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Six Pillars that the Narendra Modi Government should Adopt

4 Dec

‘India has become a magnet’, Dominic Barton of McKinsey is reported to have said recently, reflecting both the optimism and the aspirations vested in the country at the moment. Six months in, Narendra Modi’s cabinet has shown some sense of its own vision while very clearly not rocking the boat. Building a credible base is essential for every start-up, and this is what this government is – a start-up seeking investments. India Inc. is run by them and India’s needs are clear: growth, inclusion and freedoms.

The path to these is via a sustained, sound and progressive education system. Education i.e. the task of building a range of competencies, skills and abilities –  is the tool that will power the growth engine. While we tackle teacher shortages, learning outcomes, access to resources, school leadership etc. on a daily basis, here are six pillars, or even principles, that will enable sound choices.

Strategy is key to any good implementation. This government achieved one of the strongest mandates based on an election campaign that revealed a sharp sense of strategy, tactics and operational delivery. We need to see more of that. No policy can be implemented without a good strategy that informs all the stakeholders so that they can align their investments to the national strategy. It would be foolish for an individual (or even CSR funds) to invest in, say, community colleges, if the national strategy is going to support skills academies. If there is a goal, let us all pull together to make it happen rather than scatter our efforts because we were shy of investing in, or declaring a strategy. Designing this engine of growth and rolling it out to meet national goals is the first, if not the only task for this government. Unleashing the potential of the country lies not in its passive demographic dividend, but in its systems for an educated and productive people.

Inclusion must be about value addition and can no longer be about handouts, trickle down, low productivity, poor quality or low value added economic activity. It is not necessary that the poorest be stuck with poor quality or shallow opportunities. And this change must be driven via better education and access to fair opportunity. We have enough evidence of the people at the bottom of the pyramid achieving much – whether it is admission to a prestigious IIT or a transformative innovation that goes beyond mere jugaad. Inclusion now must give every student sight of global standards and they must be enabled to deploy their skills in ways that raise the bar for themselves, their school and community. The goal of education now needs to become one of continuous improvement and greater value addition. For each student, each teacher, each school, each college and university – the test has to be the question- “How did you make it better?” (And by how much)

Opportunities for mobility along a quality ladder e.g. via lifelong learning, are essential to enable each individual to grow regardless of missed chances. It is not just the youth, but the others too who must be included in this journey. The charge to improving this has to be led by the educational institutions. But they need to be let out of their regulatory shackles to breed a culture of enterprise, growth and innovation to ‘make it better’ knowing that they will be held accountable for the outcomes. Learning needs to engage with the goal of improving quality and value. ‘Make in India’ is a great slogan, but at this stage it is powerless if delivered to current productivity and quality standards.

Governance, as promised. Which means oversight, supervision, accountability but does not mean either standardisation or micro-management. Education gets stifled if one tries to create a one size fits all template for all individuals. Governance systems need to be minimal, designed for easy and elegant operations so that there is no reason to bypass them. The purpose of governance mechanisms is not to command or control but is to constructively identify areas for improvement and address the gaps. This is not only a call to fund gaps for quality enhancement, but also a call to use funding intelligently to incentivise good performance.

Partnerships are the only sensible way of proceeding given the scale at which education needs to be delivered and the diversity of the contexts and goals. It would be foolish to leave out private investments, solutions, energy and commitment just in the name of an ideology that has not even been able to prove itself as superior. India has some great examples of both (i) sustaining diverse ownership models and, (ii) of collaborations within the government system that helps improve learning outcomes for all.

Freedoms are fundamental to fostering entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity – all of which are essential to the growth that the nation needs. Higher Education Institutions need to raise the bar and focus on finding and working their core speciality, aiming to be the best in the world in that area. There needs to be a diverse range of teaching, research and problem solving institutions, and each needs to have the autonomy to find their own path. They remain accountable for outcomes but cannot be subject to templatisation. In schools too – there needs to be firm accountability and consequences – but much more space to engage in meaningful learning so that students grow up to be productive, value adding individuals rather than rote learning test takers.

India’s demographics are such that for many years it may end up supplying much of the world’s middle management and even leadership, but it certainly does not want to remain at the bottom of the pyramid. The way out is via education for higher order skills. Each of us who goes out, often to return to the country, is an ambassador building the nation’s credibility and therefore in a position and with an ability to negotiate on the world stage. Let India educate a billion ambassadors – each one making India proud, standing tall on the world stage, not because of the past, but because of a productive constructive present. Yes, I have a dream.

This was published in the DNA http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/standpoint-6-principles-that-the-narendra-modi-government-should-adopt-in-the-education-sector-2040252

Teacher Shortages: Malawi’s Tale

25 Feb

 

#Teacher Tuesday

 

UNESCO estimates that over the four year period between 2011 and 2015, 5.2 million teachers will nbeed to be recruited for primary school alone to achieve Universal Primary Education.. this is about 5% of the current primary school teaching force. More interestingly, only about 1.6 million of these will need to be additional teachers, the rest – 3.7million will be needed to replace teachers who will leave the force.

 

Teachers leave. They love their job and yet they leave. Why?

 

Often the answer is – teaching conditions.

 

This is a global issue. The shortage of teachers and their challenges are well known. Teachers find themselves overwhelmed, often alone and unsupported in classrooms that are inadequate and with fewer resources than required. Teacher Tuesday here is a project that aims to tell their stories.

 

Ten weeks, ten countries, ten teachers.

 

This week, we tell the story of Esnart from Malawi. She has been teaching for 25 years and now teaches others to support learning. Her biggest challenge so far? Teaching a class of 230 students.

 

(I will admit, it is daunting. Day after day. I ran a 3 hour workshop for a 1000 students with a co-teacher. Primary school students. Language teaching and story telling. Interactive. It was stupendous fun. And exhausting. To do this day after day is an act of heroism) Esnart had a class of 230 students. And inadequate buildings. She taught them under a tree. Resources in rural school is  challenge. Ten children sharing a book. Pulling and pushing, the book often tears. Many cannot afford a notebook while a slate is provided by the government. Others write in the sand. I read her interview and wonder – what happens when it rains. Is it easier to write on wet sand or dry? Or do the children not turn up to school when it rains. I hear they don’t – when it rains, it is a holiday. Many school buildings leak.

 

(I think of India, where I live now. It is not very different in many rural areas. Students study under very difficult circumstances and teachers often spend most of their efforts coralling them from around the village. They have basic resources, but do they equip the students for the world ahead? Do the teachers even have the capacity to deal with complex technology that their urban peers claim to be natural for them? I see Malawi here too, as I also see the change that is sweeping through the larger village clusters)

 

Esnart and her colleagues know that they need more teachers. Not just in the morning hours (school goes on till 11.30 a.m.) but also for the extra sessions that are put on for supporting other learners later – either after school or in the afternoon. But finding teachers who want to work in rural Malawi is not easy. They are far away from good healthcare and services. Local recruiting has helped, but even so, many of them want to relocate to the cities after their training and after gaining experience. Regulations and policy changes have supported teacher retention in rural areas – teachers now have to sign  a contract to serve in a local area for five years.

 

(Again, I map these to the Indian story – rural areas show high levels of absenteeism. Just like in Malawi, student achievement levels are far lower than is expected of their age cohort. Teachers prefer to live in the cities, traveling far to reach the schools they are posted to – often not making the long slog. India too is working to hire local para teachers, and the challenges of training local people is part of the struggle to improve quality in remote areas. Malawi is interesting in using holiday time to teach these young teachers – a policy that India would do well to emulate)

 

Conditions are difficult and motivation levels cannot remain high in such tough circumstances. Esnart highlights the difficulties faced everyday by teachers and students while being part of the solution – she offers tools and techniques to support teachers and improve their ability to deal with whatever comes their way – large classes, shortage of resources, multi grade classes – come rain or shine.

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/

How I Would Teach History

14 Nov

It started with a discussion over a sentence from an NCERT text:

“The British saw large animals as signs of a wild, primitive and savage society.

They believed that by killing dangerous animals the British would civilise India.”

This was class 9, History.

After the usual outrage on textbooks and social engineering, I was asked a very interesting question –

“When my children come to me and ask me to explain this, what will I tell them?”

And my response was – “Tell them there is more than one book”

And that is how history should be shown – it can never really be taught.

As I wondered, I began to plan my perfect history lesson.

(Never having been a history teacher, this was an exercise in pure pedagogy sans content expertise (declaring that upfront). There are many ways to design a lesson, I promise this will not become a workshop on lesson plans!)

First comes the story of the people and the peoples involved. But can there ever be just one story when it is about people, their lives and the grand battles they commanded? Can there ever just be one version of the truth or just one perspective? With a prescribed textbook there is – by definition – a prescribed version of the truth.

Of course the perfect history lesson would have great students (a range of abilities in the class, not all academic) and great resources (libraries and access to materials). And as a teacher, I’d start off the story and then send the students off to find out more. To bring stories back to each other.

What is the risk here? One, cynical students would not bother. Two, if they work individually they may lose their way, if they work in groups they may get lost in the group and be able to shirk work. In this case, I’d send them on their journey of discovery in pairs, or triads. Three, they may all come back with the same story – and that is the risk every teacher takes in an unstructured quest. There are advantages to giving the student groups their head and letting them run wild and find out whatever they can. If the topic is rich in diverse stories – say the Empire of Akbar, World War II, then I would be happy to take the risk. If the thing to be researched is remote from the context of the students or does not have much depth in its tales, then I would certainly partition and direct the students to give structure and boundaries to their quest.

I’d ask them to come back and tell each other the stories they had gathered. I’d add some of my own. I’d ask them questions. I’d tell them to ask each other questions.

(I can hear some experienced teachers voices in my head now – where will you find the time? The class will be chaotic! It will go all over the place. When will you finish the syllabus?

This is when lesson preparation comes in useful. The art of teaching is based on the science of planning. While the class looks chaotic to the casual observer, it is the teacher’s task to ensure that the questions follow a pre-decided pattern. The experience and training of the teacher must ensure that the facilitation of the learning is skillful. If a teacher depends on a general idea of where the lesson should go, it will be less than successful – the pathway of questions and stories must be managed – that is the purpose and task of a teacher)

And then, I would show them sides. If there was time, I’d ask them to act it out, to take sides and tell the tale. I’d let them feel the need to win, the urge of the cause, the power of their tools, their trust and distrust in people and the pathos of loss. The lessons of history are about learning for the future. If these are embedded in ways that they stir questions, reflections and discussions, then a large part of the teacher’s job is done.

Will the lesson end as the bell rings to signal the end of class? I should hope not. There is more to history even if one is limited by one’s prescribed syllabus. Much in history is the art of making connections between societies, civilizations, circumstances and times. There can never be a history lesson isolated from other parts of history, or even separated from geographies, the sciences or even mathematics.

What then is the role of the teacher – is it one of a connector? In these times of access to information via the internet (hopefully to most in a few years) the teacher is not the person who tells the stories. The teacher curates and stimulates. The teacher seeds and watches over to ensure that the seeds germinate. If the teacher has embedded the questions, and shown the path to finding answers, it is enough to start.

 

How I would teach history

Meeta Sengupta
04 November 2013, 06:19 PM IST

Link:

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/how-i-would-teach-history

A Letter from a gathering of Educators

6 Nov

Letter from a gathering of educators

Meeta Sengupta
31 October 2013, 11:13 AM IST

An old fashioned letter to all of you educators

Greetings from Doha. I hope this finds you in the best of health, the highest teacher attendance levels and the best student achievement levels ever.

No?

I can’t ask you not to worry. But they say there is comfort in finding others with the same problems. At Doha, surrounded by thousands of educationists, I am assured that we have a lot of company. The issues in education are similar all over the world. The good news is that the solutions too have things in common, which means we can share them.

The big questions across the world are the same- how do you get children to school, how do you keep them there, how do you build and sustain high achievement levels and how do you make them fit for life and employment. In some measure or another, we all struggle with these. And with measuring them.

We are all broadly aligned on the solutions too – put the child at the centre of learning, teachers are the key to higher achievements, school leadership is key to success, involve the parent community, use Edutech as blended learning and of course monitor and measure everything.

We also disagree about a number of things. Assessments, for one. Pasi Sahlberg calls it a virus. And yet all the success pathways seem to involve exams and certifications. We preach what only a few have dared to practice. Yes, global data does link poverty and education, and we see the poverty gap impacts education and growth. It is a vicious circle, so I don’t question the causal links, but it does set off a flurry of other questions. We disagree about systems monitoring, we disagree on what motivates teachers though all of us seem to want teachers to be self motivated and supported.

The broad themes and problems across the globe seek solutions. The good news is that many, myriad solutions are being tried. Many have been great successes. Now, the next challenge for them is to be scaleable. It is a pleasure to meet people who have trained 2 million teachers in a program. It is also remarkable to note that such a large scale of learning has been achieved in one year in other programs. Those designed for scale, with a will, with good partnerships are able to have great impact – which is heartening to note.

Is there a purpose to such large jamborees for Education, one reflects, as one must. As day 3 begins, I must admit – yes. Ideas and solutions have been gathered from all over the world to bring depth to scale and influence. Those who have access to funding are listening to those who have ideas. This is how we find synergies – by creating opportunities for serendipity.

I will add to this letter soon.. From the educationist’s paradise, I sign off  – ready to share and learn for another day.

 

 

Link: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/letter-from-a-gathering-of-educators

Three Global Questions in Education – Note from WISE13

6 Nov

Educationists from the world over gather once a year at Doha  — a city that rose in the middle of the desert powered by the gas under its sands — and share what they have done and learnt over the years to improve education. Much business is done, but even more significantly, a number of good initiatives are triggered off and receive support. This is probably the one gathering within education space, other than the United Nations, where translators are essential. To share insights into what works in Guatemala with those who are working on the ground and then to to suggest a solution that has worked in India (or vice versa) is good; It is even better when that perfect fit of problem and solution, or seeker and solution provider occurs. Three themes emerge for India: Funding, teachers and data.

India and its education naturally get attention here driven by the sheer demographics. There are only a few funding agencies that do not have at least one ‘project’ running in India. Others are daunted by the sheer scale of the challenge — and it is true that every project and initiative feels like a drop in the ocean. Globally (and we have known this), a project that serves 25,000 people is a large project. In India, it barely qualifies as a pilot scheme. And for India’s education issues — this is the real challenge. Very few ideas and solutions are able to scale up so much without collapsing, nor is it easy to manage at that scale and still be answerable to one’s donors and declare success.

The issues across the globe resonate. The biggest issue is funding. Where does one find the resources to do good work? Government funds are never enough, though Governments obviously are in a key position to have maximum impact. Outside of the Government system, there is a keen sense of competition for the philanthropic funds that are so necessary for scaling up projects that are having an impact on the ground. How do we know that they actually have an impact and are doing real work? Because each of these donors monitors and invests in impact assessment. The educators who receive these funds must watch and measure the difference they make to education achievements of their target groups.

The language of success in these is very different from the language used in Government projects — here you hear terms heard in management and manufacturing applied to the process of education. It is heartening to hear the leaders of Gali Gali Sim Sim (in India) — the Sesame Street project speak of applying kaizen, among other tools, to improve the quality of her projects.

How does this translate to India’s teacher shortage? Does India need more textbooks — is this the technology-will-resolve-for-scale solution that we are banking on for the next decade as teachers are prepared for the next generation? Will edutech solutions impact class sizes to allow the limited number of good teachers to look after more students than before? I think not, in traditional schooling, though it clearly has a role in both post-school support education and in flipped classrooms. Edutech has a clear role in improving achievement levels and in allowing the teacher to focus on what is more important in the context of that classroom. While it is not a part of the core solution for scaling up quality education (that responsibility lies with teachers and principals), education technology solutions have a strong role to play in the whole solution for improving and standardising learning outcomes.

This was published as http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/edutech-has-a-role-in-higher-learning.html on Oct 31, 2013

Edutech has a role in higher learning

Thursday, 31 October 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Very few ideas and solutions on education are able to scale up in India without collapsing. It’ isn’t easy to be answerable to one’s donors and declare success

24 Oct

Being callous with data privacy

Thursday, 17 October 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or do we depend on online contracts to determine who owns the data?

How many times have you been able to obtain a student’s examination results by simply going to a website and entering the student’s roll number? Or have known that it is possible to find out information about a person’s school records with little difficulty? Have you ever been surprised by the fact that the advertisements on your phone or in the side bar of the Facebook account seem to know the age of your children — and what you may be looking for in study materials?

Data privacy is not as much of a concern in India as it should be. Despite the massive brouhaha over snooping, most Indians do not protect their data and information. A part of it clearly is because we have come to ‘computerisation’ later in the day, which meant that we adopted the technology when many of the tools were already integrated into systems. For example, passwords. At the same time, many of us will openly acknowledge that passwords themselves are not protected as per instructions. It is not uncommon to walk into open-plan offices to see IDs and passwords pinned on to personal notice boards, or easily accessible in the drawers of desks. Passwords are also often shared between friends and colleagues.

The first question that arises is one of ownership. Who owns student data? The basic data that is collected by the school or university about the student is not the only information that needs to be protected. Student attendance records, teachers’ notes on their class performance (assuming teachers do their job and actually record student progress), student examination results and even the exam papers are data and information that must belong to somebody. If the school has claimed ownership of all this data, then it must follow that they have taken the responsibility for looking after it. Disclaimers notwithstanding — for we know that they are a cop out — the question remains.

Let us take this to the level of the classroom. Teachers all over the world lead primary school classes to greater global interaction via the Internet — via class blogs. Even geography classes using Twitter are not uncommon, where students connect with people across the globe and ask them questions about their country. What are the privacy policies for these? For discussions in massive open online courses? Are student writings open access? Should real names be allowed on Twitter — as the law wants to mandate? Facebook has myriad school study groups and semi-official school accounts. Do schools feel responsible for that data? Can they conceivably be held accountable for such interactions that fall on the cusp of student and personal lives?

There is, of course, the point of view that says that such data and information does not need protection at all. Does it matter if the information is publicly available? Both students and teachers are vulnerable. The recent furore over a Central Board of Secondary Education circular that asked schools to put details of teacher salaries etc in public domains is a good example. Over sharing such information puts the individual at risk.

As inter-connected technologies become an integral part of our education system, one of the big questions that needs to be asked is: Whether this is a matter of school policy, of individual contracts or of national regulation? Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or will the web of contracts that we agree to online define who owns our history and information?

This, then is a question of personal sovereignty.

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer newspaper on October 17, 2013 and is linked here

League Tables are Over-rated

17 Oct

League Tables are over rated. Then why do we pay so much attention to them?

09/13/2013 |
Just this week the annual QS league tables were released, and as expected Indian Universities were not in the top 200 or 300 ranks. This has been the trend for years in all the league tables including the Times Higher Education Rankings and the Shanghai Rankings. The distress at not ranking high is palpable, but before we do aim to do so, it might be a thought to review what league tables can and cannot do for us.

League Tables are over rated, clearly. Then why do we pay so much attention to them? Because they are all we have as a tool to bring an objective comparison to the quality of institutions of education.

Every soul of some erudition knows that the right thing to do is to look into the middle distance, then narrow their eyes and shake their head while slowly saying, “Well, you know… league tables.. they are not really a measure”

True. They are not a measure (of what? Presumably Quality). They are a collation of proxy measures of Quality in education institutions that enable comparison.

League tables can only measure the things that can be quantified. Their criteria have to be designed in such a manner that ensures that they are able to collect data from all educational institutions in a consistent manner. This is their claim to fame – being able to bring objectivity and therefore the ability to compare across contexts.

There is a lot that cannot be captured by league tables. Some will say, especially in education, that none of the real things that matter can be captured by league tables. There is as much truth in that as saying that a photograph in two dimensions cannot capture three dimensional reality.

So, while research output can be measured by the number of papers published, one cannot really use that to judge the quality of those papers. To manage that, one tries to restrict the set to journals that are of known and accepted quality, often peer reviewed. If the papers are accepted by these journals, then they will be included in research output, else not. There are a few problems here. As every academic writer knows, journals are often accessible to a certain clique who are the guardians of tradition (another proxy for quality, possibly). Each journal has its own style of analysis or writing. So a young bright academic finds that even good work has to conform in many ways, and if rejected, they must then recast it for another journal – and that means rewrite completely. If the academic – and in our example a bright young academic – is to be judged on the quantity of papers accepted, then it would be quite unfair to that person. On the other hand, those with access to the journals would be able to churn out many more articles than their research warranted. To create three papers out of one significant piece of research is not unknown.

Then if mere quantity is not enough, one should look for research impact – that is objectively measured in citations. Well, that is the best objectivity can do, little more. One could – and I do not know any league tables that do that – include citations included in papers that supported patent applications. If a paper has been in the citation chain for an actual innovation patented, then it has impact, else the research was merely theoretical.

Before the historians and philosophers start baying for my blood, let me step up and say – I agree! Research is meant to be theoretical. It is meant to add to the body of knowledge regardless of its current usability. There are enough examples in the sciences too that point to innovations that were used decades later. When they were created, they would not have added to the count of any league table, especially if they languished merely as working papers.

Similarly for teaching and learning. How can we measure for teaching quality? Discussed here. We can measure for teacher qualifications, for student achievement in standardised tests, but who can really say objectively that excellent or quality learning happens in the classrooms of this institution and not at another. How can they be graded and ranked? There is only so much league tables can do. There is no way the impact of learning can be measured across the lifetime of the learner. Nor can any league table ever measure the value of peer networks – though this is where it gets interesting. While there is no clear metric to peer networks, the universities that top the league tables are the ones with the most useful networks.

What the league tables cannot cover is the culture and ethos of an organisation.
No league tables can capture what the HBR case study on gender and class just discussed here

Does this mean we reject league tables straight out?

Of course not.

But when we use and quote league tables, especially in education we must do so with caution and cognition.

Firstly, do not take them too seriously. They are a snapshot and serve a particular purpose. They cannot serve all institutions and countries, but can merely indicate what is important to most. For example, India may not be ready to climb up the league tables yet – it may not be the priority for the nation as discussed here.  If India wants to make a place for itself on the league tables a priority, then it should focus on that, as described here

Newspaper and magazine league tables have to be a simple composite in order to be able to have a global span. But there are other ways of constructing comparative benchmarks that may be more productive depending upon the need and the purpose of that benchmarking exercise. All benchmarking exercises do not create rankings as league tables must. Quality can be tracked through simple yet sophisticated exercises that can easily be designed according to the need of the group or individual institutions. Till we invest in creating more customised benchmarks and trackers, we will have to make do with league tables.

India Continues to surprise in Global University Rankings

17 Oct

India continues to surprise in global university rankings

Meeta Sengupta
03 October 2013, 09:19 AM IST

India does manage to have some interesting things happening in the education manthan – the churning that traditionally threw up the treasures of the world.

And this time the crown goes to Panjab University that has managed to rise above all other Indian higher education establishments and is ranked between 226 and 250 in the world. Still low, for a country as educated and populous as India, but a significant achievement nonetheless. Panjab University has been known for its commitment to its faculty and academic standards, and it is good to see acknowledgement of that effort in global rankings.

Of the three or four major global higher education rankings, the Times Higher Education rankings are the most comprehensive and the most popular. With heavyweight analytics by Thomson Reuters and the might of the Times group in publication, the reach and rigour of the rankings is unparalleled. The strength is in the methodology that is revised and updated and here is a link to the criteria the university managed to score more than any other Indian university http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking/region/asia/methodology The rankings have noted the global shift from the West to the East in the higher ranks. This is a steady progression seen over the past few years and the younger universities of the east have worked hard to make themselves known in the upper echelons of the rankings.

Can this be managed? Can one climb up the rankings at will? Of course this is not an easy process that can be accomplished overnight. But like any assessment system one can work towards what is being assessed, work harder at those aspects and move up league tables. This is not to say a system is rigged – it is not. It is merely recognising and adopting a set of criteria seen as essential to defining a good university. Can Indian universities do this? I had written about this before in another publication and it is linked here ( http://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/1876684/standpoint-what-will-it-take-to-get-indian-universities-into-the-league-tables) This is of course a pragmatic and narrow view of progress at any university. All good universities will do this and more, depending upon their context, needs and goals.

How did Panjab University do it? We will have to ask them of course, but they seem to have done exceedingly well in the citation indices. They clearly focused on the criteria and were able to rank higher than the prestigious IITs too.  (May I please take a self indulgent I-told-you-so moment here?) Here is what Panjab University’s scores look like on the Times Higher Education page – http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/2013-14/world-ranking/institution/panjab-university While the University scores under 30 points for each of the criteria for teaching, international outlook and industry income, the scores are very interesting for their research and citations. Panjab University scores a mere 14 points for their research, but a colossal 84.7 for their citations ( 30% weightage) pushing them neatly into the middle leagues – to bring their overall rank to between 226 and 250. This is a leap forward for India that struggled to get mentions even in the two hundreds. Punjab University did receive a grant of almost Rs. 35 crores for investment in research infrastructure in acknowledgement of its good work in quality research and research papers. It was among the top three universities along with Delhi University and Hyderabad University, and amongst 14 to receive such appreciation.

Does that make Punjab University the best University in India? Today, it does. They deserve congratulations for their achievements. As with everyone who achieves leadership, we now wait for them to reveal their secrets to their peers, in the spirit of collegiality that will take Indian higher education forward – for this has to be the real goal. It is not enough for one institution to do well. Each institution will do different things well, and it is only when we share and embed best practices across higher education institutions that the students and academia will gain.

 

This was published in Times of India blogs on October 3, 2013 and is linked here http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/entry/india-continues-to-surprise-in-global-university-rankings

Who Owns Student Data?

17 Oct

BEING CALLOUS WITH DATA PRIVACY

Thursday, 17 October 2013 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped
 Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or do we depend on online contracts to determine who owns the data?

How many times have you been able to obtain a student’s examination results by simply going to a website and entering the student’s roll number? Or have known that it is possible to find out information about a person’s school records with little difficulty? Have you ever been surprised by the fact that the advertisements on your phone or in the side bar of the Facebook account seem to know the age of your children — and what you may be looking for in study materials?

Data privacy is not as much of a concern in India as it should be. Despite the massive brouhaha over snooping, most Indians do not protect their data and information. A part of it clearly is because we have come to ‘computerisation’ later in the day, which meant that we adopted the technology when many of the tools were already integrated into systems. For example, passwords. At the same time, many of us will openly acknowledge that passwords themselves are not protected as per instructions. It is not uncommon to walk into open-plan offices to see IDs and passwords pinned on to personal notice boards, or easily accessible in the drawers of desks. Passwords are also often shared between friends and colleagues.

The first question that arises is one of ownership. Who owns student data? The basic data that is collected by the school or university about the student is not the only information that needs to be protected. Student attendance records, teachers’ notes on their class performance (assuming teachers do their job and actually record student progress), student examination results and even the exam papers are data and information that must belong to somebody. If the school has claimed ownership of all this data, then it must follow that they have taken the responsibility for looking after it. Disclaimers notwithstanding — for we know that they are a cop out — the question remains.

Let us take this to the level of the classroom. Teachers all over the world lead primary school classes to greater global interaction via the Internet — via class blogs. Even geography classes using Twitter are not uncommon, where students connect with people across the globe and ask them questions about their country. What are the privacy policies for these? For discussions in massive open online courses? Are student writings open access? Should real names be allowed on Twitter — as the law wants to mandate? Facebook has myriad school study groups and semi-official school accounts. Do schools feel responsible for that data? Can they conceivably be held accountable for such interactions that fall on the cusp of student and personal lives?

There is, of course, the point of view that says that such data and information does not need protection at all. Does it matter if the information is publicly available? Both students and teachers are vulnerable. The recent furore over a Central Board of Secondary Education circular that asked schools to put details of teacher salaries etc in public domains is a good example. Over sharing such information puts the individual at risk.

As inter-connected technologies become an integral part of our education system, one of the big questions that needs to be asked is: Whether this is a matter of school policy, of individual contracts or of national regulation? Does the security of student data require laws or policies to be in place to guide institutions? Or will the web of contracts that we agree to online define who owns our history and information?

This, then is a question of personal sovereignty.

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on Oct 17, 2013