Archive | Behaviour RSS feed for this section

Who Bears the Risk of Education Innovation

15 Oct

Eyes shining, a young boy walked into a small school. His hair was neatly oiled and combed. His school bag did not seem to weigh him down as he walked with steady steps to his classroom, careful to note the pathways marked. The school was a small, private institute that was known for its innovative pedagogy. Its first batch would take the class X examination this year.

Reflecting upon the challenge of the examination, I was reminded of another study circle I had encountered. “I take on students to help them know things; I can almost guarantee they will lose marks in the exam. If they want marks, they should go somewhere else.” More pedagogical innovations. The students, I am happy to report did quite well in their exams. But it was they who took the chance.

Pedagogical innovations are touted as the path to solving the education conundrum. And indeed, if we do not try new things we will never be able to change the way our children are taught. The current education system is slowly, torturously moving away from the industrial age paradigm that defined our generation. But every slight move away must go through a test of fire to prove their worth or not. Every step in the evolution is watched for enhanced learning outcomes, for effectiveness, for scale, for humanism, for access and more. The rewards of any intervention or innovation must be consistent and sustainable. It is a wonder that any innovation passes the test and gets adopted on a nationwide scale. The successes then belong to the system. The failures are discarded, and the juggernaut moves on.

The reason for putting innovations through the wringer don’t just lie on the rewards side of the scale-risk has much to do with it. The risk of innovations is high and often borne by students and their families rather than society, education systems, school boards or the government. If the child in the innovative school or the study circle does not respond well to the innovation, it is their measured performance that will suffer. Even if the interventions are good for students in the long run, but have a negative impact on immediate learning outcomes or ‘results’, it is possible that the student has to bear a certain cost that cannot be shared by the innovator.

If an innovation is adopted on a systemic basis, some of the risk is mitigated by being spread across the entire cohort. An example of this is the DelhiUniversity cohort that signed up for the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme that was subsequently scrapped. The larger the scale of the implementation, the more diversified the risk-as is true for any systemic risk. For most students at school, different examination boards represent various risk-reward profiles. When you choose CBSE, IGCSE, ICSE or your state board, what you are doing is playing one systemic risk against another to decide which fits your risk profile the best. As one grows older, we keep making choices based on our risk appetite.

There is a joke doing the rounds about engineers in India. It is said that one first becomes an engineer and then decides what he or she wants to do in life. This again is nothing but risk mitigation-an engineer or doctor for that matter is broadly assured of an income stream for life. The choice made between the ‘streams’ in India is often based on risk mitigation strategies.

A high degree of risk aversion is often observed in education, which makes any kind of change difficult. Ask a teacher to do things differently, and there is a high probability of a push back, at least initially. Even if the teacher is willing to try on a new pedagogy or technology, he or she is going to be held responsible on the previous criteria for success. Then why take the risk? They have evolved an efficient method of achieving success in examinations, then why change that. Rote learning has resilience precisely because it is optimised to efficiently deliver the goals of the assessment system while minimising risks along the way. In that sense, rote learning has won the race-its risk-reward profile meets the needs of the mass education system we seek to deliver and maintain.

It is of course up to every free agent to choose his or her own levels of risk in line with the rewards they seek. There is more variety in pedagogies at the nursery and kindergarten level in India than at other levels. Many children go to experimental schools where innovation in learning has often even been codified. But most parents are willing to take a risk in the early years, steadily moving in to more conventional ‘mainstream’ education by the time the child reaches the age close to the national/board examination. Clearly, the risk-taking capacity is higher when the stakes are lower and there is more room for innovation. Flipping that over-one needs to reduce the stakes in order to create an environment where innovation can thrive.

Ultimately the only fair question is-is there a reward for participating in innovation risk? For the designers of interventions, for schools, for school boards, for the system as a whole, there is an expectation of higher learning outcomes. But for an individual who participates in the process, there are few rewards. For them, it is probably more like being the subject of an experiment-where all the upside belongs to the system while the downside belongs to the individual. This skew in the risk-reward naturally pushes students (and parents) to choose the more traditional options in education.

The current mismatch in education is a result of this risk aversion. The reversion to the traditional mode has left students unprepared for the future. The industrial age classroom to examination hall complex survives because the rewards are skewed in favour of the education providers and the risks pushed to the consumers, the students. To break through this, one will have to ensure that the rewards for participating and succeeding in innovative educational practices are shared with the students. Until and unless that happens, we will remain trapped in tradition, unwilling and unready for the brave new world.

http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/who-bears-the-risk-of-education-innovation/

Advertisements

Time to Recast the RTE Act

8 Sep
Four years after it became an Act and a year of implementation later, it is becoming very clear that the Right to Education Act (RTE) is deeply flawed. The Act was called a sieve by this author in this very publication in 2010, and much of what was predicted has come to pass. It was a significant piece of social re-engineering where the intent was to bring the rich and the poor to the same classroom.
 
The RTE Act was a daring piece of legislation for two reasons. One, it implicitly admitted that quality education was being delivered in private schools, so they must be co-opted to serve the poorest despite the availability of government schools in their area. Second, the Act virtually nationalized a quarter of the private sector provision in school education for children, with the exception of those that could be certified as minority schools. It could have changed the landscape of learning had it focused on that—learning. Instead, the RTE chose to be an administrator’s tool to standardize schools to look uniform regardless of what was happening within classrooms. It legislated the trappings of education while ignoring the process and outcomes. While neither policy, nor a law is charged with the onerous burden of implementation, they are written to achieve certain outcomes. If one cannot get a sensible answer to the questions “how will this be done” and “what will it look like in reality”, then the formulation itself is suspect and will suffer from failures in implementation—as has largely been the case here, so far.
 
The new government has spoken of a fresh education policy, but before that it is clear that the RTE Act itself requires some amendments at the very least. We have seen that even four years after its enactment very little has changed in schools. Teachers are not doing things differently, nor has learning improved. The pressure on quality private sector education has increased—reallocating places does not enhance either quality or capacity. The Act needs to be turned on its head so that it starts to measure progress against its goals. While the popular view is that the measure of success of a school and its teachers must be the learning outcomes achieved, it may be wise to take a step forward and work towards value-add measures. Let us try to answer the questions “how much has the student learnt during the year?” and “how many learning levels did the student advance?” This not only brings the focus back to individual student abilities, but is also more fair to the teacher than an absolute measure of learning outcomes at milestones. Let the reformed law ask for achievement to be measured, not just the inputs as has been the case thus far.
 
The new RTE Act also must ensure that the implicit cross-subsidization of weaker students does not hamper learning. This shows up in two ways—cross-subsidization of fees and of classroom learning time. The current compensation offered by the government does not meet the cost per pupil for many schools, the deficit is necessarily transferred on to fee-paying parents. The cost of extras is a grey area still, and there needs to be some support to fill this gap. But the bigger gap is the learning achievement gap and that is clear at the very beginning. The Act needs to make a provision to provide remedial support. Without this support, academically weaker students slow down the class, thus lowering learning levels for all. This “learning cross-subsidy” is an avoidable cost and can be remedied in the reformed Act.
 
Age seems to matter more than learning levels in the RTE Act, and this too deserves a serious rethink as the peg to age has consequences. It means that a child with little or no learning may be asked to enter an age-appropriate cohort despite being several levels behind in learning. It has also led to undermining examinations, and indeed the authority of teachers in schools—since there are no adverse consequences of not meeting any required learning levels. One advances by age, not by competence. The RTE as it stands, stands against meritocracy. Surely, that could not have been the intent and needs to change. The most urgent reform required is in the recognition of schools.
 
There are many that provide adequate learning outcomes but do not meet the input criteria mandated in the Act. Asking these schools to shut down leaves students with options they had rejected earlier as being sub-par, and certainly not constructive when systemic strategy must be directed towards raising capacity. The Act needs to recognize that some schools can achieve full recognition, others need help to meet standards. Any discussion on recasting the RTE must include pathways via secondary recognition to such learning centres.
 
The Act discriminates between private and public schools and the amendments to the Act must include equal compliance and accountability. A school report card, school improvement and development plans, school management committees and more must be equally applied to all schools regardless of ownership. Similarly, the requirements for recognition that apply to private schools must be met by government schools too. Parity in operating and reporting must be the cornerstone for providing universal quality education. The new RTE Act must hold all schools to similar standards, rather than harp on standardization as it has done so far.
 
Interestingly, the RTE Act is a good example of a living Act with vigorous and even discordant negotiations with stakeholders over the past four years. Normally the consultation during the writing of the Act is supposed to create consensus; in this case most of the action happened after the Act was promulgated. But the Act needs more than tinkering, it needs to pivot along with the needs of the nation, and for that, it is time to recast the RTE Act.
 
Meeta Sengupta is a writer and adviser on education. Views expressed are personal.

Read more at: http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/RvmD2GywWPWjZlYd9Auq8M/It-is-time-to-recast-RTE-Act.html?utm_source=copy

 

 

 

http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/RvmD2GywWPWjZlYd9Auq8M/It-is-time-to-recast-RTE-Act.html

5 Hurdles to Skilling India

9 Jun
Skilling will power the India growth story
Meeta Sengupta, Hindustan Times
June 08, 2014
First Published: 23:03 IST(8/6/2014)
Last Updated: 23:04 IST(8/6/2014)

Skills development for employment and growth is on the front burner with a million new people to be trained and employed each month in India. The rise of this trained workforce is critical to India’s growth story — else who will power the engine? Without this soft infrastructure all investments in hard infrastructure are futile. And yet the skills story remains stuck. There are gaps in the skills story that are still not bridged while others are slow in their progress. Some others are at a standstill, for nobody will own them. There is demand and supply, and yet the conversion to higher value addition  is lagging. What stands in the way?

First, accreditation. Who certifies that the skills that trainers provide are adequate and transferable across the industry? Certification must (i) be mobile, and (ii) provide an income boost. The accrediting body assures the employer of the value of that certificate. The accreditation bodies hold trainers to account via inspections, improvements and programmes that ensure that the training and, therefore, the certificates are valuable in the market. India’s progress on this front has been slow. Where sector skills councils will become accreditors, there is a pathway though benefits are barely beginning to be visible. Till the accreditation network is in place, operational and credible, few skills certificates have a market.

Second, prior learning certification. Most vocational workers have learnt their skills on the job and are often very experienced. They do not need to retrain themselves for months on end to be able to perform to their standard. Across sectors, there is no universal mechanism that certifies the level of their skills within learning frameworks. Certifying learning with credible level markings creates a market for higher-order skills. Experienced workers will not hop on to the skills bandwagon if you equate them with young starters. Give them credit for what they know, help them upgrade.

Third, assessments. The lack of trust in assessments has undermined many certification processes. If employers do not believe that the assessment process was honest and the declared results are valid and reliable, they will not be willing to pay a wage premium. For example, the skills certification for driving licences in India has suffered because few believe it to be a credible test of skill. The distortion has made it a document that is not even accepted by the issuing authority as proof of identity, let alone skill. Without honesty within the process, it collapses.

Fourth, apprenticeships. This is an education programme that is trapped under the history of trade union negotiations with the labour ministry. The legal binds on hiring apprentices have made it all but unviable. No employer would want to enter this minefield though this is the right operational model to revive the skilling sector. Many industries ‘train’ their future employees and then offer them jobs. Much energy is expended working the legal hassles that have suffocated an excellent model for the revival of skills in large and small industries. The apprenticeship model has revived growth in moribund economies and is an excellent scaleable device.

Fifth, and the most important, financing. Often workers are unable or unwilling to pay for training that may not guarantee them a wage premium or even a job. Employers see no reason to invest in people who may leave straight after being trained. An underwriting agency is required along with a repayment plan that aligns with earnings of the trainee. The Australian model deducts repayments from salary in proportion to income. Those who earn more can repay faster. And honest repayments will sustain it for future generations.

While removing these speed breakers to skilling requires institutional interventions, it is critical to align the existing workforce with the training community to ensure steady growth even as they wait for regulations to settle down.

Meeta Sengupta is a writer, speaker and advisor in education and skills and designs institutional interventions

The views expressed by the author are personal

– See more at: http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/analysis/skilling-will-power-the-india-growth-story/article1-1227374.aspx#sthash.x0niAUmh.dpuf

 

 

 

http://www.hindustantimes.com/comment/analysis/skilling-will-power-the-india-growth-story/article1-1227374.aspx

Degrees and Leadership: Smriti Irani and the MHRD post

28 May

 

In defence of Smriti Irani, India’s new HRD minister

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 – 6:25pm IST | Agency: DNA
  • smriti-irani HRD minister Smriti Irani

Does a leader always need to be an expert? Or is a good leader one who can leverage a wide range of expertise and skills? Ask India Inc, the entrepreneurial and the baronial – and the chances are that their business successes will provide the answer before they need to respond. Of course, an expert in the area will find it easier to process information and will have an easier learning curve when entering the arena. But those who are not experts also prove to be good workers and leaders. Not all good leaders are experts, but all good leaders know how to utilise the abilities of experts.

What about education? Surely in education we need educated leaders? They have to decide on broad issues of education policy, create legislation to revive the sector, identify and clear hurdles to scale and quality. It is a growing nation that must learn to invest in its own talent to participate on the global stage. It might have been better to have a learned greybeard to lead the initiatives rather than the youngest woman in the Cabinet of the Union of India, who, as the cynics and critics point out, has received no higher education. By that logic, no CEO or leader can be allowed to hold a post where they have not gone through the ranks. Nor would there be any conglomerates – for who can be all the things that a GE CEO leads? Or a Tata group CEO?

Smriti Irani, the young Cabinet minister for Human Resource Development (HRD) does hold a complex portfolio. What is more challenging is her inheritance – she faces a wide range of issues that seem to have decided on arbitrary criteria that has had little to do with the broader goals of education. She has to work with policies that impact individuals – and almost every family in the nation. Worse, she has to figure out which of the schemes she now supervises are useful and which ones are actually destroying the fabric of the nation. The nation now looks to her to have the ability to discriminate, to judge and to invest in the future.

So much needs to be dismantled, so much needs to be reconstructed and so much needs to be built. Consider the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Noble in intent surely, when it gave the right to be educated to every 6-14 year old in the country. Yet, so badly constructed that even three years ago, this author called the act a sieve. It is in a shambles today – forcing many budget private schools to close (should they not be supported to improve?), creating incentives for schools to declare themselves minority institutions (how is it inclusive, or even a national act if the it does not apply to a minority institutions) and of course the silent elephant on the table – the nationalisation of private property when 25% of the seats in the private sector were taken over by the act. Does she have the ability to distinguish between a left liberal argument versus a economic right social left argument and decide on the right course of action?

There is no point denying she does not have the academic grounding – but the argument here is precisely this – she does not need to have that if she has the ability to channel good advice. As a leader, her task would certainly have been easier if she had experience in the field of education. At the same time she would have the disadvantage of ideological baggage that would influence her decisions. And the critics would have carped about that. It is true, again, that the ministry of HRD is trapped in the middle of complex legislation and the entire sector is moribund due to regulatory messes. Higher education institutions cannot hire or fire the faculty they need to, talent cannot be nurtured or showcased due to hierarchies and tenure based structures. Research languishes, as does the quality of teaching. Does Smriti Irani have the ability to judge which area of science should receive more funding? Can she chair a meeting of the directors of the IITs and IIMs?

Certainly she can. She is a politician, and is not in that chair to provide the academic expertise. That is the job of the other people in the room including her ministry and advisors. She is tasked with a politician’s role – one of persuasion. Of getting support for ideas that drive through to results. Her leadership will be judged on her ability to get the job done. And the job at the moment is about managing the negotiation between different ideas and priorities. Her task is to involve more partners so that education can leverage the skills and resources that are available outside the government, and indeed the nation.

If this was a personal defence of the minister, one could call on her past achievements too – these are in the public domain. This is not about the person. This is about the sad conflation of degrees and competence when degrees themselves are not designed around competencies. Degrees may be the proof of certain learning but they do not represent the sum total of knowledge, skills and attitudes – each of which are required to be successful in a job.

For long the elitism of degrees has influenced choices in India regardless of talent. And this fascination with a linear education pathway that culminates in more degrees has made it difficult for individuals to follow their talent and aptitudes. Worse, teaching and learning are reduced to the tests that seem to deny that there are other pathways to success, not just academic. And academic pathways need not map to a certain age-line.

There are many who have become successful without following the trodden path, many whose learning has been honed outside academic hallways. There are skills that a Harvard and Ahmedabad cannot teach. Let us give the new minister a chance to step up and show what she has learned. Her competence will be tested in the public eye. The least one can do is be supportive and helpful. After all, we are on the same side if we care for a better educated nation.

One last question remains – would we all not have been happier if, say, Arun Jaitley had been appointed the minister for HRD? Yes, certainly. Erudite, well spoken, a sharp legal brain, proven intellect, the ability to negotiate in tricky land – it would have been ideal. Given the huge challenge in human resources, an experienced hand would have been useful. All the more reason to support the young minister, and call on others, including the cabinet mentors, to help her learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

 

Meeta Sengupta is a writer, and an advisor an consultant in education. She tweets at @meetasengupta.

 

 

 

This was published in the DNA newspaper on May 27, 2014

Link: http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/standpoint-in-defence-of-smriti-irani-india-s-new-hrd-minister-1991680

 

https://storify.com/surnell/smritiirani-as-hrd-minister-qualified-says-shilpit?utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_tWab&utm_source=t.co

Five Principles to keep Students Safe in Schools

6 May

Whether you see it as childcare, or a place to learn, or about meeting friends – the entire premise of schools revolves around safety. We send our children to school to learn all this because we know they will be safe there.

Sadly, we know that this has not always been so – children have been hurt and abused at school. Whether it was an explicit MMS sent out by school bullies or a child being abused by the caretaker and bus attendant. These were sexual – there are other kinds of abuse that our children face from classmates, teachers and even school heads. Often we forget that our harsh behaviour can have serious consequences for young minds – take the example of the poor young girls who committed suicide in Bangalore after they were punished for playing Holi.  They clearly felt unable to deal with the consequences of the humiliation meted out to them and the school failed in providing them a safe place to learn from incidents. The school failed them thrice – once in not providing them a safe place for self expression, two -in giving them disproportionate punishment, thus becoming an aggressor (even if they thought it was okay, and had precedence), and three, in not providing them a safe place to deal with their feelings.

There have been multiple incidents since then. Some sexual in nature, some due to negligence and others due to willful harm inflicted on our children. Are our children safe at school? Will the rules help keep them safe? They may, but safety is an attitude. A safe school builds a culture of safety where there is both awareness and alertness with sensitivity. This is signaled in many ways, not just in watching out for sexual abuse. It is the task of a school to provide a safe, caring, nurturing atmosphere.

It is not easy at all. Especially for large schools the challenges are immense. There are distant nooks and crannies in large schools where anything can happen. There are times when all children cannot be supervised – for example – as they go from a specialised classroom to another, or from a sports complex to, say, the library. Children have always found ways of bunking out of school. Unless one establishes a police state within the school there is only a limited degree of control that a school can have over every moment for every child.

Some places have resorted to that. There are metal detectors outside some schools in the UK. Some schools have cameras everywhere. Other schools insist on specific routines to be maintained that restrict the freedom of students.

They are not wrong in setting up routines. It is these routines that will ensure that the school becomes a safer, more caring place. Here are some things schools do to ensure that schools are safer places:

Ensure that every part of the school is supervised by a teacher especially during break and sports. Corridor, Break and Sports grounds duties to be assigned separate from teaching duties (a teacher cannot be in a classroom and be teaching at the same time)

Create a buddy system where children are paired up, or are in groups of three. They are responsible for knowing where their buddies are at any point of time, and preferably staying with them. Another version of the buddy system that has seen a reduction in school bullying is assigning an older child to look out for a younger child in the playground. If the younger child feels any danger they have a person to approach who is responsible for helping them. The choice of the system and the specific design depends upon the needs and circumstances of the school, and the details must be designed with care. The idea is to create a watchful, caring safety net for children.

Awareness. Educate children and make them aware of their own rights over their bodies. Nobody can command them to do what is not right. (It often bothers me that when we train our children in unquestioning obedience we put them at risk. Anyone in a position of authority then must be obeyed, regardless of what they ask children to do.) Teach children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them that they have the right to say no. Teach them that their ‘no’ must be respected. Show them what to say and do to save themselves.

Include parents in the safety community. Share their tools of keeping children safe. Help them understand that often sexual abuse comes from known people. Share the statistics and the stories. Engage experts to run the communication and workshops with parents – because these are issues that are about fears, vulnerability and hurdles – and must be handled with sensitivity.

Create an atmosphere of open communication within the school. Let children chatter freely with teachers, with head teachers and each other, sharing their fears and hopes. This is no guarantee that there will be no abuse in the school but healthy and open conversations can often identify potential flash points and early action can be taken to save children from harm.

There are more lists available for school leaders that will help them keep their school safe. Even with the best of care, and the best of intentions there is no guarantee that something bad will not happen. Even so, with care, with vigilance and with supervision the school can be made a safe space. It takes effort, and this effort must be put in by the schools. At the end of the day, for a school leader – there is no substitute to management by walking around.

 

 

This was published in the Times of India Blogs on May 5, 2014 and is linked here http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/five-principles-to-keep-children-safe-in-schools

 

Meeta Sengupta
05 May 2014, 05:42 PM IST

On Cheating and Morals

17 Apr

THE COUNTRY’S MORAL FIBRE UNDER ATTACK
Thursday, 20 March 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Cheating and bribery are becoming habits at the school level itself. Students copy in examinations and pay for leaked papers. The trend carries over into politics too

Is India really supportive of dishonesty? Should we give up the pretence of being an honest country where truth and equality are valued? Because, often, India gives enough data to prove that we do not believe in truth enough to be able to demonstrate our leaning towards it. Be it the elections or the exams, whenever we are put to the test, many of us crack under the pressure and use questionable means.

Consider this chilling piece of news: A boy in Uttar Pradesh committed suicide because he could not pay a bribe to be allowed to cheat in the examination — his dream of becoming a teacher was, therefore, lost. There is so much that went wrong here: Bribe, cheating, limitations on opportunities to a career, and the bullying of the poor; the mother had to mortgage her ring to arrange for the bribe.

This is not a unique example. Cheating has been rife and is almost institutionalised in many parts of the country. It is a rare examination room where cheating does not occur in some form or the other. While as an educationist I constantly argue for smarter examination designs to eliminate this evil, one has to admit that there is an element of training for a corrupt future going on here.

Examinations that merely test for rote-learning are bound to be gamed — and we see that they are by millions of people. If the objective is to win, and the underlying principle is the survival of the fittest, then of course the laws of the jungle will begin to apply. If the examinations were not such a high-stakes hurdle, then the situation might be different. As things stand, the marks will determine whether you have access to a decent education or whether you have to chart your own path through unguided waters. The price of purchasing that certainty is often paid by crossing the ethical divide.

Things do not get better as one climbs through the education ranks — as a student one often uses pirated or photo-copied textbooks (and the cases are still in court), essays and thesis assignments are often either plagiarised or outsourced for a fee, and, one hears that laboratory test results are ‘arrived’ at in various ways. Another example: Professor Muralidharan, who has worked for years on education in India and published serious academic papers, tweeted out a case of his entire paper being copied and cited by an academic in southern India, as shown on his webpage. Brazen plagiarism must have its roots in a history of not being caught out and shamed.

Academics now are charged with producing a given number of research papers per year to get their increments and promotions. With poor research training and little time and support, many plagiarise. Others often sit on the ethical fence and split their work into the required number of papers — just to meet the rules. Honesty is clearly not a way of life even as we learn.

This shows in choices made at election time too. As a nation, we do not vote for honesty. The number of criminals in Parliament has been widely reported. The number of criminals who are getting to stand on behalf of significant political parties is known too. And yet such people will continue to get elected. A recent paper by Milan Vaishnav (for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace) estimates that the chances of winning elections for a candidate with no criminal charges against him or her is a mere seven per cent (rising to 25 per cent if there is at least one serious case against the individual). From the voters’ point of view, in a survey, a whopping 48 per cent indicated that they would be okay voting for such a candidate.

 

 

 

http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/the-countrys-moral-fibre-under-attack.html

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

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