Finally got the video recording for a really interesting session that I had the privilege of steering at the FICCI Higher Education Summit in November, 2012.
Posts Tagged ‘indian education’
The Indian government has allocated USD 1.15 bn or INR 6,308 crores for teacher education in the 12th Five Year Plan under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education. Approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in March, 2012, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) formally approved it this month.
The 11th Five Year Plan had allocated INR 2500 cr or about 0.45 bn USD out of which we were able to spend only INR 1600 crores or USD 0.29 bn.
The approval was almost entirely based on the report created by the National Council for Education research and Training (NCERT) almost exactly 3 years ago in August, 2009. This is incidentally a report that I have reviewed and critiqued earlier.
The 59th CABE Meeting at New Delhi in June, 2012 devotes a significant chunk to deliberations on this scheme under the heading “National Mission on Teachers and Teaching”. As the CABE notes suggest, this National Mission will be a focal point for all things related to teacher education and would focus on issues such as improving supply gaps, working conditions, remuneration, professional development, recruitment, institutional quality and use of technology.
It is proposed to launch a National Mission on Teachers to address comprehensively all issues related to teachers, teaching, teacher preparation and professional development. This will be one of the major thrust areas of action during the 12th Five Year Plan. The final contours of the Mission and its operational features are under discussion. The Mission, however, would address, on the one hand, current and urgent issues such as supply of qualified teachers, attracting talent into teaching profession and raising the quality of teaching in schools and colleges. On the other, it is also envisaged that the Teacher Mission would pursue long term goal of building a strong professional cadre of teachers by setting performance standards and creating top class institutional facilities for innovative teaching and professional development of teachers.
The same section also had a mention of the report of the Kakodkar Committee, which essentially made a case for increasing Ph.D output from our engineering and technology institutions (new buzz is 10,000 PhDs by 2025). Left me a bit puzzled why it was mentioned under the National Mission for Teachers and Teaching. Perhaps our engineer PhDs from the IITs will re-engineer our teacher education problem. What about getting more PhDs in education in a concerted manner? Similarly, the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative 2012 also gets a mention.
Under the thrust on technology enabled learning, network facilities (under the National Knowledge Network, NKN) and the work of the National Mission on Education using ICT (NMEICT) that focuses on content creation for both under- and post-graduate courses including the provision of Virtual Labs, gains centre focus. However, no mention of using the NMEICT to generate teacher education resources is specifically made, which is extremely vexing.
I wish the planners and the experts the very best for the implementation in the 12th Five Year Plan. They are going to need it.
I have no words to describe the contents of this report, Comprehensive Evaluation of Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Restructuring and Reorganization of Teacher Education, NCERT, 2009. It is a must read for those involved in Teacher Education in India.
The Scheme was initiated in the 8th 5-year Plan for India (1992-97). It was from this plan that District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), Institutes of Advanced Studies in Education (IASEs) and Colleges of Teacher Education (CTEs) and later, Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs) were established. Currently, 571 DIETs, 104 CTEs and 31 IASEs have been sanctioned (most have been funded). The report reviews the impact and functioning of these entities, particularly in the context of the State Councils of Education Research and Training (SCERT).
The report has to be seen in context of the current developments as well. The focus on the Right to Education, the growing numbers of students from Grade 1-8 (195 million), the current imperatives of teacher education, the state of the economy and pubic attitude towards education, are all factors that need to be kept in mind.
The report sampled 61 DIETs, 45 CTEs, 22 IASEs and 24 SCERTs on various parameters:
- availability, adequacy and utilization of physical infrastructure and staff,
- pre-service, in-service programmes, research, innovation, development and extension activities,
- adequacy and utilization of financial assistance (central and state)
- monitoring and evaluation procedures followed for ensuring efficiency and
- effectiveness of the institution and networking with national, regional, state, district and sub-district level institutions/organization involved in school education and teacher education.
The report outlines a grim story. My key takeaways:
- The Scheme has been unevenly implemented across various states of India
- There have been funding anomalies (in terms of money reaching the need on time and in full)
- Lack of adequate physical infrastructure and learning conditions
- Weak inter-institutional linkages
- Lack of proper direction by SCERTs
- Almost negligible effort at building capacity and leadership capability
- Huge shortage of skilled professionals
- Inimical/low pay structures and lack of status a big deterrent and demotivating factor in this sector
- Lack of appreciation of institutional role in the employees and leadership
- Extremely deficient implementation of NCF 2005 , the guiding light of Indian Education
- No consistent or widespread internal monitoring or performance measures
- Multiple authorities to listen to
Largely speaking (and there are exceptions), real aims (as I see them) have been impacted. Creation of content, research, teacher training, leadership development and other important imperatives have largely been left as expert words on policy and vision documents.
The reality is that we are an under-staffed and under-funded, not very competent, confused and over bureaucratic bunch of people in teacher education today. The report ends with recommendations that are true to form (my take):
- Consolidate under one authority, but decentralize responsibilities
- Strengthen existing institutions, and create some more institutions (BITEs – Block level IETs)
- Absolve responsibility by asking NGOs who are doing “innovative work” to take up training
- Increase funding, number of employees and scale/coverage/quality of training, by essentially reiterating the objectives with which the scheme was designed in the first place
The report is a must read – all 114 pages of it – for all those who are interested in transforming the educational system. Start with teachers. They are your best bet in our context.
(Following is a paper I wrote a few months ago. The conference where I submitted it perhaps did not think much of it, but I hope you will!)
Worldwide, there is immense concern on how we will meet the educational needs of a rapidly growing young population. The challenge is compounded by many other trends – growth of infrastructure, gender disparities, growing inequality, changing student needs, rapid technological change and the challenges of economic globalization. Current educational systems are based on an imposition of structure and the belief that scale challenges can be efficiently be met by imposing more order and structure, rather than a realization that a shift to more self-organized and adaptive systems may be more desirable. This paper argues that we must leverage scale to meet the challenges of scale.
There are some important challenges that need to be studied in order to understand the contours of the problems we are presented with.
Reports show that the young populations (5-24) are expanding rapidly in developing and less developed countries. Not only that, the base of the pyramid (primary school enrolment) is expanding very fast and Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) at each stage up the pyramid are also increasing rapidly.
The 2009 figure for the number of students pursuing tertiary education was 165 mn, up from 28.6 mn in 1970. Sub-saharan Africa has the highest average regional growth rate. But their numbers are still behind the rates of growth experienced in China and India. 
In India, the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is extremely low (12%), even as compared with other BRIC countries (Brazil is at 34% and China at 23%), despite having the third highest number of students in the world. In the last 25 years, Higher Education enrolments have been growing at a CAGR of 6% with the current tally of 16 mn students expected to be 40 mn by 2020. 
In more developed countries like the USA, GER is high (82% in 2007) and the number of students in higher education reached around 19 mn in 2009. So these countries are reaching their upper limit in terms of GER for tertiary education. They also have a much smaller young population (30%). In contrast, the population in the developing and less developed countries is very young. For developing countries, this figure stands at 48% (0-24 years) and for the less developed countries, this stands at 60% [3-4].
This poses severe stress of traditional investment driven educational systems – both from funding infrastructure and from the challenge of recruiting skilled teachers. In particular, as infrastructural and social conditions worsen going down the scale, the problems are exacerbated.
Gender and Income Inequalities
Gender disparities have also played a major role. In North America and Europe, the balance has shifted towards females whereas in sub-Saharan Africa, South and West Asia, the balance goes the other way. One of the factors is definitely the pressure to earn a livelihood which is perhaps greater for males than for females in these regions .
Economic disparities are known to be wide between the developed countries and the developing and less developed countries. What is worse is that models that have created havoc in developed countries such as student debt programs (the next bubble) and ad-hoc privatization, seem to be making their steady way into the much larger scale of developing and less developed countries.
Changing Student needs
The needs in developed countries have changed towards greater use of technology . Learners are changing from passive receptors of information and training to active participants in their own learning. This is a viral change, so it is really fast. Today’s digital learners are part of communities. They share their interests with members of their community. They twitter. They blog. They rake in RSS feeds and bookmark their favorities on de.li.ci.ou.s. They share photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube. They share knowledge on Slideshare and Learnhub or Ning. They share ideas. They grow by meeting and engaging peers and gurus alike using the LinkedIn or Facebook. The collaborate using their laptops and on their mobile phones.
This change is sweeping across to the developing and less developed world depending on what kind of information, network and other resources they have access to. For these regions, the pressure is on being able to earn a livelihood and to do it from an institution that is of value when seeking employment.
Rapid technological change
Technology is proceeding at a rapid pace too. Joseph Licklider wrote about man-computer symbiosis in 1960 , extending from Norbert Weiner’s work on Cybernetics. Licklider wrote on the Computer as a communication device in 1968  where he saw the universal network as a network of people, connected to each other, and producing something that no one person in the network could ever hope to produce. Lick’s efforts led to the creation of the first Internet.
The rest is history. The ARPANET emerged in 1969. By 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had created the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) which marked the birth of the web, and the internet started growing exponentially.
By 2005, Tim O’Reilly had marked another phase of the evolution of the Web and called it Web 2.0 . While the earlier web was about connecting people to resources, this web was about people being able to create their own content, search it, share it and digitally collaborate around it. It was about harnessing collective intelligence ushered in by services such as Amazon and its recommendation service, and the rise of social networks such as Facebook.
There is an even greater change that is looming on the horizon – that of the Semantic Web. Web 2.0 is collapsing under its own weight. The gigantic amount of information that is being created every day is burying search. So instead, we are moving towards Web 3.0 – the promise of a ubiquitous, semantic, location aware and contextual web – one that Tim Berners-Lee originally envisaged and is working towards with his concept of Linked Data .
The implications for education are enormous. John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid, opine that institutions need to reinvent themselves stating that these technologies “offer new ways to think of producing, distributing and consuming academic material” .
Order vs. Chaos
We all like order. We love order. Order means getting dinner on time, flights without delays, people not jumping the queue, police to keep criminals in check, doctors to give the right medicine, politicians to govern responsibly, teachers to teach well….the list is endless.
On the other hand, we all hate chaos. Chaos is messy. It is unpredictable. It cannot be controlled. It creates confusion.
In the face of scale constraints, there are some vast over-simplifications that are made during the entire design process. We conceive of a “design” process that has the stereotype of a student, teacher, educational environment and process. We then proceed to hammer out a unifying certification and assessment system that actually drives all learning.
Why do we make such assumptions and over-simplifications? And, incidentally, these are not only found in education, these are everywhere.
My belief is that rather than wanting order from chaos, it’s time we started wanting more chaos from this order. I am not saying we address deficiencies in the system we have conceived. Rather I am saying that we ought to question our conception of what our educational system is and investigate alternate educational futures.
In fact, by the early 20th century, people started looking at phenomena that could not be described by this classical, ordered view of a system. There were many phenomena, they argued, that did not fit into this classical notion of order – there was an element of probability that threatened the concept of order and predictability.
It has become apparent that closed-loop systems like we have in education are just one form a system that exists in real life. All around us we have systems or models that are complex, open and distributed. They are made up of networks of elements that have strong relationships with each other and with the environment in which the system exists. Like the weather.
Fritjof Capra writes that “[T]he emergence of systems thinking was a profound revolution in the history of Western scientific thought…The great shock of twentieth century science has been that systems cannot be understood by analysis . The properties of parts are not intrinsic properties, but can be understood only within the context of the larger whole.” This kind of thinking has caused a shift from analysing “basic building blocks” to understanding “basic principles of organization.”
These behaviors are in evidence when we think of education. As knowledge expands, as technology improves, as data becomes bigger, as problems become more complex, the system needs to adapt. Initial conditions have changed. For example, the number of students that the traditional systems need to “process” has increased exponentially. When we give our children the right to participate on discussions on what they want to learn and how, new behaviors do emerge. Not only that, based on events in the environment, for example the need to speak a particular type of English with the BPO boom, systems do tend to self-organize.
These systems exhibit certain very interesting phenomena. It is not possible to look at any one element in the system and make assumptions about the behavior of the system itself. For example, a gas particle is defined by its position and velocity. However the gas has properties like temperature and pressure. Not just that, under different environmental conditions, the gas may exhibit entirely different sets of properties i.e. new behavior may emerge.
Secondly they exhibit self-organization or the spontaneous emergence of order – “new structures and forms in open systems far from equilibrium, characterized by internal feedback loops and described mathematically by nonlinear equations.” Look at the behavior of a flock of birds. You must have noticed how beautifully they fly in a self-organized formation even though there is no one bird that acts as the head.
Thirdly, scientists also found that very small changes in initial conditions for these systems could lead to very large differences in outcomes. This was first found when Edward Lorenz studied weather patterns and gave this phenomenon a new name – Chaos.
Fourthly, these complex systems are also adaptive. They change and are in turn changed by the environment they belong to.
Capra points out his synthesis of the three essential characteristics of a living system – pattern of organization (Maturana, Varela), dissipative structure (Prigogine) and cognition (Gregory Bateson, Maturana and Varela) as the process of life. In my opinion, education is just that – a living system.
Since the elements of a system are networked, there is a huge value in deciphering patterns of behaviours in a network. For example, organizations are built hierarchically. But the way work gets done in the organization resembles a network. Stakeholders are connected to each other in multiple ways spanning across traditional silos in an attempt to get the job done. We observe that information has many cores of distribution, not just one. We observe that an individual when replaced in an organization changes the network structure and consequently some of the efficiencies in the system, especially if she is a link between multiple sub-networks.
Research into these patterns of relationships between elements in a network has also covered significant ground. Stanley Milgram, in 1967, undertook a project to research the quaint expression “it’s a small world”. His research proved that it was possible for one individual to connect to anyone else in the world in an average of only a few steps – popularised as the six degrees of separation .
Sociologist Mark Granovetter introduced the concept of weak ties – the conclusion that occasional interactions and loose connections between individuals are sufficient to generate strong social outcomes . Social network theorists and analysts have extensively researched the form, structure and cognition (or dynamics) of networked structures. Not surprisingly, they have found a great deal in common with the work done in systems thinking.
But in our quest for order, we have consciously excluded precisely this kind of emergent, self-organizing, chaotic, adaptive behaviour. In principle, therefore, and we see enough evidence of this, we have managed to limit creativity and innovation and perhaps the birth of new knowledge.
Distributed Educational Systems
By Distributed Educational Systems (DES), I mean the ability of the educational system to distribute itself over its elements – students, teachers, content, technology, certification and placement.
Traditional educational systems have a tight integration of the components. Education policy sets down a certain set of powers and constraints for each and for the collective as a whole. When expansion is considered, these elements must move as a whole to a new setting. This is costly and time consuming.
Instead, what if these components were individually empowered? For example, could teachers also certify, like in the old gurukul system in India. The challenge would then shift to enabling teachers and providing shared infrastructure.
This poses grand challenges to policy makers because they would lose control, often couching arguments against such a system on grounds of quality and standardization. DES are anarchic in that respect.
Brown and Duguid discuss forces will enable DES. Their 6D notion has demassification, decentralization, denationalization, despacialization, disintermediation and disaggregation as forces that “will break society down into its fundamental constituents, principally individuals and information.” They suggest the formation of “degree granting bodies”, small administrative units with the autonomy to take on students and faculty, and performing the function of providing credentials (read “degrees”). They recommend that “[i]n this way, a distributed system might allow much greater flexibility for local sites of professional excellence.”
Ivan Illich, forty years ago, stated “The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring.”
A significant development is the development of the theory of Connectivism as a new theory of learning for the digital age. Propounded by George Siemens (2004) with its epistemological roots in the theory of Connective Knowledge postulated by Stephen Downes [14-15], Connectivism stands contrasted to major existing theories of learning and knowledge by its emphasis on learning as the ability to make connections in a network of resources, both human and device and by the amalgamation of theories of self-organization, complexity and chaos as applied the process of learning.
Connectivism embraces and extends the following principles:
- Learning is the process of making new connections
- Connections are a primary point of focus and could be to people or devices
- Connections expose patterns of information and knowledge that we use (recognize, adapt to) to further our learning
- Networked learning occurs at neural, conceptual and social levels
- Types of connections define certain types of learning
- Strength and nature of connections define how we learn
- Networks are differentiated from Groups (by factors such as openness, autonomy, diversity, leadership and nature of knowledge)
- Knowledge is the network, learning is to be in a certain state of connectedness
- Chaos, complexity theory, theories of self-organization and developments in neurosciences are all extremely important contributors for us to understand how we learn in a volatile, constantly evolving landscape
Connectivism focuses on the distributed nature of learning and knowledge, the explicit focus on networks as the primary means of learning. As George Siemens states, “connectivism, as a networked theory of learning, draws on and informs emerging pedagogical views such as informal, social, and community learning.”
Over the past 4 years, efforts to test this theory has led to the emergence of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) format. These are environments which are open, autonomous, self-regulated and adaptive. There are now multiple MOOC instances led by different communities (e.g. CCK, Critical Literacies, Educational Futures, LAK, eduMOOC and MobiMOOC). Thousands of people from across the world have joined these “courses”.
Other theories and frameworks such as Jay Cross’s Informal Learning, Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice (CoP) and Brown and Duguid’s Network of Practice build upon the networked and distributed nature of learning.
For example, defined by knowledge rather than the task, CoPs are different from social networks or teams because they are not only about relationships or tasks. Rather they are about the shared learning and interest of its members .
In Connectivism, learning becomes the process of making connections and knowledge is the network. As Stephen explains “Just as the activation of the pixels on a television screen form an image of a person, so also the bits of information we create and we consume form patterns constituting the basis of our knowledge, and learning is consequently the training our own individualized neural networks – our brains – to recognize these patterns.”
Connectivism applied to contemporary challenges facing educators creates nothing short of an inflection point. In an appeal to end course-o-centrism, Siemens writes “What is really needed is a complete letting go of our organization schemes and open concepts up to the self/participatory/chaotic sensemaking processes that flourish in online environments.”
In this context, let us identify what DES would have as essential components.
The first attribute of a DES would be its disaggregated nature. In the traditional system, we are used to the concept of courses – a slow evolving, closely bounded collection of resources, with a temporal performance monitoring and assessment mechanism built in. This format requires that there be a design process and the presence of experts who would provide authenticity. Courses are a hegemonistic element of the traditional system – the raw elemental form of structure upon which institutions are based. Associated with these courses are certifications or degrees – proof that students are performing or have performed. DES would move from courses to un-courses – loosely defined collections of content brought together and grown through participant activity to answer a competency need. This is not reusability redefined because the premise of design itself needs to be deconstructed in this new context.
The second attribute is decentralization – but not in the sense of delegation of a control structure – but in sense of agency to the decentralized entities. DES would empower and support agents of the system – teachers, students, experts and employers – to impart high quality learning at local and global scales. What DES will do is to allow units lesser than the institution, howsoever organized, to engage in educational activities. In this sense, DES could represent local networks of practice. Closely linked to decentralization is also the concept of disintermediation – the removal of administrative and legal/policy barriers in the operation and powers of such local networks.
The state’s role (or that of private education providers) would then be to provide these networks or clusters with adequate access to technology and shared infrastructure. It would also be to bring about cohesion in the interests of regional and national vision and goals.
Open-ness and Autonomy
The third attribute of DES would be its open-ness. The term open can have many connotations. It could mean transparency and accountability. It could mean adaptive to change and open to critique. It could mean barrier-less to different genders or income parameters. It could mean autonomous in the sense that they would be self-organized and self-regulated. Open-ness and autonomy are two crucial factors in enabling local networks to become self-sustaining and valuable.
For example, a local carpenter’s guild could potentially serve the learning and livelihood needs of the young to engender competencies enough to meet local needs and challenges, without having to go through legal structures of legislation or even the attitude of privatization. Similarly, information systems could record and share learning activity and resources globally across similar such guilds across the world. Units of the DES, howsoever defined, could act as curators of this information for their audience.
This is really a democratization of the process of and the systems for education by individuals and small glocalized networks .
This fourth attribute of a DES is its distributed networked nature. While going local, it is necessary to connect globally. Information access is the first enabler; infrastructure and resource availability comes second. When information flows seamlessly and without constraints, when networks become open to connections and collaboration, innovation allows indigenization and assimilation of knowledge. The challenge of DES will be one of discoverability – how does information travel to those who need it? – a reverse search of sorts.
These networks of education could be local, seeded by local communities, their skills and needs, at the same time could be federated to align with regional and national goals and connected with a global environment. We need to allow these networks to self-organize and self-regulate. Instead of funding centralized initiatives, we need to fund and empower local initiatives.
Instead of building cadres of educational bureaucrats and technocrats to staff superstructures, we need to invest in building an architecture of participation across these networks so that they are equipped to take decisions about how education should be.
The Road Ahead
What will this take? Firstly it will take awareness building. Secondly, it will take capability building (not only leadership for the community, but also the vital skills deemed fit to make education a high quality practice). Thirdly, it will take creation of formal structures or spaces where communities can be seeded and supported. Fourthly, it will take a shift of control and a corresponding alteration of the power structures. Fifthly, it will take the loosening of barriers – legal or procedural – to promote freer flow of resources through the local systems.
This would be a strategic shift in policy. From being responsible for implementation, to being responsible for coordinating, supporting and training local communities to support the national needs and vision.
And, of course, it will not happen overnight.
Change is inevitable. One possible alternative education future is described in this paper and many more need to be researched and evaluated contextually. It is my hope, that through the thoughts in this paper and worldwide research in alternate educational futures, policy makers, educationists, designers and entrepreneurs alike, will embrace change.
This paper would not have been possible without the insights of great thinkers referenced in this article and the support of the worldwide MOOC and informal communities from whom I learn every moment. In particular, I would like to profusely thank George Siemens and Stephen Downes for their support and continued inspiration.
 OECD (2011). Education at a Glance 2011: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, 2011
 Ernst & Young. Making Indian Higher Education Future Ready, E&Y-FICCI, http://education.usibc.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/EY-FICCI-report09-Making-Indian-Higher-Education-Future-Ready.pdf, 2009
 Press Release. World Population to exceed 9 billion by 2050, UN Population Division/DESA, 2009
 UNESCO Institute for Statistics. Global Education Digest 2009, UNESCO, 2009
 Lenhart, Amanda, Madden Mary, Macgill Alexandra R. and Smith Aaron. Teens and Social Media, Pew / Internet, http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/230/report_display.asp, 2007
 Licklider, J.C.R.. Man-computer symbiosis, 1960
 Licklider, J.C.R. and Taylor, R.,The Computer as a Communication Device, 1968
 O’Reilly, Tim. What is Web 2.0, 2005
 Berners-Lee, Tim. Linked Data, http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html, July, 2006
 Brown, John S. and Duguid, Paul. The Social Life of Information, Harvard Business School Press, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Life-Information-Seely-Brown/dp/0875847625/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1229549494&sr=8-1, 2000
 Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life – A New Synthesis of Mind and Matter, Harper Collins, 1996
 Watts, Duncan. Six Degrees – The Science of a Connected Age, Norton, 2004
 Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society, Harper and Row, 1976
 Siemens, George. Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm, December 12, 2004
 Downes, Stephen. An Introduction to Connective Knowledge, Hug, Theo (ed.) (2007): Media, Knowledge & Education – Exploring new Spaces, Relations and Dynamics in Digital Media Ecologies. Proceedings of the International Conference held on June 25-26, 2007, November 27, 2007
 Wenger, Etienne. CoP: Best Practices, Systems Thinker, http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml, June, 1998
 Downes, Stephen. The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On , Half an Hour, http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2008/11/future-of-online-learning-ten-years-on_16.html, November, 2008
 Siemens, George. Time to end “courseocentricism”, elearnspace, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2009/01/14/time-to-end-courseocentricism/, January 14, 2009
 Wellman, Barry. Little Boxes, Glocalization and Networked Individualism, http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~wellman/publications/littleboxes/littlebox.PDF
Education has always been considered by planners as being for the people. Consequently, a lot of effort by private and public entities have placed great effort and emphasis on just one aspect – how do we educate people?
This is not entirely democratic.
A democratic view of education also considers education to be by and of the people. This means a shift from centralized top-down standards based global approaches to local and indigenous, decentralized system of education albeit centrally facilitated and guided by national goals.
This means that we have to look at empowering local community and small scale industry/agencies to support and take ownership, directly or indirectly, reducing the dependence on large scale national players as the only option for public private partnership.
What does this imply? This approach is not in conflict with government controlled initiatives and structure. It is merely a different way of looking at the problem with a certain relaxation of control and greater autonomy to local stakeholders.
While a nationally centralized approach may mandate guidelines like the NCFTE (National Curriculum for Teacher Education, 2009) or the NCF (National Curriculum Framework 2005) , a centralized approach cannot work for implementation, given the kind of diversity that exists in terms of language, culture, economic, social & political barriers.
Which implies that if the approach changes from being a producer of education for a mass audience to a facilitator, guide and coach model that encourages local participation that is tuned with regional, national and global needs, then we have chance of meeting our needs quickly, affordably and reliably.
Imagine an ecosystem where the local community provides some of the necessary resources for implementation of NCF and NCFTE goals alongside the resources provided by the government through SSA/MSA (Sarva Shiksha and Madhyamic Shiksha Abhiyaan) and RTE (Right to Free and Compulsory Education, 2010).
The local community includes both the resources and skills to support many educational endeavors. Structured and guided properly, a small scale industry can emerge that acts as a supplier of low cost electro-mechanical kits, lecture-demonstrations, project work, experimentation, counseling and other products and services for the local student and teacher population.
Local materials (available in the location) would be used to create these resource materials and the SSIs could be trained to efficiently produce these materials or deliver expertise based classroom support.
Let us take an example. A teacher in remote Bihar decided to teach the archaeological process as an essential in History the Harappan Civilization). She did not go with a CBSE textbook in hand or a kit produced by a giant national factory, but instead took a few artifacts similar to what existed in that civilization, dug a pit, put the artifacts in and covered it back up. The next day, she asked the students to pick up their shovels and excavate the site. With each object discovered, there was excitement and curiosity from all the students.
On a local factor scale, the community could be relied upon to meaningfully create many of these experiences and innovate over time. This would be private local entrepreneurship generating employment and incubated at the grassroots.
Essentially, what we are saying that we should try and meet scale with scale, instead of centralizing and standardizing.
What we are also saying is go local, go global, which means that while we give greater flexibility to local ingenuity, we also connect them into a regional, national and international network that they can leverage and contribute to, as well as shape their efforts to meet policy level goals of the government.
We are also making a call for disaggregation or an unbundling of resources from the current suppliers of these resources, an unbundling of the professions from the skills and dismantling a mindset that only degreed educators can educate.
All that is good, but how does one operationalize it?
That is equivalent to asking how we would operationalize a massively parallel network. Models for these abound in the network and viral marketing world and is similar to how we would propagate virally – just that someone needs to seed the model with a structured set of products and services, provide a platform for awareness generation and seed the initial few initiatives to demonstrate effects.
There is lots of talk about de-commodifying education. I would like to talk about de-committifiying education. Or at least, giving a new terms of reference to committees. Perhaps the standard Yes Ministeresque response to this post, would be to set up a committee to study the proposal to de-committify, but I am hoping someone will listen.
With all this time, money and effort being spent in constituting and executing committees that produce voluminous and sometimes erudite reports on education, the time is perhaps ripe to argue for a more transparent, open and accountable system of committees. This starts from the point where the need for a committee arises, and does not stop past the report of the committee.
What would good committees look like? And how would they really help Indian Education?
Firstly, committees should be sparingly conceived of. There could be a cumulative body of work that exists that could be leveraged or there could be efficient use of relevant existing resources to answer questions (e.g. leverage crowdsourcing, national level databases etc). There is going to be fantastic national network of more than 30,000 colleges and over 600 universities (500 more universities and 30,000 colleges more will spring up soon), connected through the National Knowledge Network, which I am sure can be leveraged beautifully at very little, if any, cost for most of the work of a regular committee in background research, data collection and fact-finding. They should also be conceived sparingly because they entail cost and time of expensive resources (our experts), which could perhaps be spent much better elsewhere.
Secondly, committees must have members that have proven their credentials at making committees work, apart from their regular expertise. If Valdis Krebs was to do a social network analysis of the members who constituted committees in India over the past 20 years, I am pretty sure it would emerge to a be a densely packed network with very few outliers, indicating that neither do new people get in to committee work, nor is it representative in the face of a growing external network of stakeholders. There must be a way to engage with newer and diverse ideas, otherwise each committee ends up reproducing their un-knowledge for years at a stretch.
Thirdly, committees must execute their tasks with details on:
- How much my (taxpayer) money was spent – honoraria, travel costs, administrative etc.?
- How was the committee work planned and organized?
- How much time was spent by each member on the committee work?
- Did the committee operate in a participatory manner – what did they do to engage stakeholders?
- Did the committee make their deliberations open?
- Did the committee members record differences of opinion? Were there reasons recorded for not publishing an opinion or point of view in the final report?
Fourthly, the final report should have gone through a formal quality assurance process as well. A minor side-effect of these reports is that people like me read what they produce and actually spend endless hours analyzing them. Was the report concise? Did it address the brief/mission? Did it provide practical suggestions or accurate analyses? Are the recommendations feasible to implement? Was the report made public for opinion to be accepted from reviewers?
Fifthly, if it is an action oriented report, were the actions and recommendations carried through by the initiating body? If not, why not? If it is a research and information oriented report, did its data make its way a publicly accessible database?
Sixthly, what did the committee do to validate the report on an annual or periodic basis? Data changes and so do other things that affect the content of a report from the time of its issue.
If I was the government, I would perhaps suggest setting up a Committee to Review Committees that would result in the formation of a National Mission for Reviewing and Managing Education Committees. Or suggest that a new breed of committees be created that will cure the ills of the existing ones. But, I am assuredly not. My only point is that committees, task forces, focus groups et al are important. They are required. Time and money should be spent on them.
However, if we do not make them accountable, open and transparent, they are at best instruments of the state or predilections of the educationist voyeur. That is a cross that the Indian Education system should not be made to wear.
One of my favorite rants is that “you cannot educate teachers using the same methods you use to educate your students“. Teachers are going through no different a process than their students. The National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education document states (quoting the National Curriculum Framework 2005 document):
Experiences in the practice of teacher education indicate that knowledge is treated as ‘given’, embedded in the curriculum and accepted without question; there is no engagement with the curriculum. Curriculum, syllabi and textbooks are never critically examined by the student teacher or the regular teacher.
The NCF 2005 document also calls for:
Reformulated teacher education programmes that place thrust on the active involvement of learners in the process of knowledge construction, shared context of learning, teacher as a facilitator of knowledge construction, multidisciplinary nature of knowledge of teacher education, integration theory and practice dimensions, and engagement with issues and concerns of contemporary Indian society from a critical perspective.
According to this press release, the NCF2005 document was built by the following process.
- Prof. Yashpal managed a steering committee of 35 members “including scholars from different discipline, principals and teachers, CBSE Chairman, representatives of well known NGOs and members of the NCERT faculty”.
- 21 National Focus Groups, chaired by renowned scholars and practitioners, built position papers on areas of curricular concern, areas for system reform, and national concerns. (Published here).
- “Each National Focus Group has had several consultations in which they have interacted with other scholars and classroom practioners in different parts of the country. In addition to the above NCERT has had consultations with (a) Rural Teachers, (b) Education Secretaries and Directors of NCERTs, (c) principals of Delhi-based private schools and KVS Schools. Regional Seminars were also held at NCERTs Regional Institutes of Education in Ajmer, Bhopal, Bhuvaneshwar, Mysore and Shillong. Advertisements were placed in 28 national and regional dailies to invite suggestions from parents and other concerned members of the public. More than 1500 responses were received.”
Of special interest in the position paper of the National Focus Group on Educational Technology. Members of this focus group include Kiran Karnik, Prof. MM Pant, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Vasudha Kamat among others and invitees included Sugata Mitra.
In reading this paper and correlating it with what finally transpired as the NCF 2005, it seems that a pattern was repeating itself – that committees have not done a good job of representing the work done by sub-committees and taking some major recommendations into the policy documents. Perhaps it is more driven by individual proclivities than the mission itself. For example, the word Internet is used superficially in the NCF 2005 (you may not find more than a few occurrences of the term itself in that document!).
This focus group looked at Educational Technology (and much has happened since 2005 in ET) and states:
The Internet can be a sound investment for continuous on-demand teacher training and support, research and content repositories, value-added distance education, and online campuses aimed at increasing the access, equity, and quality of education.
It came to some important conclusions.
- Firstly, we must look at revitalizing what we already have. We should take our existing resources and network them into a potent driving force in education. This scale that we have can be brought to bear on the challenges that we have, if we have the intention to invest in capability building.
- Secondly, the Focus Group exhorts us to encourage system reform. It asks us to ”(C)ounter the tendency to centralise; promote plurality and diversity” and “Ensure opportunities for autonomous content generation by diverse communities.”
- Thirdly, we must look at ways of creating a system of lifelong professional development and support, especially for education leaders, as a focus in in-service training.
- Fourthly, for pre-service training, it demands that we “introduce teachers to flexible models of reaching curriculum goals”. It demands that we “(I)ntroduce use of media and technology-enabled methods of learning, making them inherent and embedded in the teaching-learning process of teachers.”
- Fifthly, in K12, we must “(M)ove from a predetermined set of outcomes and skill sets to one that enables students to develop explanatory reasoning and other higher-order skills.” and “(P)romote flexible models of curriculum transaction.”
- Sixthly, in research, focus on adaptive learning, mobile learning and building capabilities for core research.
The position paper is worth a read. And it is useful to see how much of it really translated into the NCF2005. My sense so far, and I could be inaccurate here, is that for the NCF2005 committee, the position paper could be summarized as an “appropriate use of ICT in education”. It would be useful to get inputs from the Focus Group members on how their recommendations were amalgamated into the NCF2005. Alas, there is no online forum where they are visibly present where I could raise this.
What would a position paper look like in 2012? And what would it look like if we future-casted it to 2020 and beyond? And is it at all useful to create such position papers if their recommendations do not see the light of day?
In my opinion, this should be an annual participatory affair. Each year, experts and interested stakeholders should come online and generate an open (un)consensus on what Educational Theory, Research and Technology augurs for our mission to democratize education. If not anything else, the network of interested people can be built, with potential future impacts on the way education systems progress. Interested?
The following is a brief summary of the Madhava Menon report on ODL in India titled “Report of the Committee to Suggest Measures to Regulate the Standards of Education Being Imparted through Distance Mode“. The report was released in 2010 it seems.
The report defines Open Distance Learning (ODL) as a term that encompasses the “open” and “distance”. “Open” means to the committee:
- the removal of constraints of face to face conventional classroom method
- flexibility for students who need an alternative to the conventional system
- scale with equality
The term “Distance” means to the committee:
- teacher and student have a space and time division/distance
- “also involves e-learning, open learning, flexible learning, on-line learning, resource-based learning, technology-mediated learning etc.”
By this interpretation, ODL in India should be:
- Asynchronous (time separation)
- Either correspondence (print) based or self paced learning, but no blend with physical face to face modes
- At par or better quality than conventional learning
- Automatically equally accessible
The definition conflicts with reality (we are employing synchronous learning, we do contact mode blends, quality of eLearning and correspondence is questionable, infrastructure and other constraints come in the way of accessibility) and I think more of an emphasis should be placed on what these terms mean. In fact, the report goes on later to state that conventional and distance modes should be blended.
In this report, it seems that their conception is that the Distance Education model has evolved from the stage of “print material oriented correspondence education” to “the stage of self-instructional packages with an integrated multi-media approach, and incorporation of interactive communication technologies, leading towards building of virtual learning”.
The failure to appreciate the nuances of open-ness and “distance”, especially in a networked, digital world, show downstream in almost all of our policy documents and vision statements. In fact, the term “social media” or the term “Web 2.0″ fails to find a mention in the report.
The report starts with a statistical picture of Higher Ed in India including stats on ODL from 2009. The statistics show:
- Amazing growth in numbers (quoting the UGC [University Grants Commission] Annual Report 2008-09) since Independence
- 3.6 mn learners in ODL, as compared to 13.6 mn in traditional HE; Technical and professional courses account for about 10%; About a half in undergraduate programmes, a third in certificate programs
- About twice the percentage of students enrolled in post-graduate programs in ODL as compared to traditional HE
- Apparently, the decision to allow Open Universities to enrol M.Phil/Ph.D. registrations was only taken in July 2011 subject to an 11-point criteria list (which I have not been able to locate yet).
- We will need USD 200 bn to ramp up capacity in traditional infrastructure if we are to meet demand in the conventional manner – also a cogent argument for ODLs [there are about 200 ODL institutions in India today (intake 2 mn students) and 13 State Open Universities (SOU, intake 1.62mn students) apart from the largest one - Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU)]
The statistics are updated in the UGC Approach Paper for the 12th Five Year Plan.
The committee report also goes into some level of detail on:
- Guidelines for student registration (Sec 4.6), Learner Support Services (Sec 4.7) and Assessment creation (Sec 4.8)
- ICT use through radio, television, telephone, computer, Internet and satellite (Sec 4.8) [basically limited to an ancient understanding of today's digital world]
In Technical/Professional Education in areas like Engineering, Pharmacy and Medicine, the estimated capacity is about 2 mn students. The report details the role and structure of AICTE and other bodies and outlines initiatives focused on the technical education domain.
Section 6 details the recommendations.
- Given the huge cost of setting up physical infrastructure for conventional HE, the committee recommends more effective utilization of resources (physical resources to be made available to ODL community in multipple “shifts”)
- Removal of barriers and institutional (AICTE, DEC and UGC) that exist today for more ODLIs to spring up, serving many more domains, is going to be critical. DEC could take the lead in specifying a clear and unambigous high quality approach and regulatory framework, but it is not a statutory body. Therfore, a new statutory body called the Distance Education Council of India, which would be an “independent and effective Regulatory Authority on Distance Education”, should be created. All authority should be devolved to this new body. “It will be the duty of the proposed DECI to ensure that the nomenclature of the degrees proposed to be awarded through such programmes are approved by the UGC, the institute has the requisite recognition from the respective regulatory authorities, viz AICTE, MCI, DCI, etc. for the regular course in conventional mode, it is affiliated to a university, it has developed the self learning material of desired standards, it has a credible system of counseling, evaluation of assignments and examination, it has the necessary infrastructure including laboratories, library, class rooms, etc. and qualified counselors as per the relevant norms.”
- Sec 6.14 (ODL in Conventional Universities) did not make sense. It attempts to restrict ODL departments in conventional universities from offering any program not offered conventionally, to stay geographically within their governing Act’s jurisdiction adn to not franchise learning centres to “private unorganized colleges or organizations” – the last perhaps would a death knell for organizations such as Sikkim Manipal University, as this would apply to State Universities as well.
- While talking about Open PhDs, the committee states, perhaps very impactfully since UGC reversed it in 2011, “UGC’s decision not to permit Ph.D programme through distance education mode may be reviewed in the light of the National Policy on Education”.
- The DECI will not territorially limit programs that are totally online
- Perhaps the most interesting recommendation is on the equivalence of degree (albeit with a qualifying suffix – “through distance mode”) between conventional and ODL.
- The DECI is conceived of as being managed by the UGC and later subsumed into whatever overarching body the (proposed) NCHER bill brings in.
Reading this report leaves me fairly bewildered. I must apologise if I hurt any sentiments (as I know I will), but here goes.
First of all, we are saying that we really do not know what we are doing. With such an impressive state machinery, millions of committees and years of experience, we still do not know.
The second thing I understand is that we are not willing to learn. If one structure fails, we will create another bigger one to supersede it. Whatever happens in the world is not important, so long as we have not thought of it.
Thirdly, we will not allow others to learn. By perpetuating systems like these and holding these confabulations behind closed doors with the merry pretence of consultation with stakeholders, we will systematically eradicate the ability to learn in others. We shall perpetuate mediocrity in our thinking on education.
Fourthly, we will waste time in writing (and having others read) voluminous reports and recommendations that repeat facts figures and assertions made in numerous other reports.
In order to really meet our ODL challenges in an equitable and accessible manner, my recommendations are the following:
- Invest in enabling infrastructure so that digital technology and communications reaches every corner of India in affordable ways.
- Invest in cutting edge online techniques and research that will help meet our challenges
- Invest in creating and aggregating Open Content and tools
- Invest in building talent in Education effectively (maybe an Indian Educational Services without the bureaucratic trappings)
- Invest in building local, national and global communities and guilds that will build up expertise, generate employability and shape research for India
- Invest in data and learning analytics
- Deregulate the entire sector with the power to audit and shut down (if required) low quality providers or by imposing severe penalties of non-performance; regulate empirically rather than by design
- Focus government (yours and mine) funds in areas and sectors that have inadequate or none private focus (over time build these areas and sectors so that they start becoming self-sufficient)
- Educate consumers and give them adequate redress mechanisms
- Become open – don’t just solicit opinion from the same people, but actively reach out to community stakeholders and build the network
- Reward innovation and community contributions
Lastly. Get serious. There is enough talent and intellectual depth in India to solve our problems. Leverage that.
To say I feel tremendously happy would be an understatement. It was simply incredible to have such distinguished and enthusiastic people under one roof, both from India and abroad. I think the objectives of the conference were also served well – to promote awareness, to disrupt, to celebrate the network, to share and collaborate and to seed the beginnings of something new.
The conference website and blog will carry consolidated information (videos, articles, opinions, resources) in a couple of weeks from now. But I wanted to highlight my key takeaways from this conference.
I think we could be better organized. I also do think we could have communicated to many more people about this event and that we could perhaps have more speakers from economies that are closer to India in terms of the challenges they face. Given so many speakers, we should definitely have kept time better for each slot. My sense is that we should have organized our knowledge capture better as well.
But there are loads of things I am happy about. I made some great friends and met people who I knew only virtually before. I also loved the possibilities the conversations threw up – from scale to design to open-ness and so many things. I was also happy that our international speakers and audience got a real taste of India, and hopefully for India. I am glad the feedback is positive and we had so many people attend and interact.
There were many tensions identified and debated at EDGEX2012. The challenges of scale, policy environment, infrastructure, attitudes, quality and innovation shaped the initial context of the conference for all of us. But it was equally an exercise to comprehend alternate paradigms of thought that could have a potentially transformative impact on what India does in the future.
The point was to identify these tensions, get a shared understanding of challenges and innovations worldwide and be able to leverage a global network whose attention could be brought to bear upon India. As Madan Padaki, my co-conspirator said, he hoped that our international audience would look at ideas and immediately sense if they were relevant to India.
The way forward is the expansion of the network – to break the silos that exist today in Indian education and to proactively search for new connections to ideas and attitudes. It is my hope that India will achieve this proactively and quickly.
I have had the opportunity to interact with some school textbooks and instructional designers in my lifetime (and I am rediscovering some now). I have also had occasion to browse through India’s National Curricular Framework, 2005.
The puzzle that has confronted me has been that although there seems to be no dearth of good thinking around how curriculum should be designed and textbooks created, why did I feel challenged by the material and techniques that I see around me.
Case in point. The Grade 6 Civics textbook (they now call the subject - Social and Political Life) has for each chapter the following instructional strategy:
- Start the chapter with an interesting question or activity. Pose some questions; investigate with the help of more activities. Build conjectures, advise on what is coming ahead, raise curiosity.
- Share a fictional story that brings out an aspect of the topic. Frame questions and discussions around it.
- Seed a discussion in the classroom with an interesting question or throw a question for self-reflection, use of creativity and imagination. They call it in-text questions and exercises aimed at assessing understanding as well as contextualization by the child to her own experiences
- Build real-life contextual examples to explain concepts
- Provide interesting additional information & photographs about people, places and things; provide tables and figures illustrating and comparing facts
- Pose questions and suggest activities at the end of the chapter – recall, compare and contrast, reflect, imagine, visually identify
- Provide external references that children can refer to
If you were to look at the Grade 6 Textbook (or from NCERT), it is a fact that it is really a lot to learn. There are just too many facts to recall, too many aspects to understand and too little time available to students in the course of the curriculum. It is almost as if, despite saying that they do not want to encourage rote learning, they are leaving our children with no real choice in the matter. I don’t feel too confident I would survive too well an annual exam on the subject! Most definitely not even 10 years down the line, when the Grade 7 course material will shift downwards in large chunks into the Grade 6 course book.
Given the gravity of what is being taught, the basis of good citizenship, this is way too much of a sacrifice. This is the same for the other subjects too.
The foreword for the textbook owe allegiance to the NCF 2005 and discourage rote learning. They raise the bar by stating that they want to discourage “maintenance of sharp boundaries between different subject areas” – in itself a fairly vast enterprise that seems to permeate the shop talk of curriculum designers and policy makers currently (let’s create new knowledge!).
But this puzzle, the fact that “design” seems to have captured the NCF brief reasonably well, but has resulted in something that still will not serve its spirit (or for that matter, serve mine), seems to clear, more than partially, when I read the foreword of the textbook. It states:
The success of this effort depends on the steps school principals and teachers will take to encourage children to reflect on their own learning and to pursue imaginative activities and questions. We must recognize that by giving space, time and freedom, children generate new knowledge by engaging with the information passed to them by adults. …. These aims imply considerable change in school routines and mode of functioning. Flexibility in the time-table is as necessary as rigour in implementing the annual calendar so that the required number of teaching days is actually devoted to teaching. The methods used for teaching and evaluation will also determine how effective this textbook proves for making children’s life at school a happy experience, rather than a source of stress or boredom.
This commentary, in my mind, presents many consequent thoughts:
- There is a great chasm between what the curriculum designers design and what educational systems are. In fact, as the NCF Reviewer committee minutes show (an excellent set of critiques on the NCF which should have been made public in a big way), there is early debate on the framework’s implementability and whether it acts as a rule or merely as guidance. In my opinion, the designers passed the buck.
- As the committee minutes show, there is no dearth of good thinking and good questioning. Is it then more a matter of coherence and further debate? Can these questions be thrown open to a wider audience, in a more participatory manner? After all, we don’t have many unique problems. The dialogue exists, but is invisible, private, exalted and non-participatory.
- Did the NCF 2005, over the past 6 years, make a difference in teacher’s skills and attitudes, in functioning of schools and in reducing stress and boredom. If it did not, what did we achieve through it? If it did, what are the great examples and evidence?
- Most of all, did the curriculum designer and developer even know of these discussions, were they trained on the NCF, do they understand that every word they write in a textbook potentially spells agony for our children?
What I see around me, every day, is this great sea of platitudes, lip service of a disaffected and disenchanted class of educators to technology, pedagogy, systems and our problems of inequality. It is a self-serving mission, beaten by the same system into submission and conformance to mediocrity. Unfortunate, but true. And it has to change.
Yet another example of a one size fits all approach has manifested itself recently. An excerpt from an article in the Indian Express on June 29, 2011 titled B.Ed. must, alternative schools weigh options reads:
At Rishi Valley School and Doon School, many teachers have been working for a long time without a Bachelor’s degree in education, though some have a Master’s and some even a Ph D from elite institutions such as the IITs in India and Harvard abroad. Now the government has asked these teachers to enroll in a distance learning programme, such as those offered by IGNOU, and get a Bachelor’s degree a diploma in education. With the government firm that a teacher’s qualification must be standardised under the RTE Act, bigger “alternative schools” have fallen in line with the NCTE’s prescription while the smaller ones are looking at the prospect of closing down.
This is quite ironic. Why make sweeping generalization that wilfully result in situations like these? Teacher education is an important issue involving not just the state of teacher qualifications like the Bachelor of Education degree, but also the working conditions, incentives, support, motivation and skill development of teachers in general. Not to miss the sorry conditions of para-teachers in India.
I have often said that we are making a mistake by arguing against the current exam focussed educational system, while at the same time putting our own teachers and future educational administrators through the same process. There is also the question of the relevance of the current curriculum itself. Interestingly, the Faculty of Education at Delhi University does not even have the syllabus online for its various courses! At some point, we will encounter the argument for more vocational based certifications for teaching given the large scale we face.
There are both champions and detractors of para-teacher schemes in India. Champions claim that these schemes reduce pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs), eliminate single teacher schools, lower the cost of providing elementary education and may increase teacher accountability to local panchayats. Detractors, on the other hand, rue the lower professional training and allegedly lower educational qualifications of para-teachers (compared to regular teachers), and they also dislike the dual salary structure whereby para-teachers are paid much lower salaries than regular teachers within the same schools.
This snippet, taken from Geeta Gandhi Kingdon and Vandana Sipahimalani-Rao’s article titled Para-Teachers in India: Status and Impact, from the Economic and Political Weekly (Mar 20, 2010, Vol XLV No. 2) intrigued me immediately as a debate that needs to happen more strongly.
The fact that we need para-teachers (defined variously, but broadly as non-full time teachers) as a possible quick solution to the immense teacher shortage in India (1.2 mn required or more based on other reports), which could grow exponentially if you were to start improving the student-teacher ratios, is undisputed. So is the fact that we need them dispersed over a large geography. The equally important fact is that these educators need to be brought into the mainstream over a period of time as well, reducing or eliminating some of the more obvious disparities with their full-time colleagues.
The skill and talent exist – within existing teachers, para-teachers, and very importantly the competitive tuition or coaching private marketplace – but the economics is skewed and inclusive utilization of these resources is a challenge.
As always there are multiple parts to the problem:
- Teacher Education itself needs to concentrate on investigating ways to upskill and make supporting infrastructure, including technology, available; while at the same time making sure that existing teachers are set higher standards and given the right kind of training environment
- Educational providers and education technology companies must make a concerted effort to enable teachers to transcend distance through the use of technology and innovation in pedagogy (an important piece of which, in my opinion, is going to be portability with network access)
- Policy makers must concentrate on providing an easy to implement career progression for para-teachers – sort of a vocational strategy for the educators profession strand
- Students need to be more exposed to using technology and participating in distance education initiatives. The state of educational data mining or learning analytics in even the largest distance education providers is abysmal, to say the least.
The challenges can be met, but require strong leadership at local levels supported by policy changes at the top. And as I said, there needs to be more broad-based research, especially around effectiveness and productivity.
I think this is a key challenge, not only in India, but across the world. It is every bit as important as the quality of educational technology and content in our classrooms.
I am, so far, largely untouched by what I see in India (and maybe I have limited experience). The first problem, and the most important one that I see, is the lack of open dialogue. Yes, we have conferences, retreats and closed door discussions where people sit together and make policy or strategy. But these are only that – closed and non-transparent.
We need a system that encourages dialogue. But not in the way handled traditionally viz. by stating platitudes like comments are always welcome and it is a big challenge and we need all the help we can get. We need a concerted effort to create academic and professional spaces for educators which brings down barriers and allows at least the new generation to explore the issues, deliberate on them, propose specific solutions and generate consensus.
The starting point will be to do a volte face and state that we do not understand the problems, far less the solutions. The mindset today is that everyone is an expert in educational matters in India (and some probably can hold this claim). But like in all crises, there will be key influencers who, through popular media, will shape the popular opinion.
Today’s news provides a lucid example of what I am trying to say.
The piece on the left talks about a group of 200 central and state university vice-chancellors pulling their weight on the implementation of a semester system and an assessment of teachers by students. The writer’s opinion, substantiated, h/she claims by the HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal, is that these suggestions were lofty and the minister recognized the difficulty in implementation of these ideas.
The writer also expressed another shared (with Sibal) surprise. Sibal had to remind the VCs about their big miss on recommendations on the reform of the examination and admissions processes.
I think the first audit that must be immediately done is of the skills of our educators, their credentials and contributions – whether in government or outside. Apparently leadership is lacking. The VCs in the news report are making this statement in the midst of anti-semester system protests by a large number of teachers.
Pitroda, Chairman, Innovation Council, India, in the clip on the right, distils his experience and wisdom by saying “Only technology and innovation can save (obsolete) higher education in India” and thinks incubation centres and longer working hours are the key to success.
If we don’t have good leaders manning the institutions, we are cutting off our legs and trying to run. Just wondering if anyone has studied how many educational administrators India really has. Off the cuff, about 30,000 would be heading universities and colleges; at the district level, across the 600 districts, there should be 8-10 key people; add about 100 per state others in and across boards, councils etc. (say) 3000 and add in another 5000 in other key positions – that should make it close to 50,000 educational administrators. I think that would be an understatement, but like the number of crows in the city of Akbar and Birbal’s Agra, this is just a guess.
We must build an open and structured dialogue that acknowledges inputs globally and presents a cogent forum that represents both problems and possible solutions. It is immediately critical to evaluate between competing Educational Futures for India. Rhetoric will see us missing the boat once again, creating far higher unemployment and divides.
There is only the difference of an “i” between “running and ruining” our future. Let us subsume the “I”.
Another news item provokes a sense of deja vu. As part of the EDGE2011 report, I had pointed out the dismal state of affairs in collecting and analyzing educational data in India. In Higher-Ed specifically, the HRD ministry is undertaking a unique, first of its kind survey to collate data and to update it on an annual basis. The task has been entrusted to NUEPA.
I am sort of hoping it won’t be the same as DISE. Yash Aggarwal, NIEPA (why does this exist at all if NUEPA exists or vice versa?), has an undated (I am presuming less than a decade old) report on the Revitalisation of Educational Statistics In India.
The 2008 Sathyam Committee report, constitued at the behest of the MHRD (another good initiative), goes so far as to state about DISE that:
DISE makes substantial use of the technological advancements. But its main weakness has been inadequacy of M.I.S. staff.
Imagine that! The system is broken.
I am wondering though what would happen to the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) reports on Higher Education? They have an elaborate review system that include peer review and an appeals system.
Another example of how we want more order. Apparently, there are 47 different Boards of Education in India and COBSE (Council of Boards of Education, India) is a body that:
…provides academic support to its member Boards on:
1. Setting and maintenance of educational standards.
2. Curriculum planning
3. Preparation of Curriculum materials and transaction
4. Evaluation in Schools
5. Public examinations
COBSE has 3 office bearers, six Vice Presidents, 17 consultants, 2 nominated members and a 15 member Executive Committee! It also has 9 associate members spanning worldwide bodies like the World Bank (?) and Education boards from countries like Mauritius and Nepal. According to the website, its major functions are:
(i) Provide a forum to its members to discuss issues of mutual interest and to learn form each other for improving quality of education
(ii) Curriculum reform and improvement in evaluation systems.
(iii)Respond to national concerns like Population Education and Disaster Management.
(iv) Professional Development of officers of the Members-boards.
(v) Interactions with NCERT / NUEPA on Professional issues.
Interesting…they have been around since 1979 and have just 12 publications (none of which are online). Do check out their news page.
Anyway, what sparked off my research was the following newspaper article (also covered here) which talks about a common national curriculum for science, maths and commerce:
In March, 2010, there was an article outlining some dissent by prominent people in the NCERT and NCTE stating there was a duplication of effort. Here is Kapil Sibal, Minister, HRD’s 2009 speech to COBSE in case you are interested.
I would love to see Kapil Sibal strike a similar vein as James Hacker trying to tackle the excessive British administration and Sir Humphrey. Of course, would like to see strikingly different results!
When I wrote We don’t need no education in mid-2010, I urged:
cut down school content, start school later, end it earlier, focus on growing the mind, building teamwork and other “21st century” skills, enabling our children to become responsible and knowledgeable citizens with a global perspective, reshape the assessment tools and frameworks that we have today to evaluate richness and variety of expression in our young minds, build new avenues and focussed curricula to strategically align with what we really need, get industry to recognize vocational education on par with regular degrees – basically – give our children a break, they don’t need this education.
Little did I know that our government would move so fast in this direction with regard to the introduction of vocational education curricula in schools. Kapil Sibal, the HRD Minister, has done it with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools in India. He plans to introduce vocational curriculum from grade IX to XII (ages 15-18).
There are many possible reasons and implications of this move. Vocational education in IT and other sectors has traditionally been addressed by private sector and government schemes at largely the class 10+ or 12+ levels. With 2-4 years of vocational training at the school level, these post school training courses will become more or less obsolete.
For the employability issue that India faces with the kind of demographic dividend that we have, this will also reduce the number of students that need to be trained to become employable through these courses at the +2 level.
The language that Kapil Sibal is using also targets sectors like Automobiles, which if you look at the National Skill Development Council reports, is among the largest skill requirement sector for the next 10 years. This shows a clear alignment between different parts of the government and the hope that there is increasing cohesion among decision makers today.
That it will also be instrumental in providing students specifically from economically weaker sections (EWS) to pursue non-academic careers that result in direct employability post school, also seems part of the strategy. It is perhaps a pacifist act as well given the non-cooperative attitude of the private school system towards the Right to Education law.
But vocational training will require infrastructure provision that schools are not equipped to achieve. This will require them to invest on acquiring new set of skills and adapt to the new requirements if they want to remain affiliated to the CBSE. Like the Right to Education, this will thus, be also subject to delays and obstructions adding to the general chaos around the Right to Education Law implementation.
Some interesting possibilities may ensue. OEMs, private training companies and public vocational training bodies may be called to play a greater role in the new curriculum. The same organizations may then be better placed to exercise influence over the rest of the school curriculum and this presents great opportunities. At the same time, they would have to update their existing programs to provide a curricular path post the 4 years of vocational training and this is has its attendant problems in infrastructure provision, availability of instructors, new vocational degrees etc.
I would have also like a bridge system for students who would want to cross-over between pure academic and vocational streams at some point of their education or work, like in Australia. This does not seem to be addressed.
But meanwhile, Mr. Sibal, please read this blog post and give in to my other demands as well !
We have often, actually most of the time, decided to focus on teachers, teaching methods, institutional structures, assessments and certifications, but what is the responsibility of the learner herself in this experience? I am not talking about defining learners by the characteristics (autonomous, takes responsibility for her own learning…) under the category of responsibility, but trying to pinpoint a share of the responsibility in the current scenario.
In scenarios with multiple available educational options, one of the ways learners demonstrate responsible behavior is through making explicit their choice and preference among alternate options. This choice may not be voluntary (viz. parental pressure, social influences) and is influenced heavily by media advertisements, the tell-tale sign of private participation in education. Of course, in scenarios where there are no real options (either due to availability or other socio-economic factors), choice is non-existent too.
This is at the point of entry into the organized educational structures. But there is also learner responsibility that is demonstrated at the point of exit (at the award of a degree) which relates directly to employability and any possible threat to it. This was exemplified by the massive upheaval witnessed all over India (with perhaps the first instances of suicides related to education, linked directly to livelihood) in the wake of the Mandal Commission of 1990 in India which proposed strong affirmative action (through 27% reservations) for the underprivileged backward classes in central government jobs, universities and affiliated colleges and recruitment to public sector undertakings and government aided private institutions. There are more examples of student activism influencing their wider ecologies.
An interesting example happened in 2009 in Germany as a consequence of the Bologna process calling for all educational systems in Europe to be integrated. Examples of student activism from India also exist, primarily as polarized “youth” vehicles for the larger political parties/parents from which they obviously derive.
And I came across the International Students Movement as well which is a platform for “groups and activists around the world struggling against the commercialisation and privatisation of public education and for free and emancipatory education to network, share information and co-ordinate protests together”.
In between entry and exit, there is mandated responsibility (by the institution) with norms related to attendance, conduct and grades.
However, when, where and how does the learner have any control or choice of redress over the quality of the learning experience? And as a corollary to this question, what should be the responsibility of the learner in the system – really what should the duties be – and how do they change or adapt to new influences such as privatization?
In this post, I would like to propose some new models/directions for Indian Education by addressing some core problem areas that I have been able to identify. I would like to focus on, in particular how some strategic new models could change the way we are addressing the huge scale and diversity in India.
The underlying realization is since we are a nation with huge disparities and diversity, there is no one size fits all solution, despite vast proclamations for the following (witness strategies like lets build the network and the content and we should have addressed the equity issue, look anyone can access and learn from high quality content prepared by the best minds). And the scale of issues is magnified many times as compared to any other country with perhaps the exception of China.
In such a situation, let us think of a model that truly democratizes education. By democratizing, I mean make it by the people, for the people and of the people.
I know that one of the ways to handle scale is technology. Another is a weighty institutional structure designed top down by the government. But I think a powerful way, is to meet scale with scale – to empower local communities to meet educational needs while at the same time being connected to national and global networks of practice. This is a sustainable strategy. But it means that power needs to be devolved in a strategic manner. Loosen some control and let local communities do the job – however, make sure we empower them with the skills and the perspectives of the planners. Use technology and bureaucratic structures to engender creation spaces (as John Seely Brown and co-authors argue in The Power of Pull) or Learnscapes (as Jay Cross would suggest).
The model will scale. It will recognize local constraints, indigenous capability and meet the aspirations of local communities. It will be sustainable since it is bottom up instead of top down. It will adapt faster to national planning needs. It will create opportunities for innovation and growth.
The motivation for this model arises from the fact that we have an over-weight bureaucracy and fragmented educational intelligentsia and polity. It also arises from that fact that people are disenfranchised from the policy-making or educational planning or quality assurance dimensions.
What will this take? Firstly it will take awareness building. Secondly, it will take capability building (not only leadership for the community, but also the vital skills deemed fit to make education a high quality practice). Thirdly, it will take creation of formal structures or spaces where communities can be facilitated, trained and supported. Fourthly, it will take a shift of control and a corresponding alteration of the power structures. Fifthly, it will take the loosening of barriers – legal or procedural – to promote freer flow of resources through the local systems.
This would be a strategic shift in policy. From being responsible for implementation, to being responsible for coordinating, supporting and training local communities to support the national needs and vision.
Make Education a social business
By social business, I mean the kind of change brought about by Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize winner for 2006) and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. Yunus showed that it is possible to lend to the poor and in doing so, he managed to create a new way of doing business – a kind of “not-for-shareholder capitalism”.
The social business would be one that is a partner to the local needs of the region. Maybe defined outside the legal frameworks that are in use today for profit and non-profit organizational forms, the social business, for example like Grameen Bank, could be owned by its customers. Of course, it would need to be supported (and there is plenty of scope for private and public partnership to make this work) by R&D, finance, support centers etc.
Its an intriguing idea. Can we make students, parents, teachers, educationists and administrators actual stakeholders in a social enterprise? Can we think of a network of such businesses working together to meet national level planning goals? I think we can, but it will require a major shift in perspective.
Such a model will leverage local resources to the maximum, thus alleviating the need for massive and centralized planning and execution of schemes for scholarships, disadvantaged sections, setting up infrastructure etc. The opening up of scale would render these businesses attractive for not only social investment but also for private capital and R&D.
Bring down barriers
For these to be successful, we must bring down a lot of barriers. Let us take, for example, the issue of having enough skilled teachers (not only new recruitment, but also in-service teachers). Models which can leverage existing skills such as the Teach For India movement or the Teach India movement by the Times of India are important movements that seek to break down the barriers with clear empowerment of a specific class of people. I think we are ignoring the informal coaching/tuition sector massively too. What if we strategically empowered this segment, which has a lot of skill and experience and reach, to be counted as regular teachers in our system through a process of certification and training?
Could we lower barriers elsewhere? John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid suggest an interesting model in The Social Life of Information. They suggest that we democratize the degree granting function itself. Typically universities and special institutions are degree granting bodies (DGBs). Suppose we were to enable the local art and craft guild to also take on a degree granting role? Further these DGBs could empanel local scholars/formal teachers certified to teach students as per the needs of the guild.
Faculty could find their own facilities, whether for teaching or for research. Technology, libraries, LABs and classrooms could all be pressed into service with this model. Further, private investment could be welcomed to set up, say, 2000 K5 libraries in a specific region. And remote scholars could become consultants for students, teachers or the DGB itself.
The other lowering of barriers is in the flow of information and the connectedness of communities. In India, the networks of practice do not have a strong digital presence. As a result, thinking at all levels cannot leverage collective insight, serendipitous combustion of ideas and all the other benefits of social media.
This kind of a distributed and democratic system will benefit from the lowering of traditional barriers in accreditation, teacher certification, number and type of certifications/degrees etc.
Models such as these could be made to work in my opinion and more effectively than we are doing today. As always, would invite critical opinion.