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I chanced across a recent critique of the Draft NEP 2019 titled “Observations on the DRAFT OF NATIONAL EDUCATION POLICY – 2019“. It has been authored by the Indian National Science Academy, New Delhi, Indian Academy of Sciences, Bengaluru and National Academy of Sciences, India, Allahabad. From the preamble:

This comment on the DNEP has been prepared by the three National Academies of Sciences and draws from extensive discussions with a wide range of educationists (teachers and researchers), students (school children, undergraduate and post-graduate and Ph.D. students) and other professionals. It focuses on some of the most pressing issues of concern, rather than attempting to be comprehensive and detailed. In the following, specific itemized comments that need careful revisiting have been flagged. It will require substantial deliberation to work out the detailed modalities for implementing some of these, and the three National Science Academies would be willing to assist in that task.

My critique follows. Their comments in italics.

The comments for the Technology in Education (Chapter 19) are very intriguing, especially coming from such eminence.

Generally, the role of technology should be more as a supplement to sound pedagogic practices, rather than replacement.

This is an unfortunate comment. Either the authors genuinely believe that the edTech world is trying to replace sound pedagogic practices (with “unsound edTech pedagogy”?), or they believe that edTech can replace sound pedagogic practices – both are absurd positions to take. They seem to believe, like many others, that edTech is an add-on, not an integral part of “sound pedagogic practices”.

Where technology does largely help is in extending the reach of education to the differently abled, or to those living in remote locations, or those outside the formal system.

In one broad stroke, they have marginalized all the brilliant research and practice happening all over the world in edTech in the past two decades. By conflating technology of access and accessibility with edTech, the authors have made another serious mistake. By indicating that those out of the formal system would largely benefit from it, they bar that possibility for the ones in the formal system.

Large parts of this chapter’s contents pertain to broad policy regarding the future of some technologies in education governance, with only a few policies pertaining to role of technology in education per se.

I am afraid they haven’t read the Chapter 19 in enough detail, but just skimmed through to a couple of paras they were looking for. The larger part of this chapter contains very specific policy directions on content, professional development, research, data, technologies and institutional capability development in edTech.

The purpose of the proposed NETF, partly to be funded by NASSCOM (DNEP- P19.1), to create an industry-linked, overarching and centralized body, remains unclear in respect of its relevance to education.

I don’t see a direction that NASSCOM should fund it. The text of the policy clearly states that public funding will be used initially and then later it could receive some funding from neutral technology bodies such as NASSCOM. I wonder if the need to criticize the policy sometimes gets in the way of an articulate reading of the policy.

I also do not see what is unclear about the NETF. P19.1.2 lays out very clearly that it will advise agencies, build institutional and intellectual capabilities in edTech, envision thrust areas and articulate new directions. What is unclear about that mandate is only how it will be empowered to do that, but the aims are spot on and clear.

It will also have access to a lot of data of students, teachers and institutions at all education levels nationwide, which raises serious concerns about privacy that are not adequately dealt with in the DNEP (Chapter 19, page 342, last paragraph).

I would like to draw their august attention to P19.6.1 (d) which emphasizes that laws around privacy will need to be strengthened. I can’t stress enough how weak we are in the matter of data. You need only to read the angst in the Sathyam committee report to understand that. What we should capture and how and why are always going to be debated, and they should. But that is no reason to vilify the approach.

The proposal for a body with such a broad mandate as the proposed NETF needs to be strongly justified before its creation can be supported. Presently no clear justification is provided.

I am sorry, but India needs an edTech body that can help, in a very inclusive, democratic and objective manner, shape how edtech can help in the sector’s transformation. The mandate is not broad, it is very specific to envisioning and implementing that plan of action that may emerge from consultations.

We feel that inputs from the IT-sector for guidance/suggestions on education technology research and deployment, especially in areas like automation, can directly be provided to the apex bodies managing education in each state through existing mechanisms.

I am pretty sure these are already in place (having been part of many such contributions), but why are we again conflating the IT sector and automation with edTech? Why do we believe that, without a body that can help channel edTech efforts in the country, that we will have any chance of embedding edTech in the fabric of teaching-learning in India? And NETF will evaluate all these suggestions from IT companies as well, providing considered advisories that will cut down some of the cost, time and effort required by the individual agencies and governments to do the same activity.

Further, AI and cloud technologies, their role in pedagogy and in the improvement of the quality of students in a country with a vast canvass of varied cultural and educational levels and systems may need to be discussed extensively before their inclusion in the education policy.

I think we need to realize that we have all been operating using AI and cloud technologies for quite a while now already. This is like saying that we don’t have a specific reason to call out these technologies, but we generally feel that a vast “canvass” of diversity will perhaps fail to benefit from these technologies. I understand concerns about privacy. I understand fears that machines will provide sub-human experiences not suited to education. But can we bury our heads in the sand hoping that the storms will blow away? We need to embrace edTech not fear it. These naysayer statements could equally then apply to other people who would like to bring any change whatsoever to the education system, whether edTech or not. It is the job of responsible and eminent people to bring cogent and articulate arguments, not sweeping statements like these.

The proposed NRED (DNEP- P19.5.5 and P19.6.1), will collect very detailed data and academic records on all students/ teachers/ institutions from school to HEIs. However, the purpose of such detailed collection of personal data has not been clarified. Unless the purpose is made clear, we cannot support such collection of deep personal data.

The purpose is mentioned in the policy. Firstly, we have a huge issue on data that can guide policy making and even institutional decision making at scale. Many reports in the past have expressed this gap. Secondly, securely handling data of individual stakeholders, like for any other service provided by public or private agencies, is an essential part of delivering services themselves and removing corruption from the system. Thirdly, creating predictive models that identify at-risk learners and help provide different remediation to them, has been proved to be useful across the world. Fourthly, the timeliness and accuracy of data is a pain point for India, which we have to resolve. If the sector has to be responsive, they cannot wait for an ASER annual report, can they? Fifthly, emphasis on strengthening laws and securing data is extremely important in this enterprise. This has been detailed P19.6.1.

Collection of such concentration of data, especially given its potential linkage to Aadhar No. (DNEP- P19.6.1b), its integration with data on “educational information management systems for community monitoring” (DNEP- P19.6.2), and the statement that “Data is a key fuel for artificial intelligence based technologies”), cannot be supported, especially because there are many examples of misuse of personal data. Explanation of mechanisms to protect privacy must be explicitly stated. (DNEP- P19.7.4). This aspect also needs careful legal scrutiny in view of recent observations of the Supreme Court of India in respect of issues of privacy of individuals

I think this is again a case of partial and opportunist reading of the policy. While it is fair to demand more clarity, how can one argue that data is not the fuel for AI based technologies – in fact data is the core requirement for machines to learn. I see the fear on Aadhar and “community monitoring” as a fear of “big brother is watching you”. Logical, and could happen, but it is for specific purposes without which we cannot gurantee any improvements in efficiency in this sector. Neither can we empower communities to ask for their rights and for promises made to be fulfilled by the public administration. That it needs to be done ethically, with strengthening of laws, with safeguards and by raising awareness through educating people of the dangers, is clearly mentioned in the policy document.

This proposal is therefore not desirable in its present form. If there is to be a database set up for governance and planning purposes, it should be restricted to institution-level information about enrolment, teacher strength, number of courses etc., and should not include data at the individual-level.

If that is the case, I would argue that institutions should not store admission and exam data of students either. If we cannot make the sector accountable through such data, it is akin to saying that this sector does not want to be held accountable, just wants autonomy without accountability.

Some of the recommendations about technology in education (DNEP- P19.2.1, P19.2.2, P19.2.3, P19.3.1, P19.3.3, P19.4.1c, P19.4.2, P19.4.3, P19.4.4, P19.4.6a, P19.5.2 and P19.5.3) may be moved to other appropriate sections of the DNEP document.

I am sorry I don’t agree. For example, P19.2.1 states that “Teachers will be completely empowered through adequate training and support to lead the activities and initiatives related to the use of appropriate technologies in classrooms, and for all other uses of technology in educational institutions.” Where else should this clause reside if not in the section about edTech? Activities like “improve the quality of pedagogy and learning processes through the use of intelligent tutoring systems and adaptive assessment systems; create new types of interactive and immersive content (e.g. using augmented and virtual reality); strengthen educational planning and management and bring greater transparency and efficiency to the examination system as well as to administrative and governance processes and scale up the ODL system so that it can respond to the growing demand for education” – where should these go?

P19.3.1 states “To skill teachers at all levels in the use of educational technology, all teacher preparation programmes will include hands-on training in leveraging technology-based resources”. Where should this go if not in the edTech section?

In sum, the proposals made in Chapter 19 need much greater elaboration and justification to show their relevance to education policy. Until these are provided, we recommend that these proposals not be immediately implemented as a part of the NEP

I think, in my summary, I would ask the authors to go back, study the document objectively, and provide reasoned arguments and sound alternatives/suggestions to ensuring that we have a chapter on edTech in the policy that helps to power our education system forwards into the digital age. Anything less, I won’t accept from such eminent and influential stakeholders in the system.

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Its time for the next General Elections in India, and I think it is also about time that citizens put together an education manifesto for all parties, given that they have been notoriously lax in laying down a concerted vision for the education system in their manifestos!

India is an amazingly diverse country and its strength is literally its people. An election manifesto that democratizes education in India, is the need of the hour.

Let me explain. I call the current systems of education educracies – basically a combination of the terms education and bureaucracy. Our systems are educratic – top down, hierarchical, role based and asymmetrically organized. As a social system, they exhibit feudal behaviour, rigidity, discrimination, nepotism and many other ills. But, as a mode of organization, at scale, they likely have no “design” parallel (insofar as mass organization and adaptation cannot just be designed, it emerges based on consensus of certain principles).

Our educracies need democratization of thought, leadership and action. In thought, we have to focus on research, knowledge and innovation, an area where we are gloriously under-served. With 10 million teachers in India serving just school and higher education, and just a handful of researchers and innovators across fields such as pedagogy and education technology, we do not have the design power that a country of this scale needs. Investing in these areas, is the foremost priority. If, without scientific R&D, there cannot be economic development, then, without R&D in our educracies, we cannot leverage the demographic dividend. This is evident from our failures to implement play, discovery, new age assessments and so many other scalable practices.

Our educracies need infrastructural transformation. The only way India can apply large scale effective practices in its educracies, is to build enabling infrastructure – whether physical (like connectivity and computing) or intellectual (like in knowledge stores and training). We need this infrastructure, just like we need electricity, because there is no way to achieve rapid transformation and growth, unless we can effectively propagate content and enable communications for learning and managing in an agile manner. Keep in mind that this transformation is not only for our schools and colleges, but also for centers of educational research and training and our boards of education.

Our educracies need to reinvent themselves to adopt new models of teaching and learning, governance and credentialing. At the very basic levels, our educracies are rotocracies – education practices and curricula based on rote teaching and rote learning. They still treat technology with grave suspicion. They are still trying to scale uniformly, rather than by decentralizing and empowering. These require re-invention at a very basic level in policy as well as systems of education. Perhaps we need to begin anew – maybe create and empower district level boards of education rather than national or state level boards, build a large cadre of change agents, re-scale and re-skill our teacher educators and administrators to face different compelling realities, influence social perceptions of other ways of education and consistently restructure our learning pathways for lifelong learning.

These changes are here and now changes we can make to our educracies to reap long term impact. If we can enable knowledge, infrastructure and new age practices, our educracies can transform and reinvent our collective futures. This is a national emergency, an imperative for political parties and a call to action for all of us. Step up! Write your manifesto for the next government today.

In the past few months and years, there have been rising concerns on two seemingly disparate things – the weight of school bags and the realization that we don’t have a quality curriculum, basically that our children are still waiting for a respite from the inefficiencies of the present curriculum.

So the Delhi government also decides (along with the Tamil Nadu government) to have no homework for children of classes 1 and 2 and only two hours a week for students of class 3-5. They recommend two books for Classes 1 and 2 (English and Maths) and three books for Classes 3-5 (English, Maths and EVS). Accordingly, schools could design flexible timetables basis the reduced syllabus loads and increase activity based learning.

This is, they say, as per what was suggested 13 years ago by the National Curriculum Framework 2005.

In fact the NCF, 2005 (p. 96) suggests no homework “upto” Class 2, 2 hours per week from Class 3-5, one hour per day for middle school, and two hours a day for classes 9-12. This recommendation, however amazing it might sound, is contemporaneously produced through pre-election demagoguery and judicial pronouncements today.

It is like someone forgot to read the NCF when it was produced, and now it’s bad form to contest it when it has been conjured up from the dead after 13 years.

For who can explain these homework time restrictions with any modicum of clarity? Who will implement it? How will it be implemented? Do all students do homework at the same speed? How will all subject teachers coordinate to ensure this? What about remedial homework? What about the time students spend in completing classwork they have missed at home? Don’t students need reinforcement at home anymore? Shouldn’t they be spending time in remediation?

Turning to weight. Precisely how do you go about weighing curricular needs so that they fit inside 1.5 kilograms that is the limit for class 1 and 2? Do you reduce paper quality/paper thickness to allow for larger amount of content or vice versa, so that the net effect is below 1.5 kg? Why not simply leave textbooks in school for younger children – no schoolbags at all!

If there are so many problems, why not start school at 7 instead of at 4 or 5 years of age, like (say) Finland does? We could amend RTE to include 2 more years up to age 16 in that case, which may be much more useful?

At the very least, it seems the emphasis on weight will further prolong the wait our students have to face for a quality education.

A dollar for the teacher

Recently, the Delhi Government decided to penalize a secondary (government) school Mathematics teacher by announcing a pay cut for a year with ‘non-cumulative’ effect.

The official position was that the teacher “exhibited lack of sincerity, integrity and devotion to her duty, which is unbecoming of a government servant and tantamount to gross misconduct as per the provisions of Rule 3 of CCS (Conduct) rules, 1964”.

The gross misconduct was not equipping students of her classes to achieve reasonably good scores in their exams and not showing “concern and initiative for her students”.

The next day, the Directorate of Education announced that this was a ‘stray’ case and there was no intention of turning this into policy. The Government Schools Teacher Association (GSTA) protested vehemently.

This brings down the morale of teachers. We can only teach students. It is clear that the teacher did not try to manipulate results and brought about much improvement during the boards. We will go to court regarding this,” said Ajay Veer Yadav, general secretary of GSTA. Both noted that this was the first time that a teacher’s pay was impacted due to her students’ results.

All this against the backdrop of the Delhi Government not really being able to make a dent in Delhi’s education system.

And yet challenges remain as the results of the mid-term exams held in September showed. A dismal 70 per cent of students in Class X and 50 per cent in Class XII failed to clear the exams. There were 19 schools that recorded zero pass percent in different streams.

The decision to cut pay is startling. It may be a precedent for something bigger or perhaps just a desperate/rash move which will not see the light of day for larger political reasons in election year. But it is an uncomfortable thought. What are we equating the profession to? How desirable is a move like this? Where is the organized face of teachers when it comes to a dialogue on this issue? Why is this not a bigger issue than it demands to be?

All those questions aside, there is a fundamental issue or challenge that appears not to be addressed adequately. Do we believe that teachers can influence, with a fair degree of certainty, what the achievement of learning outcomes or rather the scores obtained by the students will be – can we reduce this to an input-output, production-like process?

The GSTA president has a point.

In accordance with Chunauti scheme, children are separated according to their ability. Her class IX was a Nishtha section, meaning students who cannot read. It was very likely that they would fail, and in subsequent examinations, her students’ pass percentage increased.

So at least one more factor impacts teacher ‘effectiveness’ (defined narrowly in terms of scores for now) – the composition of the groups she teaches and their true grade level vs. their assigned grade level. One could think of many other such determinants (like infrastructure, available time vs. syllabus extent and so on, but is it fair to isolate one ‘factor’ and call it out so cheaply? What did the Directorate or the school do to support the teacher in this case? Did the teacher have a mandate or the agency to provide an early risk assessment or to sound an early warning to the school or the Directorate that there were children at risk of not achieving their learning goals?

What if we started to extend this to all government servants? Or to all people in any private profession? What if pay cuts for “ineffectiveness” was to become widespread – what would happen then?

On the other extreme, what if we were to ask every teacher to go file a Public Interest Litigation against the Directorate whenever and wherever service conditions are not adequate for her to effectively perform her job?

Specifically, are the Directorates of Education, the policy makers and administrators accountable for the dismal performance of education in India? Should their salaries be cut as well? Is this the only solution we have?

Well, not exactly. But there is an interesting thread on structural transformation of the education system in India that I am exploring.

In India today, we have nearly 50 educational boards. These boards are national, state or other very specific kinds (such as based on religious affiliations). Most of our schools are attached to these boards for recognition and credibility. The Boards typically make decisions on who and how to enrol/give recognition, prescribe curriculum and syllabus, conduct senior/exit level examinations, manage student rosters and grant certificates to them, provide rules for hiring and training of teachers and manage funds.

Together, these 50 odd boards manage the affiliations of over a million schools, 10 mn teachers and over 250 mn students. The National level boards, like the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education), span across the nation, while the State Boards work within the states. The CBSE itself has about 10 regional offices to manage the approximately 20,000 schools it has affiliated.

These boards are supported by similarly federated national-state institutions such as the NCERT (National Council of Education Research and Training) with its state equivalents (the SCERTs), who focus is to support academics and schools nation-wide through curricula and training.

We have witnessed many issues in the functioning of boards individually and also when taken together. At an individual level, these issues relate to the functions performed by the Board such as complex affiliation processes, challenges in conduct of examinations, restrictive practices and so on. When taken together, we have had the issue of marks moderation leading to uneven exit level examination results.

But at a more basic level, this federated structure has some basic issues. A really important one is that the Board structure remains the same irrespective of the size of its portfolio of students, teachers and schools or the geographical extent it covers. Not only that, the policies of the Board apply uniformly irrespective of the cultural and academic diversity of its constituents, or the needs of the region.

Which is why, perhaps, that the National Policy on Education, NPE, 1986, envisaged setting up District Boards. A report by NIEPA (National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration) bemoans the fact that decentralization has not been taken seriously even despite the NPE and several constitutional amendments conferring power to local bodies. It indicates that when “resources are provided at a district level, and power and authority are also vested with the District level authorities”, it is possible to build realistic and localized plans.

This problem is not unique to education. In fact the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments mandating the establishment of Panchayats at the district, intermediate and village levels, was a step taken to ensure more realistic grassroots planning and community involvement in planning as well as increasing the share of self-governance. I am sure there are examples, in the Education sector, of such kind of planning depth and it would be helpful to study those examples to see if they can be scaled. For example, with RTE and a School Management Committee (SMC) structure, and the role of the Gram Panchayat in setting these up, some decentralization is bound to be achieved.

The role of professional boards needs also to be considered. By this I mean committed professionals in the education sector coming together to steer changes at local levels in a scalable manner. Could there, for example, be a professional and relatively autonomous body who gets the responsibility to promote best practices, curriculum, infrastructure and edTech customized to the local needs, and accountable for a limited catchment area? Can these local professional bodies work in a networked manner, quickly finding issues and translating networked solutions into actual implementations?

 

 

 

Here is a story you shouldn’t miss. Rough Book is a movie built somewhat parallel to the theme of the movie 3 Idiots and has some common reflections on commercialization with the Nana Patekar movie, Paathshaala.

Rough Book is a muted drama focused on the teacher and her friends in a K12 setting – preparation for the board exams and the foremost engineering entrance exam, the IIT Entrance exam, in India. It details the trials of a teacher unwilling to go with the rest, to put learning in front of rote, life in front of learning. It tells the stories of students willing to accept the risks of being non-traditional, to allow themselves to be inspired by great educators.

While 3 Idiots was focused on a student’s life in an engineering school, and Paathshaala was focused on telling the story from the eyes of a school principal, beleaguered by  owners greed, Rough Book tells the story from the perspective of the teacher.

The common theme is that the love and joy for learning and teaching can create triumphs in even the existing system. That it can happen at our scale is the holy grail many of us aspire towards.

But the anomaly in all these narratives is the veneration of the existing system. The currency of the current system becomes the benchmark for performance on which the students and teachers in the system still stay judged. In fact, Rough Book ends with a respectful statement about the IITs, perhaps rightly so.

It is quite alright to suggest that if the ideology changes, the means and ends must also change. It may also not be incorrect to state that when ideology changes, existing systems no longer remain relevant or appropriate. But to state that ideological changes can be brought about from within a system, is to stretch it a bit. A system is only as good as the ideology that underpins it.

This has powerful implications on how we look at our systems. A shift from rote to participative learning, from tests to a thousand learning plateaus, from degrees to competencies and from the restricted spaces of the traditional curriculum to open and experiential learning and teaching spaces, marks a shift in ideology. Schools aren’t really built to navigate this shift, which is why people all around the world have engineered different environments to reflect this shift.

This leads us to the question of transformation of the education system, or more appropriately its disruption to make way for new structures of teaching, learning and evaluation, for new currencies in education and new goal posts for the future. The narrative isn’t that the education system is broken (no system can be represented in black and white), it is rather that a new system is needed to supplant it.

What does this imply for policy? It implies that policy makers have to start diverting funds, energy and focus into building new systems – even building migration paths for appropriate existing components, rather than continuously trying to reinvent from within. Practically, this means that new Central and State (and even district level) Boards of education, with new mandates, technology, curricula and training, must start being set up, with the existing ones notified of their end of life term.

Since this preparation will take time, it is likely going to be a generational change. But if envisaged now, at the brink of a new education policy, it will provide a lasting change model for our system.

I think it is about time we instituted the position of a national CLO.

Typically a CLO handles the strategic vision for education and training, implements initiatives for training and development, and is accountable for research.

For a typical organization, the CLO is tasked with an internal driven focus. This means a national CLO would be focused on training and development for all government departments including those concerned with education. While the respective departments would be functional skill and knowledge owners, the CLO would help drive initiatives which are tactical (specific skill based) as well as strategic or transformational (new knowledge and skills).

The CLO, in this day and age, would undoubtedly be an edTech champion, painting horizontal stripes of digital transformation. So, for example, she would figure ways in which simulation based training could help the Indian Postal Services to become more efficient.

But in our case, the CLO would also be tasked with an external focus, that of powering digital and other means of education for students, professionals, teachers and leaders. She would be empowered to push the transformational practices much needed in our country.

The CLO would also drive research and development initiatives that sit at the core of digital transformation. This R&D will in turn be shaped by the mission, vision and strategic roadmaps that she evolves.

The CLO would run a decentralized ship, given our structure, and would need to invest substantial time in building capable leaders to lead change at every level.

The CLO role is a crucial one for us today. We have a much varied capability spectrum in almost all fields including education. Legacy mindsets have to be challenged when it comes to education. Investments have to channelized towards a vision for digital transformation in education. And political and administrative might has to be leveraged for these purposes.

We are at the right juncture. A new education policy is about to be announced, digital initiatives are taking off and quick evolution of technology is fast making even elearning sound like a legacy approach. If we are smart enough, the CLO and her team can make rapid progress.

Your vote?

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