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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/

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

India needs an Education Strategy

28 May

 

May 16, 2014, 8:12 am IST in EduCable | India, Living

India needs an education strategy

India stands at a cusp today between two governments. The previous one has been serving the nation for the past ten years the new one will hopefully get a mandate strong enough to stand for the next five.

As we stand on this platform between the old and the new (regardless of which party comes back to power, though by now it seems to be fairly clear) it is a time to call for change.

First, it would be graceful to acknowledge what went well, especially in the Education sector. Much was achieved including investments in infrastructure, near universal enrolment at the primary level, acknowledgement of the private sector contribution, the groundwork for the entry of foreign universities to India, the almost universal acceptance of the RTE Act (flawed as it is) and of course the slow but steady entry of technology in education. For each of these I can hear critics harrumphing. I agree, not enough has been done. Progress has been painfully slow. In many cases the slow progress has been a boon because the direction chosen was so obviously flawed. A generation has lost many chances. The current one must not be let down.

The good news is that much of the thinking and debating has been done for years. There are clear opinions and choices on most institutional and policy issues. The path forward is known and the structural gaps are identified. There can be nothing better to inherit for a team that knows that actions often speak larger than words. For example – it is acknowledged that Indian universities need to focus on research and international engagement to ride up the global rankings. (I of course advocate a diversified model for post secondary education that does not require all universities to fight for a spot on the same greasy pole). It is also clear that multiple accreditation bodies need to be set up with the blessings of the sector skills councils that represent the employer’s requirements  – these are to guide the content and certification of competencies to fill the skills gap. At the primary school level we know that qualified teacher gaps are a national emergency – this is already a national mission and must be executed well.

Other issues that always get pushed under the carpet are also acknowledged as being awkward – Foreign Direct Investment in education, private sector provision of primary education, the mess that the current community college model presents (when the answer is obvious to some of us) and of course the very troublesome issue of apprenticeships that falls somewhere in the gaps between the ministries of Human Resource Development and Labour. Many of the issues that need to be sorted out are ideological – tradition pulls policy towards treating it as a public good. Pragmatism and resource constraints, and dare I say it – common sense too – negates that view. At the same time one realises that the current structures, behemoths as they are may be flawed, but are the only vehicles for the distribution of the new national policies. These knots will have to be cut before the new government can begin to make meaningful progress.

Of course, some changes are easier than they look, such as the RTE Act that has been attacked by many. It is enough to acknowledge the RTE 2.0 movement that is ready to move past recriminations and chart a path to better education for all. The RTE comes with fundamental flaws that cannot be allowed to continue into the future but has clearly established the principle of social engineering via education policy. Where it fails is in arrogating private property to the state, in discriminating against the majority institutions and in creating a distrust of government aid. These flaws will only strengthen the suspicion that government wants to play big brother and nanny – a creepy thought at best. The RTE itself has many flaws such as the emphasis on input based criteria rather than on value addition during the school year (though activists cry out for output based norms for schools). Many flaws have been patched over, but fundamentally it remains a noble thought that seems to be designed for flaws to show up in operation.

The new government has all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle in place. They have all been tagged and sorted too. Now it is up to them to create a the picture that they believe will built a better future for the nation. It is time for a national action plan. What India needs is a National Education Strategy.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/india-needs-and-education-strategy/

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

3 Guideposts for Education Policy for the New Government

1 May

Classroom model to sustainable future

Thursday, 01 May 2014 | Meeta W Sengupta | in Oped

It is time for a fresh start, even if the faces are familiar. Come May, the electorate’s preferences will be known, some clever mathematics and chemistry will be called into play, and the contours of a new world will begin to take form. Whether this Government feels solid and stable to itself and its interlocutors will determine how much it is able to achieve in the first pass. The first 100 days of any new Government are typically seen as the ‘honeymoon period’ where it is given a chance to make its mark with lower risks. In education, what should the first 100 days’ spark?

The first point is to understand the imperatives. Employability in the short term, credible employables in the medium term and some fine foreign policy play to ensure labour mobility in the long term, are clear expectations from the next Government. They inherit some clear thinking and terrible implementation and now need to build operational pathways to ensure student success. So far, the decisions have been about size, infrastructure and access. The plans are now to focus on quality. And, if the reports are to be believed, the rote learning epidemic is not the only evil, there is worse — teachers, it seems, are encouraged to support examinees to shore up achievement numbers. While I have never seen evidence of an examination where the answers are written on the board for all students to achieve good marks the rumour mill assures me that this is not uncommon. Paraphrasing what Sir Humphrey says in Yes Minister, “Minister, you asked us to change the numbers, we changed the numbers…” ‘Quality’ needs a re-think too.

Going forward, planned investments are in school leaders and teachers, accreditation, community colleges, PPP models and pathways for skills and alignment of academic certifications. Lip-service paid to value education, bringing back woodworking or cooking to the high school, or even acknowledging leadership as different from teaching (it had to be said) is not enough. Indian education needs to break out of traditional mindsets and structural barriers and leapfrog ahead. Doing that will just about help the nation catch up with the others.

Are we, as educationists, able to meet the aspirations and potential of the students we claim to nurture? Can we take them to their success? This is what must drive the education policy — the need. This is not time to be coy about potential greatness. Enough with the resource constrained limiting ways of the past, it is time to aim high, pulling in resources in our wake. This means opening up access to market based solutions.

The next point is to invest in governance. Keeping a light and transparent rein on operations of all education providers, while ensuring that their processes and outcomes are visible to all — civil society, students and parent community, media and, of course, the regulators. Having multiple regulators for institutions based on their activities and aims and redesigning the governance matrices to be layered and goal oriented is needed. The new Government must minimise gate-keeping, optimise scaffolding via governance operations — in simpler language, reduce licensing requirements, and improve support structures.

The next need is to build tight structures for certification and remove all barriers to learning. Let there be no restriction on where a student can learn, let there be learning pods in markets, streets, schools, community centres, playgrounds, libraries (build more of these). And let there be multiple certifications accessible to all. Break the silos to build connected learning networks. Unleash creativity and innovation, bringing a rigour that does not let it slip into jugaad.

This is how we build sustainable futures for all.

 

This was published in the Daily Pioneer on May 1, 2014 and is linked here: http://www.dailypioneer.com/columnists/oped/classroom-model-to-sustainable-future.html

 

And yes, their headline missed the point of the article totally!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is how we build sustainable futures for all.

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

Education Quality: Equity or Achievement

2 Mar

“Who is the best doctor here?”

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

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

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

Image: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce

2 Mar

Integrated Coaching in Schools – Efficiency or Commerce?

Meeta Sengupta
02 March 2014, 09:35 AM IST

“There will be no after-school class today”

 

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

 

“Why?”, I asked.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

Quality: Equality or Achievement

7 Feb

 

 

Education Quality: Equity or Achievement

01/30/2014 | 2 comments | 533 views

“Who is the best doctor here?”

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

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

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

Image: Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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