UnpackED is the one stop source to get a comprehensive perspective of issues in school education. It is highly recommended to those who are looking to understand the nuances. If you are the person who is curious to understand education, if you are the person who feels perplexed with the complexity of the problem, this is the book to go. You can order the book here.
Assurance from my side - The whole book and all arguments are evidence-based and reasoned. You will have to struggle to find rhetoric. FYI: The book has 155 references. So, don't worry about that.
- I have tried to think of the core reason behind the poor education system since long. Many reasons are quoted in discourse but none of them were satisfactory explanations. I felt the need to explore each of these and explain why they aren't satisfactory. At the same time, identify the core reason, using evidence. Unless we understand it, attempts to reform can end up being ineffective.
- The reform in education is being approached from a fragmented manner - some viewing it only through the lens of curriculum, some only through the lens of economics etc. I felt the need to view all of these comprehensively.
- As far as I know, there is no one place to refer regarding Indian school education. This book is an attempt to put together evidence across different strands and infer insights from it.
- In the context of New Education Policy, right lessons have to be communicated for wider discourse so that we don't repeat mistakes. Someone had to say all this and hence!
[You can order the book here if you happen to like the arguments by this point.]
In simple terms, the problem is not of the category of 'concentrated tasks' but that of 'implementation intensive' category.
What's wrong with this? There is nothing wrong with identifying these as the problems but what follows this identification is that the reasons for these problems are again miscategorized as 'concentrated tasks'.
For instance, the problem with teacher training is identified as the problem with the content of training (concentrated task) whereas the problem teacher training is primarily is regarding its implementation intensive process, which requires constant iteration and not being amenable to rules. When content is identified as the problem, all efforts towards improving teacher training go towards designing content ignoring the main problem.
Same happens with critical thinking. The moment one talks of critical thinking, the discourse steers towards curriculum (concentrated task). However, the challenge is with its implementation intensive process - the task which requires high discretion but has to be performed in a low-capacity system.
2. Scaling up innovations and setting up parallel structures - Overlaying interventions on low capacity systems
Scaling up innovations is one of the popular approaches to reform. The underlying assumption is that system lacks ideas and hence a good idea has to be infused. When innovations are scaled up in a system where the basics aren't in place in terms of ensuring teacher attendance and where the system doesn't have the capacity to train the teachers, these end up being ineffective. Over the time, it might also end up building backlash from teachers as they start feeling as lab rats.
The other suggested approach is to set up a new system afresh. Overwhelmed with challenges in the existing system, some suggest setting up a new system of schools with a new cadre of teachers. Eventually, the all end up facing same problems as the old ones - teacher absence, lack of appropriate teacher training and so on.
All of this is the result of glossing over state capability deficiencies.
Argument 6: How to approach the education reform?
The first step to reform is to acknowledge and internalize that the critical constraint is weak state capacity and to make it as an anchor for all initiatives. What does this mean?
The book details the broad approach. Sharing the gyst below.
Step 0: Experience of other countries who have increased capacity of broken systems says that it starts with appointment of motivated people at key positions. These are not the median people whose beaviour changes with incentives. They are strongly committed.
Step 1: Ensure that basics are in place - teacher attendance, process efficiencies etc. This requires brute force and strong political will.
Step 2: The way to address the capacity - autonomy cononondrum is to increase the capacity of eco systems. Capacity is crudely a mix of motivation and skill (more details in the book). Reform approach should address these head on.
Motivation - Experiences and also as documented by reports of CPR suggest that key functionaries in education perceive themselves to be inconsequential. The challenge is to break these mental models. This is only a broad goal but the ways to do it can be different.
Skill - We have to get away from traditional approach of trainings. External organizations who specialize in this area are to be engaged to perform this.
More details in the book.
Needless to say that aspects noted in Argument 6 are to be done away with.
Public education system should be strengthened with the approach of enhancing state capacity as the anchor, restrictions on private schools should be eased and should be let to operate and contribute to the extent they can, and long-term efforts must be made to make community part of the governance system.
The book discusses the role of private sector in education, problems in private schooling space, their limitations, advantages. It summarizes evidence on vouchers and discusses its applicability to India.
[Marketing: You can order the book here]
While I argue that reform in education is a deep surgical process which requires fixing of lots of nuts and bolts, there are some ideas that I consider worth trying. Some of them are already discussed in public domain. Some ideas that I consider new are summarized below.
1. Power to schools and teachers to hire training agencies: The traditional approach to training doesn't seem to be working. It's time to try new approaches where schools or appropriate level (block, district) can be given powers to hire an external agency of their choice to help them with training. The extreme form of this approach can be vouchers to teachers, which can be used to get training from places of their choice.
2. Bi-furcate board exams: Board exams set the standard to a median school. If these are as rote as they can get, it trickles down the system. However, efforts to increase its quality is met with political opposition. One way out of this could be to bifurcate the board exam where students have two options in each subject - basic version and advanced version. The basic version would be same as the current level. Advanced version would test using quality questions.
This provides a chance to students to signal their ability in subjects of their choice by opting for advanced version and at the same time backlash can be avoided as students can always choose the basic version. The idea is to gradually improve the basic version.
3. After-school support systems: Students who once fall back find it difficult to cope up (refer book for evidence). After school support is essential especially for first generation learner and hence needs attention. This is a fertile ground to test the idea of vouchers as vouchers in this aspect doesn't threaten the existence of government schools and teachers thus reducing the political economy hurdles.
4. Skill vouchers to teachers of low-cost private schools: A significant section of students these days attend low-cost private schools. One of the problems in this space is the lack of investment in teacher training owing to constrained revenues. In order to build a better eco-system of teachers in our community and to help students of schools, it is in wider public interest to support training of these teachers. Training to these teachers can be made part of the Skill India program where teachers get skill vouchers which can be used at an institution of their choice.
Hope you liked it. So, now go and buy the book here and read it in detail. In case, if you need assurance for value to your money, you can check the reviews. Sharing a review below.
"A revelation in the policy space of Indian school education