The Ten Commandments for school education reform in India

Any major reform process broadly follows three stages.
  1. Change in mindset: Most of the major reforms have an underlying philosophy or a frame of thinking behind them. At this stage, the major battle is about changing this mind set.
  2. Transition: After the underlying philosophy is turned into specific policy, the next stage is the transition from old system to new system and trying to smoothen the edges.
  3. Policy in action: The implementation of the policy and trying to tighten the nuts and bolts. 
I would argue that most of of the things in education are still stuck in the first stage and there is lot to be done here. There isn't much that has happened and hence not much data on how these things play out in action to be able to make an in depth analysis and recommendations. In this context, I will stick to the first stage and only share the broad frameworks and guidelines which can act as pointers to specific policies.

A note be fore moving ahead: These needn't be the only commandments and they needn't be exactly ten. This terminology is just for convenience.

One, learning outcomes should be declared as the goal of the education system. Everything else should be seen as part of the process of achieving this goal. Many people have spoken on this and this seems obvious but it isn’t.  If we don’t focus on it, we will end up counting easily achievable things like building schools and colleges as accomplishments even though they have little effect on the learning outcomes of the children.

Two, change in education is a long-term reform. It might take at least the next 10 years, even if we get everything right. We should act accordingly and not expect to see results in short term.

Three, reforms in education should be comprehensive. There are broadly five different aspects to education reform. 
  1. Economics of education: How much money is spent? How efficiently is it spent?
  2. Governance: Aspects related to accountability, performance, and infrastructure.
  3. Pedagogy: How do you teach a particular concept? What are the problems that students face? How does one assess a child’s learning?
  4. Sociology: What is the purpose of education? Is it about making better citizens? Is it just about building skills?
  5. Politics of education: Dealing with teacher unions, and other political challenges associated with reforms. 
The initiatives of the government should be spread across all the above five categories.
Four, focus on governance capacity: Making the government agents work. One might conduct a foolproof teacher-training programme but it isn't of any use if not translated into teaching in class and the results of the students. 

Five, centralized schemes needn't work: Even the best-designed schemes might not work in a local context. Instead of centralized schemes,  promote innovation clusters; each cluster can consist of some neighbouring schools. If improving reading ability of students is the goal, instead of launching a 'Padhe Delhi' scheme, make 'improving reading ability' as the goal of teachers, encourage these groups to come up with solutions and support them in the due process wherever required.

Six, close the feedback loop: Often, we aim to design the perfect policy in theory but forget to look at it in action. A slightly better approach is to evaluate certain interventions. The best approach is to continuously reiterate the policy design through continuous assessment and closing the feedback loop.

Seven, know that education is interlinked to several other areas: Education is a complex function of different sectors. While we may all do everything correct regarding the schools, we may still end up not achieving the results. It is important to recognize that the child's health (physical and mental) , poverty, perception of value of education also have significant impact on the system. We have to win all these battles to ensure the final victory.

Eight, differentiate between necessary and sufficient conditions: A teacher training alone might not work and similarly the other initiatives. Along with teacher education, a whole range of factors have to work to see improvement in learning outcomes and other results. It is very important to keep this in mind while evaluating policies and prioritizing them.

Nine, teachers are partners in the change making process: Most of the blame of our bad education system is put on teachers. But, it needn't be so. It is useful to genuinely understand the problems being faced by teachers, try to address them and make them part of this process rather than approaching them with a presumption that they are guilty and need to be punished.

Ten, engage actively with the private system and public system initiatives: While the government keeps working on improving the public education system, there is good work being done by the private sector and by outside public system initiatives. A growth thriving environment should be provided to these.

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