Transcending policy prescriptions emanating from parochial world views

In school education, when an expert points something as a constraint and offers a solution along those lines, ask yourself these questions
  • What is the background of the person — what is his/her area of expertise?
  • What is the constraint being pointed out and what’s the solution proposed?
In most cases, we find that, there is convergence between answers to first and second questions. It means that the answers could be in form of pairs such as
  • the person has expertise in pedagogy
  • the person identifies lack of appropriate pedagogy as the constraint and offers solution along those lines.
In other words, the problem identified by the person is same as the area of expertise of the person. This raises fundamental questions.
  • Did the person identify the problem as pedagogy because he/she is expert in that area and sees scope of improvement there? OR
  • Did the person consider all the existing constraints for analysis and then identify pedagogy as the constraint?
Without knowing answer to these questions, we can’t ascertain whether the person’s response is emanating from a systematic analysis or if it is just a parochial world view.

Such parochial world views have severe impacts on the discourse and policy making because those parochial world views feed into the policy discourse shaping the policy architecture of the governments. Constraints pointed by such parochial analysis may not be the real constraints. The person may be pointing these as constraints just because he/she happens to have experience in that. Such prescriptions crowd out the other important aspects, that may be the real constraints.

An important exercise that can be practiced during policy consultations is
  • Ask the area of expertise of the person. (Let’s say the person answers pedagogy/curriculum)
  • Ask — Do you think there is any other constraint more important than pedagogy?
This forces people to think out of their comfort zone.
  • Repeat the question two several times. Suppose say, the person says — governance, ask — what apart from governance and pedagogy is the problem.
  • After the person identifies several aspects as constraints, ask — why didn’t you mention these earlier?
If the answer is that the person either didn’t give much thought about them or that the person doesn’t know about them in detail, hence didn’t speak about it, then one needs to exercise severe caution about that person’s prescriptions.

The unfortunate part is that people with such parochial views are adamant about their views and refuse to see the world with any lens other than those they are comfortable in.

Indian education policy has historically been dominated by pedagogists and moral value advocates. They have viewed education only through the parochial lens of pedagogy ignoring the systemic aspects of governance structures over which the pedagogical practices are mounted.

In fact, it has been a part of traditional discourse and common understanding that an expert in education means an expert in pedagogy. When someone commented that the NEP committee doesn’t have educationists, I asked — what does an educationist mean? The reply was — someone who has taught children!

As Karthik Muralidharan points out
the reform agenda being suggested by the quantitative research on the economics of education is seeking to reform the “conventional” wisdom on input -based policies, it is worth thinking about where this conventional wisdom gets formed. At present, it comes from Schools of Education (and related disciplines) where there is a limited amount of quantitative training of students, and where there is a greater emphasis on the history and philosophy of education and of the role of education in shaping society.
Despite the mounting evidence suggesting that even the pedagogical practices good in the `technical know-how` are failing in the systems with weak capacity, some continue to believe that pedagogy is the constraint and refuse to acknowledge that ‘governance-capacity’ is the binding constraint. In fact, they even go ahead and argue that ‘governance’ is NOT the binding constraint and that the problem is ‘deeper’ hinting at pedagogy (which is against all evidence available).

For such people, anything other than reform in pedagogy is not satisfactory. Of course, pedagogy is important. The issue is that even with our limited knowledge, we can do a lot by just improving the governance. In fact, the lack of appropriate pedagogy can be also traced back to the systems of weak capacity. As Lant Pritchett argues
the issue is not the pedagogy. The issue is — why is that such problems have long not been identified and corrected?
The answer comes back to institutions-governance.

The parochial world view of some, looking at the problem of education only through the lens of pedagogy and the stubbornness to ignore other critical issues, in fact arguing that other issues aren't critical, in the face of evidence will definitely cost us a lot in the long-term.

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