Tag Archives: achievement

The Perils of Big Data: Don’t talk to the Profile

4 Dec

It is not an easy time for educationists. And an easy one for ideologues.

Ideologues have made their choices. They know what they stand for in education. Standardised classrooms. Common Core Curriculum, to use the name of the American version. Most countries have something similar. A taxonomy of learning styles – and lesson planning based on similar theories that evolved decades ago. Private schooling. Education as a (quasi) public good. Teacher training as academic instruction. The list goes on.

There have been traditional ways of doing things. And then, there have been grand experiments. Or what some people call experiments, others innovations. The sad truth that we have to acknowledge is that most of these have had little impact on improving learning outcomes.

As a teacher I would be very confused. Entertain your students, engage them with laughter. No, you are not a joker in front of the class, don’t demean yourself. OK then. Another one – Children learn more with peer learning methodologies, they learn more when they are doing things, they learn better with individual instruction. Children don’t need teachers, they need mentors. Teachers are just facilitators, they do not need to teach. Don’t teach, because no one can be taught, they can only be brought to learning and shown the path.

No wonder teachers have stopped teaching.

Thankfully, not all of them. We still have many wonderful teachers, inspiring school heads and balanced school boards. But many many more school teachers, heads and boards will just continue to do what was traditional. Not because they know it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only thing they know how to do. It has been done before, it must be right. We’ve survived so far, have we not?

For the non traditionalists, the news is not so good. After years, even decades of optimism about new ways of teaching, years of positive results that seemed to indicate that we are close to figuring out how to make sure that every child gets nurtured and reaches their potential – things have changed. Charter schools, experiments such as KIPP and Rocketship continue to have their ups and downs making them and private education an easy target. As a teacher, educator – I take no sides here. I stand, confused. Honestly confused. As does anyone else who dares to be honest.

Maybe it is as they said in KungFu Panda – there is no secret sauce.

Maybe it is as simple as this: Good teaching and learning depends on three things:

How much a Teacher cares
How much a Teacher knows
How many chances you get

There is no recipe, there are no fixed proportions. There is no fixed formula. Not for the whole of education anyway. One size does not fit all. Yet all solutions that seem to emerge these days are seeking scale and aiming for standardisation in the name of improving standards for all. Despite the fact that there is no evidence that such standardised education provides any improvement in learning outcomes. The quest for the secret sauce continues.

Evidence stands in favour of none: Neither the innovators, nor the standardisers. Not the private sector, nor the public sector. Each has had their failures, their moments of glory. Each has had impressive improvements that the others race to chase for a while. Often it works, even across countries and contexts. Often it does not, and we lay the blame on the ‘Lost in Translation’ effect. Am I oversimplifying this? Trust me, I am.  Even the ideologues would agree with me that we would love to see more proof, more evidence of what works in education.

There isn’t enough evidence, we complain. If only we knew more about what each student was doing, what clicked for them and where they zoned out. Maybe we should be watching them more. Let us monitor them using technology – keystroke analysis, pupil dilation, brain stimulation. Let us watch them in the thousands, millions across the world. Big data. And then try to reduce that to a simple formula. Then we will know, won’t we – that a child in the third grade who slows down after two hours is unlikely to make it to higher education. Right? Or similar results. Let us profile the children and then design for the profile. I am sure we will improve learning outcomes by teaching to the profile.

I am not a profile. I am sure none of you reading this are a profile either. Nor are our children. We are people. Creative, dynamic, unique and diverse. And we have had enough of adjusting to an education system – we now expect the education system to adjust to our aspirations. The goalpost has changed. No longer does the education-industrial complex work, nor are classes relevant any more. Classes serve one type of profiling, Edu-tech solutions serve another type of profiling. The hurdle ahead of us – as educators – is precisely this: How do we design for the person, not the profile?

I stand here, as one of the learners, and I repeat: Don’t talk to my profile. Talk to me.


Assessments: CCE or a Single High Stakes Exam

4 Dec

Can one go back from the CCE to a single exam?

You cannot go back to the past. It is gone and we have to plan for a smarter future. Even in the class X assessment system, the students who met the minister may want to go back, but times have changed. Having bemoaned the loss of the sturdy yet simple Class X examination, it still comes as a surprise to me when there are reports of students who have asked for it to be restored.

The old system had its merits and problems. It’s greatest advantage was its simplicity. A strong reason to reinstate it is that the old Class X exam was an excellent base line test for higher education. Marking the culmination of ten years of primary, middle and secondary education, it tested for the basics in a way that was equitable and accessible. The fairness of the exam had been tested and improved upon year upon year. Operationally it was no mean feat – tens of thousands of papers across five subjects are ferried across the nation after having been anonymised, checked to a standard, verified and then marks allocated to the right student. The process needed to be error free.

But the stakes were too high.

The future of the students depended upon this one exam. This would determine whether they would have access to subjects of their choice or would be relegated to the boondocks populated by ‘non-academic’ students. This was an act of judgement that could cost a student every hope they had of aspiring to be a doctor or and engineer, a computer scientist or an inventor. A slip here – a bad day, a fever or simple panic and the student knew that they had very likely consigned themselves to a different kind of life. In the Indian system, sadly, an Arts student can never apply to be a doctor, nor a commerce student change tracks to become a bio-physicist – for example.

The high stakes had to go. The pressure was building up on a whole generation in ways that were unsuited to their age. Parental pressure, tuition culture, grade inflation and mindless rote learning were some of the evils that emanated from that single exam system.

In an act reminiscent of the story of the monkey who sliced the king’s nose off when charged with guarding the king, the exam itself was scrapped. The stakes needed to be lowered, the incentives needed to be changed – why scrap the exam then?

Students, it seems are clamouring to have these exams back. I’d be cautious about that too. These were not necessarily representative of the entire education population, nor of all students. This was an interaction where they shared their personal views, no more. For one, the students seem to hate the CCE (continuous and comprehensive evaluation) system. In this very forum, on this blog we have shared the student voice with very valid arguments against the CCE. I too have stood against the CCE – as implemented. Not as designed. The idea and the design of the CCE are in keeping with the times. The students have been subject to a version of the CCE by a teacher cadre that has received little training or support in the implementation. It is up to the school and its teachers to figure out how best to make it work with little sight of the goals and the design principles of such a system. It is inevitably a confused implementation that is highly unlikely to appeal to either students, parents or teachers.

The CCE has its merits too. It gives students many chances to get it right. Each test, each project, each piece of work in their notebooks now earns them some value towards their grade. This not only gives schools a chance to customise according to the needs of the students and the local context, but also gives better grades to those who perform consistently. Most importantly, it does not put all the pressure on the three hours of the examination system held at the end of the academic year in an unfamiliar location. It has moved the goal posts from being an exercise in mere rote learning to much more – if implemented well. It therefore gives the education system a chance to keep up with the times and reward students for demonstrating  21st century skills of collaboration etc.

Does it actually do that? Not yet, but it can.

It is sad if poor implementation of a good idea forces one to regress to a solution that had been operationalised well but was inappropriate for the times. The solution now is not to revert to the old system – that solves nothing. The solution now is to find a path using all the pieces to hand to engineer a solution that works to assess student performance fairly in ways that test for consistency, growth, ability, competences and knowledge.

India is a country that has traditionally favoured the middle path. Here, happily, the middle path is available easily. It may not be a bad idea to restore the national class ten exams AND reduce the stakes. Design smarter assessments including examinations and CCE. The final score may include the results of the national exam but merely as a component of the overall two year score as is currently designed. Upgrade the CCE to be meaningful and efficient. Retain grades, but create a formula that works to the goals of testing and assessment for that level (which really cannot be much more than baseline and competence mapping for encouraging personalised learning plans). Design a system that will benefit millions in a generation to identify their potential and work to their aspirations for the future – not the past.

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

http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/educable/can-one-go-back-from-the-cce-to-a-single-exam/ on November 21, 2014, 6:49 pm IST in EduCable | Edit Page, HRD ministry, Smriti Irani | TOI

Learning from One Another

16 Sep

“When children teach other, they learn better”. I remember hearing this from a teacher in a simple school in a small town. Then I heard the same last year from Vicky Colbert WISE Laureate – indeed this is what transformed education in Colombia via the Escola Neuva system. Through difficult terrain, poor communities, scarce resources – here was a power to be harnessed – the peer.

Learning from each other is a natural way of picking up knowledge and skills. As children and as adults we learn by watching each other, even more so by copying each other’s actions. The next stage is trying it out – learning by doing. There is an old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” But there is one more step. A recent study of retention in learning marked out a pyramid where ‘learning by teaching’ showed a retention rate of 90%, compared to a 5% retention rate for a lecture or a 30% retention rate for a demonstration.

What does that look like in a classroom? A class full of teachers will be chaotic surely? If all the students are teaching each other, then what is the role of the teacher? The role of the teacher evolves to being so much more than a passive fount of knowledge. A peer learning class needs to be arranged differently. They are given challenges, tasks and resources. They share their learning journey, nudged and directed by the teacher till all the students have reached basic competence in that learning module. This means that the style of teaching must be very different. Not only is it more participative but also engages the teacher in different ways. The learning resources became important but what is most important is the question asked by the teacher that sets the children off on the adventure. Too wide, and there is chaos. Too narrow and they are merely parroting lines to each other, even copying from each other mindlessly. This is a trap the teacher must avoid – the point of peer learning in classrooms is to encourage students to think and engage with the learning. Not just copy from each other or the board.  Designing the question, organising the class, managing the range, channelling energy constructively – the teacher’s focus moves to these in peer learning classes. And learning levels go up more – not only has each child been engaged, each child has received personal attention from the teacher and has been taught using a pedagogy that improves retention levels.

Changing pedagogies midstream is always a bit daunting for most teachers. Only few would have been trained in peer learning, others will have to figure it out on their own. Unless, they have a peer learning group. What is applied to the classroom can, and does work for teachers too. Teaching and learning is enhanced with peers (or why would schools exist!) and the best teachers keep learning new techniques and sharing them with their peers. Not just colleagues.

There was a time when peer learning was restricted to one’s circle of colleagues and the only peer learning network that was active was in the staffroom. Occasional training sessions extended it for a while to peers across other schools or in the same district. Technology has now removed these barriers. Peer learning groups are being supported by tech companies such as google, by newspaper groups such as the Times (UK based, working in India) and others. Facebook groups are a great way of creating peer learning networks across the country and even the globe. Look up a group to join, or even create one of your own. It doesn’t have to be all serious and theoretical for learning to happen. For example, we used to share little stories of what happened in class with the Facebook group. Sometimes we would share laughter and often it would get responses that were very supportive and helpful. Teaching tips can be shared. Another great tool to create a peer learning network is twitter. Teachers and educators come together and discuss ways to improve their teaching practice or other issues in education. The Indian education chat is called #EduIn where one can meet a community of educators. Others are more global and include groups for new teachers, teachers learning to incorporate technology in their classes, mathematics teachers etc. Shared blogs with multiple contributors work as peer learning for both teachers and students, as do whatsapp groups. Both the flipped classroom model as well as peer learning pedagogies can use these tools extensively.

Whether peer learning is technology driven or not, there is a great deal of value in peer learning groups. In Punjab, STIR and NISA are working in the Rajpura district of Punjab to bring teachers together regularly to speak about in class innovations, teaching practices, solutions and experiences. The teaching community meet at one of the schools in the district on a regular basis and worked together to share and learn. They were able to improve many outcomes in the school district in a short while, but of course there is a lot more to be done. Similar efforts have been in place for decades in Rajasthan and other places.

Peer Learning Networks do not have to be an overly formal construct – each of us can create a PLN where we identify and nurture our sources of learning. While many of us do so naturally it is more of a conscious effort for others. A PLN gives better results if there is a semi-formal structure around it not the least because it ensures that we put in the time and resources required to make it work. A semi-formal or formal PLN will also set its goals, monitor progress and have a community of care that helps it course correct as required. For example, subject based peer learning networks of teachers could be very useful where they share teaching tools, resolve classroom hurdles, share worksheets and quizzes and even create intra-school events. Sometimes only a peer learning network can help – or even understand what the problem is and how to find your way through the maze.

Peer Learning is not a magic wand that resolves all problems but it does form the basis of sustainable solutions. This is where we tap into all parts of learning – previous knowledge, relevant experience and the adventure of sharing to grow our skills together. The PLN grows together as it encourages and supports the whole group to improve themselves.

Meeta Sengupta is a writer and advisor on education. She designs institutional interventions to improve learning outcomes and bring a sense of fun and movement in classrooms. She can be contacted at meetasengupta@gmail.com or on twitter at the handle @meetasengupta


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