The Ten Commandments for school education reform in India - Ensuring a Learning India S6 E.008

[41st post in the 'Ensuring a Learning India' series. 41 posts in total. One post per day. 1 more to go]

Vinod Khosla in one of his talks says that leadership is about having an internal compass. One needs to a clear vision of goal and a sense of direction to be able to take decisions in complex situations, else one might just succumb to outside pressure and do what is being asked for instead of doing what is needed. What can be that internal compass for a decision maker in school education?

I. Learning outcomes is the end-goal – One must be clear that learning outcomes is the primary end goal. Everything else should be seen as part of the process of achieving this goal. It looks obvious but it isn’t in reality. It is easy for us to mistake efforts for results, activity for progress and thus become complacent, thus.  If we don’t focus on it, we will end up doing many things but with little effect on the learning outcomes.

II. Weak governance capacity is the critical constraint currently – One must note that weak governance capacity is the critical constraint in public school education currently. If not, it is easy to be misled by other superficial visible issues.

III. Change in education is a long-term process - 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.

IV. Comprehensive approach to change - 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 should be spread across all the above five categories. Education is interlinked to several other areas and is a complex function of different sectors. It is important to recognize that the child's health (physical and mental), poverty, perception of value of education etc. also have significant impact on the system. We have to win all these battles to ensure the final victory.

V. Not everything needs to be done by the union or state government - Addressing a problem needn't necessarily be done always through a union or state government. Centrally designed schemes needn't always work.

VI. Close the feedback loop - Often, we aim to design the perfect policy in theory but forget to look at it in action. It is useful to review the initiatives regularly, continuously reiterate the initiative through continuous assessment.

VII. Don't let the best be the enemy of good, play as per your capacity - It is desirable to aspire and achieve high standards but one should act as per current capacity (state capacity should also be a factor in prioritizing policies). Else, we may end up achieving neither the high goals nor the basic ones. Prioritize as per the situation of state capacity. Some initiatives which are good for contexts of weak state capacity needn't be so for contexts of strong state capacity and vice-versa.

VIII. 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 interpreting evidence and prioritizing policies.

IX. Teachers are partners in the change making process - Most of the blame of our education system is put on teachers. But, it needn't be so. One should make them part of change making process rather than approaching them with a presumption that they are guilty and need to be punished.

X. Engage actively with the non-government initiatives – While the end-goal is to improve learning outcomes, it needn’t mean that government should do everything. It can ensure the same results but with others actively implementing (public funding vs. public provision). Others who are contributing to achieve this end goal should be viewed as partners and be given scope and enabling environment to contribute.

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