Saving education from "educationists"

In the context of school education, for a vast majority, the term "educationist" means someone specialised in pedagogy or teaching children. This is a parochial view of education. Such parochial view of pedagogists ("educationists") results in faulty policy choices as I argued earlier.

The problem is that pedagogy specialists tend to emphasize more on aspects like philosophy of education. Such parochial view neglects the need to reform governance structures that enable these pedagogy approaches.

As Karthik Muralidharan points out, it's (partly) the reason behind the conventional input-based policy wisdom of the past

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.
In other words, pedagogists argue for more training, parachuting new pedagogies into class room without emphasizing the need to reform the governance structures of training so that the trainings are done better. Without such structures, we are just bombarding pedagogy aimlessly. As I argued in my book, today's problem is not lack of appropriate pedagogies, it's  the lack of supporting governance structures.

The other problem with the pedagogists is their exclusive focus on philosophy of education with utter disregard to the evidence and real life. Consider this example. A typical pedagogist argues that learning is a social process and lists out the virtues of education.

What this means in the real life is that one cannot segregate students who can't read and give them special attention. Dean of Education of a famous university commented the following on special reading programmes in Delhi schools.
“This is not justified. Students will start doubting themselves and their confidence will take a hit. You can’t label students as good at studies or not good at studies and segregate them. Learning is not an individual process but a social one. It has been found that a mixed ability group is always better”
There are two things to be noted from the above comment.

One, the philosophy that learning is a social process. It is perceived to be a sacrosanct principle that's never to be violated. Even if half the class is not able to even read a letter, they are not to be separated for special attention because it goes against the sacrosanct principle.

Two, the disregard for evidence - where the Professor proclaims that mixed ability group is always better. Such arguments are now refuted by a vast body of evidence which says that the 'teaching at the right level' approach, the one followed by Pratham, where students are segregated into groups as per ability, is beneficial to children. This evidence doesn't matter for those emphasizing the philosophy.

Peer learning is definitely important but one should realize that it comes at a stage where everyone is above a threshold to be able to contribute. When students aren't even able to read a letter, it is a crime to stop giving them special attention in the name of philosophy.

Also, the argument of stigma regarding separation has to be thought through. Nowhere in any learning process do people progress homogenously. For instance, in a swimming class or a Chess class, students are grouped as per their ability. They only progress to higher level once they show proficiency. One doesn't make 'stigma' arguments there. Somehow, the 'stigma' line of thinking is seen only within schools. If this approach is beneficial and stigma is the problem, then one is better off working on removing the stigma associated with it.

In fact, the inferiority complex and stigma can increase when children are not even being able to read a single letter and are placed in a context where everything is going over their head. It demotivates them to the core resulting in dropouts.

There is a time and place for every approach. It's better decided by evidence rather than philosophy. Children come before philosophy.

Overall, philosophy focussed arguments with disregard to other aspects of education and evidence, hinder progress in education. They often come from educationists - pedagogists, who unfortunately wield huge influence. Our policies of the past and even today tend to revolve around pedagogy and philosophy of education. It' also seen in teacher training curriculums where there is more emphasis on philosophy of education training as compared to actual teaching techniques. It's time to change this and save education from educationists.


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