This is the death knell of learning for growth.

 

The latest circular does exactly this by disallowing additional teaching during school time. It effectively bars schools from enhancing standards that have been prescribed at the lowest common denominator across the country. Schools that seek to add value are not allowed to do so.. they must teach only to the prescribed level, the rest is effectively proscribed.

 

A move against commercialising education or a move against any efficiencies in the private sector of education? They do not ban coaching for IIT-JEE (nor should they) – the ban is merely on the efficient use of class time and student effort. Consequently (and does anyone ever think this through?!!!) the life of a student becomes one long haul from school to coaching class and then homework and revision while doing their daily tests and preparation for the coaching class. Any integration of learning that could have eased their lives is now barred.

 

In a perfect world I would whole heartedly support having a system that requires no preparation for examinations. I would even, in principle, support a ban on all exam preparation. Students either know their stuff or they don’t – and any test is a stepping stone to identifying gaps for further work, or for choice in moving towards an area of aptitude or away from one there is clearly no talent. Schools are supposed to prepare students for life, and tests in life rarely come with a timetable.

We are nowhere near that utopia yet, so let us come back to real life.

 

There will always be arguments on both sides. Does coaching give an advantage to students who can afford it? Yes, of course. Is it a fair advantage? I could argue either side. At the end of the day people should be able to spend their money as they choose – there is no getting away from that. But does this circular do away with that advantage? No – it does not touch it. It merely says – reduce efficiencies. The rich who can allocate a car and driver (or adult) to their children will have less tired children who can work while travelling. The middle class and poor who strain to pay fees will have to depend on public transport (as many of us did) and spend more time at bus stops and stations – tired and hungry – and stressed about all the work they need to catch up on after they reach home in the late evening having done a second shift at the coaching class.

 

There is a chance that the schools are not as ‘commercial’ as they fear. There is a chance that they do allow cross subsidisation and a scholarship student joins the class with the others. But this is not a model that is explored or discussed. (Was there any consultation? A process for seeking a solution that works for the people who have to deal with the consequences?) I am not convinced that this is an attempt to get rid of the ills of commercialisation rather than undermine commerce itself. (Schools are not for profit entities – technically – anyway).

 

The real issue here is of standards and quality. A system that truly looks to support growth of its students will try to support more of its students to access better learning rather than cutting back on learning opportunities. Here it is a clear case of asking schools to focus on narrower (and shallower) learning outcomes (else why would an examination board intervene) while not engaging in the more meaningful debate about the range of abilities and avenues for fostering talent via a range of alternate examinations and support structures.

 

These competitions are intense. This is why they take four to six years of preparation to be able to get ahead of millions of others in a situation where there are few hundred or a few thousand credible positions to fill. If there were enough quality avenues would there be this intense need to get into the few good places? Yes of course the government is building more capacity – more IITs and medical schools. This is going to  take a few years. Can this circular proscribing learning for vulnerable and ambitious teenagers be issued after the capacity for a good education for all has been created?

 

 

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/integrated-coaching-in-schools-efficiency-or-commerce

 

 

 

Quality: Equality or Achievement

7 Feb

 

 

Education Quality: Equity or Achievement

01/30/2014 | 2 comments | 533 views

“Who is the best doctor here?”

The question echoed down the hallway. I could understand the need for wanting to be treated only by the best. Then I wondered about all the rest – peers to this best doctor. Were they substandard? Clearly not. Would it not be less stressful to know for sure that all doctors were of the same calibre and one was safe wherever one went for treatment? Wasn’t it better for all if equity of output was the goal of all education?

Is that the desired goal of an education system or institution? Do we seek excellence, differentiation or do we want everyone in the class to perform to a certain standard? True equity in education could equally be measured in terms of outcomes.

Is it even fair to expect everyone to perform to the same level? This has been the key question in the equity vs. equality debate. Is it fair for a school or university to educate people to exactly the same level? This denies merit, talent and extra hard work that some candidate manage to invest. Many agree that excellence is fostered by competition, and without competition the result is likely to be a slide beyond mediocrity. It is the differentiation, the need to win that motivates us to work harder and evolve.
school

Image: Shutterstock

The question matters now in India as we come to almost a universal acceptance that the quality criteria as defined by school inputs under the RTE (Right to Education Act) will certainly need to be changed. A school is not good just because it has the right amount of land, or because its teachers received certain certificates. A school is good when its students learn and achieve. We all agree so far, but this is when the troubles begin.

First – what do we mean by student achievement. Average scores in examinations? Should that average reflect the achievement of all the children – does a good school ensure that all students get similar success? Or should a school foster excellence and invest in those who show greater potential? Is a school that has a few super achievers better than a school with many average performers? Equity demands that all students be given an equal chance and equal attention (inputs again!) but the achievement focus helps a school work towards maximising every student’s potential. Both high up in the fairness rankings.

Choosing between those two is not easy. Can both not be attained? Of course every honest teaching institution tries to make sure that equity and achievement are both fostered. Excellent schools achieve this with large monetary and non monetary investments. But even the best schools will only be able to give assurance that their basic minimum standards were maintained – no one can guarantee equity in outcomes. Everyone would have achieved to a certain standard, with outliers. This is how we judge the institution, do we not? By the success of its students – outliers and average.

I hypothesise that the institution gains a reputation not because its graduates perform to the same predictable level, but because it has a consistent record of excellence. The demand for admission to that institution depends upon this reputation. When we choose a school for our children we want the best, a place where they will be given a chance to shine. Not just one where everyone will achieve to a common standard.

When it comes to designing a measure for judging school quality, one cannot deny that input criteria are important too. Inputs do affect outputs, but these are not solely a function of inputs. It is not just your resources, but what you do with them that matters. The best schools are often accused of cherry picking at the time of admissions which accounts for their excellent results. A school with a better playground, better trained teachers, laboratories and libraries is clearly superior. But a qualified teacher who spends their class contact time knitting or catching up with administrative tasks will probably count as a great school input on paper, but it is highly unlikely to have much impact. What matters more to a student is the quality of school time.. what did they learn when they were at school? Did they learn to be confident? To communicate well? Did they learn to learn? The value add that the school provides is a better measure of quality than either input or output measures. This can be further refined to allow for consistency over time.

The real debate begins here – does the value add of the school get measured only in student achievement in standardised tests? Or should it be a more holistic measure that includes a wider range of achievements? Does one include benefits to wider society? These are questions for policy makers to ponder on as the next five years in education in India promise an emphasis on quality.

All the discussion on quality and equity is at its peak at the time of admissions. For now, I have a simple rule of thumb – ask the market. The school with more applicants per seat available is judged to be doing a better job. The task now is to tabulate and articulate this sense of value into a rigorous metric, so that we students of education, can understand what true value add is in the eyes of its consumers and seek to embed that value across the spectrum.

This very battle between quality and equity is being played out in admissions in Delhi again this season. Schools that are much in demand have a very high number of applicants. The state has legislated on entry criteria with no discretion given to schools. Centralised criteria seek to deliver on equity but end up effectively restricting choice both for schools and students. Schools would ideally like to be able to focus on quality while still offering fair access are forced out of the dialogue. The battle between equity, access and choice continues real time in this arena.

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/quality-equity-or-achievement/#ixzz2scHT3HS0

 

 

 

 

 

http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/quality-equity-or-achievement/

Improving School Governance

7 Feb

 

Improving School Governance

01/09/2014 | 1 comment | 309 views

governanceImage: Shutterstock

The school principal looked at us across the grand table and asked, “Under the circumstances, what should the school policy be?”

This was the purpose of this gathering — not only to hold the school and its head teacher to account for the past quarter, but also to build and enhance the school’s policies so that there was a consistent and value-based response in school. As a member of the school management committee here, and previously as a school governor, I knew this was going to be the most intensely debated part of the meeting.

Formulating policies that helped the school to devise daily routines and processes was not just about right and wrong, or about opinions. It called on the shared values of the school and its guardians, and needed to translate into practical and consistently applicable procedures.

Those were not the only demands of school governance. Governance in schools is about calling the leadership to account, supporting them with skills and resources and helping them chart a path of continuous improvement for the school. This is not dissimilar to the role of the board in corporate entities. The board is the guardian of the core values and drives the interests of the true owners of the enterprise. The moral responsibility of the institution is vested here — governance — is about watchful guardianship.

Much of the responsibility of governance rests on the school leader. I would go as far as to suggest that the school leader is at the front line of governance, dealing with daily issues and sniper attacks. The head of the educational institution is the most visible embodiment of all that must be right with an institution — and is the enforcer as well. Most good governance is done without harsh enforcement. Or as the Art of War says,  ‘The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting’ – just so, good governance is alignment of behaviours (ideally) without having to be led by rules, policing or punishments.

Having said that, these rules and the consequences of not following them are an essential part of the toolkit of governance. As are other gentler means including monitoring, feedback loops and constructive observation and mentoring. Governance is the duty of care and it is operationalised by watching out for aberrations, managing these aberrations and then scaffolding the system back to normal growth.

Who should, then, be included in this community of care? Those who govern must not only be able to be the conscience-keepers of the school, but must be able to influence it on a daily basis. Most governors and school managers do not get much time to actually interact with a school — they are not employees of the school. They cannot be paid by the school, for that would be a conflict of interest.

With limited access comes the limitation of information — the flows of information to the governing level comes only via the school management. Other channels too are opened up via the agency of the management. School management (and governing) committees meet for a few hours each year. Under these constraints, it becomes very difficult to create any impact. And yet, it is these individuals who support the school leadership towards school improvements. Their role is probably the trickiest of all in the entire school network. They are charged with being the ‘critical friend’ of the school. To exert influence without authority, and thence to drive change for good, is the role of governance in the school context.

It takes exceptional people to be able to achieve this, and now, in India, all schools must have a school management community. The record of school management committees has been mixed so far, with slow but steady progress.

The challenge, as with much of school leadership, is to find the right people to be able to create this community of critical friends that can hold the school accountable for the welfare of the students. In small local communities the fear is that this will become politicised, if the school management committee merely becomes a local arena for power play, then its core purpose of school improvement may take a back seat.

On the other hand lies the challenge of finding the right people to influence positive change in the schools. The quest is for exceptional individuals who can be honest guides to school excellence. This is not a community that can be built merely by regulation, though that is a good step.

Of all the recommended participants in the School Management Committee, it is only the parent representatives whose interests are wholly aligned with the students. Some must represent different interests such as the owners (including the public/government), and the model rules include these. But the range of competence required by an SMC spans budgets, recruitment, human resource management, student psychology and much more. Unless governors and SMCs themselves receive support and training, they will also be unable to discharge their duties adequately. \

Currently in India, there is little organised, or even standardised support for SMCs. It is not enough to decree community participation in schools; these must be facilitated by resources, support and education lest its progress be wayward — and worse — too slow for any real timely impact.

Read more: http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/improving-school-governance/#ixzz2scERQ4gn

 

http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/improving-school-governance/

Another Chance

7 Feb

Another chance

Meeta Sengupta
03 February 2014, 11:31 PM IST

Sometimes it comes home in personal ways.

This Sunday, a student I knew went to take an examination, and the allocated seating was in a government school. A very good one, in the heart of government officers sectors in central Delhi. The school was large, the building impressive(sort of). He was seated in a class that was designed for children two years older than him. The seats however seemed to be designed for someone much smaller. He sat for 3 hours at 30 degrees to his normal straight posture, those larger than him had to sit at almost 90 degrees to their normal sitting position to be able to fit between the bench and the table.

And we wonder about dropouts?

Of course the school had the right number of chairs and benches. Well, almost. The chalkboard read ‘Class Strength = 50” and there were 48 seats in the classroom. The RTE norms for private schools mandate a maximum class size of 40 students. India is reaching full enrollment in primary schools at least – the pressure on classrooms is natural. Not excusable but natural. Fifty students, seated in a windowless room (other rooms had windows, not this one) in benches that are too small for them. I wonder how many will have the motivation  to bring themselves to sit in such seats, and once they get there how much work can get done. Bad seating can damage developing spines, but then in a place known for its potholes that beat a Disney adventure ride this might be seen as a minor problem. To put it simply, discomfort will drive them away, unless highly motivated.

It is the little things that matter… it really is not enough to have the right number of benches, or the right square footage in a classroom. Measuring quality by inputs is made even more meaningless when the input criteria do not actually speak to their context. How can the qualification of a teacher actually determine whether good quality learning is happening in the classroom? A certificate does not make for a caring, enthusiastic teacher, one needs more than just the certificate to even start building good classroom climate. Of course trained teachers tend to have more tools than untrained ones who may struggle if not supported. But even trained teachers, despite being well paid have turned over batches of non performing students. Even if one wanted to measure quality via inputs (rather than the currently popular call for outcomes driven measurements) the current criteria are not fit for purpose. The last mile problem rears its head here again. Criteria designed far away from the users and consumers will never be able to meet the needs of the users.

Dropouts may happen for reasons other than learning outcomes. There may even be little connection between these two outcomes. It sounds logical that schools will retain the students that are performing well, but that is an untested hypothesis. We do not know how many talented and sincere students drop out due to family circumstances. We do not know  what binds these students to school, and what brings them in everyday. Is there someone watching over their mental health or is their peer group their only support? Is the peer group a reliable mentor or can some be led astray? The rate of dropouts in India is steady after primary school and I would be glad to be informed of a serious study that has investigated the reasons for dropping out. Yes, there are studies that indicate that girls used to leave school at puberty due to lack of toilets. What about schools with toilets? What about the boys? How many had to leave because the curriculum did not reach out to them? Did any feel bullied at school either by teachers or peers – and if they did, was there any recourse? Was it more macho to earn a living like a man rather than go to school like a boy? Was there social pressure to get married a the traditional age? We know that life does not wait for degrees.

At the same time we do know that each year of education enhances the earning capacity of a child by – I believe the estimate is – 5%. The children who drop out of school lose out on higher lifetime earnings.

Which merely reflects on bureaucratic the education system.

Is there any reason for teaching to be managed by age bands? Especially after primary school different children may begin to invest in their abilities and must have a chance to be tutored in those – vocational or academic. Those who were uncomfortable at school at fourteen and dropped out cannot be abandoned – they must have other channels for learning. The sad truth is that there is just one bus for people to learn how to be literate – if you miss that bus, you are left behind. No wonder that 37% of the world’s illiterate population is in India. Adult literacy programs are inadequate, as is the concept of the community college which could easily become a learning hub for the community regardless of age or prior learning.

It is time education systems outgrew their ageism and created opportunities for everyone to learn in comfort and dignity.

 Link:
 http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/another-chance

The Admissions Conundrum

7 Feb

The admissions conundrum

Meeta Sengupta
21 January 2014, 11:02 AM IST

In a perfect world there would be enough quality nursery and university places for everyone to be able to get admission into a school of their choice. In that perfect world there would be enough room for students to change their mind and shift across schools with no stress if they felt the need to do so. We do not inhabit this world yet. In our world we have to compete, if that word that can still apply, for university seats. And we often have to settle for second best when we start our education journey.

 

Delhi has been struggling with both these issues in the past week. The recent decisions and the counter cases only bring the debate to the forefront. There are no easy answers in either case but it does seem clear that few are pleased with the current solutions that are being proposed as admissions policy. Admissions policies need to be balanced and evenly designed to ensure fair access to all. In education, as in jobs, this has been traditionally seen as best served by valuing meritocracy. So high achievers get admission to the school of their first choice and the others maybe move on to their second or third choice. Achievements in academics and sports have been recognised as valuable to universities – other achievements are probably not of academic value. Of course, mere achievements are not enough – other criteria are designed to create equitable access – and these include affirmative action quotas too.

 

Selection on merit seems to be the fairest way to enroll students till one realises the trauma of three year olds made to perform for a high stakes test that lasts a few minutes and can decide their future. Mere marks too seem inadequate for selection in universities where the objective is mainly gainful employment. On the other end of the spectrum lies a pure lottery based selection system. This may be equitable but can hardly be called fair. For starters it is unfair to those who work harder, or to those who need the seat more. This system displeases both the supporters of meritocracy and the supporters of affirmative action. Seeking the perfect admissions policy is probably like the hunt for a mirage – it seems attractive in the distance but may never be reached. This will remain a journey. In an attempt to get this right many systems have developed complex formulae to identify the right candidates.

 

The Delhi nursery admissions criteria seems to be a case in point where private schools now do not have the right to select their own students and the admissions are supposed to be on the basis of standardised criteria. Schools have protested this ruling even filing a case in court which delays admissions this year. The situation is fraught, like each year, with poor capacity creating a skewed demand for the few good schools. Some of the criteria seem to be similar to those adopted across the world – for example – the distance from school. Yes of course little children get tired going to school, but that is a tradeoff for parents to make, not for schools to decide. Schools may intervene if students seem over tired in classes, but till there is proof that children suffer from commuting (and Delhi’s school buses are an established system) why should this affect choice? Why should student mobility be restricted? If they are a better fit in a school that is some distance away then why deny them this facility? Looking beyond traditional subjects – suppose a school has a great cricket coach, or a great dance tradition – so much so that they are able to help their students build careers out of it. Should talented students be restricted to a local school that does not understand or foster their abilities?

 

The other issue in admissions that has always evoked strong opinions is that of affirmative action. About half the seats in Central Universities and a quarter of the seats in (many) private schools are now allocated by quotas. While there may be a justifiable case for affirmative action, there may also be a case to assess the success of these policies. If they have been less than successful in raising their target groups out of poverty, then maybe the criteria or the process need to be revisited.

 

There is no denying the government its role in some social engineering, and therefore there is no denying some hard trade offs. The way out of these trade-offs is not to create more restrictive policies for admissions but to increase quality capacity. Invest in building good intellectual capacity and allow it to attract funds. The time for mere gate keeping is past if one acknowleges the need to go beyond the zero sum game in education.

Link:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/the-admissions-conundrum

The Reports of the Death of the MOOC are Highly Exaggerated

28 Nov

MOOCs are still in their infancy, their technical feasibility has been tested but little else. We now know that they work, that there is a large section of the population that is interested. How much of this is a market? We are not sure yet (yes, there are forecasts). And so we arrive at the stage, as with every innovation, where we try to understand revenue models. There are some revenue models for some MOOCs being tested now. Corporate MOOCs of course have a revenue model built in, and there are other pathways to success too.

Like any good innovation, MOOCs are clearly a disruptor. They have shaken up the market for higher education, showed up the gaps and created opportunities not only for lifelong learning but for broader learning. Not only can people breach the linearity of time and geography, they can also move horizontally across learning areas that were traditionally in inaccessible silos. As with any disruptive innovation, the establishment gets upset at the beginning as there is a clear and present danger of their way of life becoming redundant.

Universities have been asking this question since the MOOCs became a phenomenon – Is there a future for traditional universities? Will they have to change how they do things? The early consensus was that the best universities would survive but the rest across the globe could be disintermediated as these MOOCs provided better quality teaching anyway.Debatable. Debated.

Some professors who ran excellent MOOCs were gaining a large followership of a scale never seen before. The era of the celebrity professor seemed nigh. (Some even spoke of a caste system in teaching, with different classes of teachers emerging as ratings systems emerged – this may yet happen) But one could not deny the value of extending teaching from elite institutions to students across the world. Of course the better universities had made their lectures available online long before these MOOC platforms, but that did not engage students as these courses did – assignments, peer learning – the age of social learning was here.

Then the criticisms started. Some spoke of a ‘colonial’ approach to learning – where the MOOCs were designed and delivered by a benign first world to the lagging third world. An act of knowledge charity, one that was not necessarily what the third world needed. (The fact that they signed up in droves, showing that they liked and wanted these courses did not seem to affect those worrying about colonised education). Cracks started showing as some high profile MOOCs were cancelled. Some tried fees and certification and the jury is still out on those models. Some more will be tried, surely, for MOOCs need to both earn revenues and provide certification to bring value both to its market and to its creators.

And then came in the data – apparently these MOOCs were not as charitable .. oops equitable as it was previously thought. Those who accessed, completed the courses and benefited from it were largely graduates – apparently the same 7% who always win, were winning again. I wonder why this is either surprising or a revelation – MOOCs require self driven learning, one has to be dedicated and motivated to succeed. These are skills for success that are developed in schools. While some school drop outs have the committment to succeed via specific courses, these skills and other study skills are ones that they have not mastered. One of my first, and still my main grouse with MOOCs is that there is little pastoral care built into the model. Learning is not just a social process, it requires positive strokes. It does not only depend upon a good peer group, the need for validation and approval is essential for course correction when we stray, as we will inevitably.

All this may be set to change, and the next phase of the MOOC journey is almost here. No longer driven by supply side impulses, MOOCs are growing up. Much like a teenager who suddenly realises that rent and bread need money to be earned, MOOCs are just coming of age. Corporate MOOCs are already proving to be a valid model, though there are doubts on whether the appellation “Massive” and “Open” can still apply in this context. This will be an interesting journey to watch, but my guess is that some MOOC models will appear that will still fit the original ask – and will be part of the corporate learner’s bag. The pathways through the modules, the reward systems and the breadth of the learning that still fits the corporate goals will be a quick evolution. This is the easy part of the forecast.

The other cross current that will change the face of MOOCs is Big Data. MOOCs will deliver true value when the data begins to track progress, correlate it to the teaching and e-learning process and start answering some of the basic questions about how we really learn. A fundamental understanding of learning, an adaptive learning system, a responsive learning tool – this is what the future success of MOOCs will look like. Will it be an intrusive process? In a way yes, because every aspect of the online learning process will be tracked and analysed.

There will be storms ahead, including ones on privacy, on the fact that offline learning complements online learning and is not being included in the studies, and even on the fact that every bit of experiential learning and talent cannot be mapped precisely in a big data driven analysis. The MOOCs will have to weather all these storms to survive – naturally, they will evolve.

MOOCs are just beginning their journey. They have merely passed the first milestone and established their viability. There are many avatars that they will take – there will be MOOCs for conflict education, there will be MOOCs designed to support the successor to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), there will be others designed to meet the much maligned skills gaps between education and employment. Much of the MOOC model still needs to be created – such as the governance model. The supply chains of MOOCs too will need to be crafted for efficiency and not just for service delivery. Much will change, but what will remain the same is the fact that finally the learner is at the centre of the process. And this is why the MOOC will not die – it has become the doorway to better access to the learner and the learning process.

* With apologies to Mark Twain for the title, but as with much else, he seems to have said it before anyone else.

Meeta Sengupta
27 November 2013, 11:17 PM IST

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/the-reports-of-the-death-of-the-mooc-are-highly-exaggerated