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The recommendations to the NEP 2016 had come out earlier. Now a draft of the NEP 2016 has been made available – Draft NEP-2016. There is a crowdsourcing Wiki that has been set up as well. Here are a few comments.

Vision

The National Education Policy (NEP), 2016 envisions a credible and high-performing education system capable of ensuring inclusive quality education and lifelong learning opportunities  for  all  and  producing  students/graduates  equipped  with  the  knowledge, skills, attitudes and values that are required to lead a productive life, participate in the country’s development process, respond to the requirements of the fast‐changing, ever‐globalising, knowledge‐based economy and society.

I would tend to agree with the vision in general terms. The FICCI MOOC report had laid down a similar vision, though in a succinct (localized to MOOCs) fashion:

Learning through Massive, Open and Online Courses will enable all Indians who want to learn, earn, teach or innovate, the capability to realize their true potential and transform our country.

It is extremely important to note that none of the mission statements include a reference to:

  1. Tools (in particular Education Technology) and Digital Content
  2. Research (in particular Education Research)
  3. Entrepreneurship (in particular Education Entrepreneurship)

Not calling them out explicitly means we will have zero mission-level policy focus on breakthrough evolution of our system. It is open to interpretation to just use these implicitly as modalities of change or not at all.

These are extremely important omissions – a national policy without mission-level focus on technology, research and entrepreneurship in education is bound to only be incremental in nature and spectacularly insufficient to meet the vision.

It is also equally striking that core components of the system like curricular reform and use of ICT are skewed more in favour of school education than HE/FE. There is a high strategic re-use of technology across SE/HE/FE/VET that seems to get lost in the massive silos we have constructed.

Another deficit is in the policy for execution – the operations of change for the education system.

Policy goals without time frames, roles, competencies and accountability indicate a policy so diffuse that it will become operationally impossible to execute at any scale. Absence of these factors in a policy document indicates that potential future scenarios have not been considered and there is no working plan to execute the policy.

There is also the lack of orchestration. Policy makers need to situate themselves in the fast moving global education context itself and carve out/analyze scenarios for the future. They need to create a framework for orchestrating the intended outcomes and measuring the future impact of their policies.

In the absence of a formal model around the same, policy documents can remain a lip service for both intelligentsia and the government.

It would be interesting to also compare the recommendations on NEP with this draft. One notable difference is the absence of the educational tribunal idea.

Re-quoting Sarason on the system of education,

It is a system with a seemingly infinite capacity to remain the same in the face of obvious inadequacies, unmet goals, and public dissatisfaction. It is a system in which accountability is so diffused that no one is accountable. It is a system that has outlived all of its reformers, and will outlive the present generation of reformers

It may be fashionable to state that the MHRD and State Departments are accountable. But how? Is there a framework for holding accountable the largest education player? Please don’t say it’s democracy.

Out of the several challenges addressed by this policy (access to and participation in education, quality of the education imparted, equity in education, system efficiency, governance and management, research and development, and financial commitment to education development), I would like to focus on some specific sections for my comments.

Section 4.5 Curriculum Renewal and Examination Reforms

One of the things that beats me is why curriculum is so strongly focused upon in School Education, but not in HE.

It is good that NCERT will get focus and chances to innovate. The move towards a common core like situation may seem slightly dated considering the US experience so far.

I deplore the idea of making ICT a subject in its own right (more on that later).

More comprehensive assessments need more qualified teachers supported by a really large resource base – I think this is over ambitious, but an important goal.

Exam reform needs to definitely look at standardizing the scoring in exams, making them less susceptible to tampering by assessors – scaling by percentile will not make any difference.

Section 4.9 Use of ICT in Education

I am not sure when we will stop using this very abused and somewhat anachronistic (now) term. I am not even sure why this should be a subject in a teacher training curriculum.

I am aghast when they write that MOOCs are another application of ICTs. That is certainly not a correct interpretation.

Fundamentally ICTs for technology enabled learning are enabling and empowering technologies, entrenched in practice and ever changing, ever evolving. So long as we think of them as subjects and not as tools, we will continue to remain backward in  their use. Rather than thinking of them as curricula, we have to start thinking of them as tools to enable the curricular practices.

ICT, when referring to process automation (attendance, governance, knowledge management, analytics) and infrastructure is given focus in the draft. I see the emphasis on efficiency as important in the report.

However, what is the use of ICT in education if there isn’t a concerted policy effort to provision it? The surprising absence of the NMEICT, for example, from the policy document indicate the lack of focus on ICT.

Also missing are the policies around open licensing of digital/OER content created through taxpayer money.

Section 4.10   Teacher Development and Management

Good to have Teacher Education Universities in place. They will play a critical role. Also good to have have mandatory accreditation and standards for TEIs.

The recommendation on teachers having to prove their pedagogical and subject knowledge every 5 years linked to appraisals is more than a little draconian.

So long as we focus on such assessments and no continuous evidence of good practice, we will stay backward in TE.

Good that a teacher educator cadre is being proposed.

Section 4.17 Open and Distance Learning & MOOCs

On MOOCs, it is good that a body is proposed to be set up for credit management and quality standards, something I have been advocating consistently.

In fact, I would have loved to see the birth of the National Learning Corporation as part of this policy – a corporation with it’s sole and dedicated focus to improve the development and use of learning materials, technologies, research and entrepreneurship in India.

However, and this is a big question mark, if ODL/MOOC standards are to be laid out by a single body, it will be super-critical to have very competent people doing that. If it is anything like what existing ODL standards are like (take a look at UGC DEB or NBA guidelines for what distance education courses should be like), we are pretty much in trouble. Or if they persist in trying to re-purpose NMEICT content into MOOCs, the danger is that all providers will be held hostage to that parochial definition.

A related concern is SWAYAM itself. With plans (again) to launch it on August 15, there isn’t much clarity of the shape or form it will take.

Section 4.15 Regulation In Higher Education

I am happy the policy proposes setting up a Central Educational Statistics Agency, another one of my asks.

Section 4.19 Faculty Development in Higher Education

I am really happy that a Certificate of Teaching is being introduced for (at least) new entrants in HE teaching, again something I have been advocating consistently.

I am also happy about the focus on leadership development, sorely inadequate in the current context at both school and HE levels.

Section 4.20   Research, Innovation and New Knowledge

It is good to see NUEPA get some visibility – that is the one organization that has the mandate to do some great resesrch – just remains to be seen how. But we need some serious Ed and EdTech centres of excellence.

My Policy Recommendations

Some of the other recommendations I have made in  the past include:

12th Plan – Recommendations

MOOCs – SWAYAM API

The FICCI MOOC report has important recommendations for the MOOC ecosystem.

Government

  1. Develop systems to recognize or certify competence of individuals who have taken MOOC-based courses.
  2. Promote and fund R&D of MOOCs and its variants to address areas that are still “works-in-progress” as also areas that will enable use of MOOCs and its variants to address needs that remain unaddressed. Examples include giving “proctored” exams in multiple remote locations, or computer-based evaluation of students’ responses to exercises.
  3. Promote and fund the development of MOOC courses, tools and platforms for use by a large number of organizations to serve millions in formal, non-formal and informal education sectors.
  4. Promote and fund an assessment of the quality of education delivered in courses that are delivered online using MOOCs pedagogy as compared with other modes of faculty-led instruction in large classroom formats.
  5. Sensitize organizations, viz. institutions and corporate entities, faculty, students and parents of the merits and de-merits of MOOCs and their applications to formal, non-formal and informal education.
  6. Eat your own dog food. Make sure government personnel across all departments also start getting appraisals linked to MOOCs or online modes.
  7. Like American Council of Education (http://www.acenet.edu/Pages/default.aspx) and the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS, http://www.nationalccrs.org/ccr/home.html), NBA and NAAC can accredit MOOC programs and courses for use in credit transfer (http://chronicle.com/article/American-Council-on-Education/137155/) between MOOC Providers and formal & non-formal educational institutions.

Institutions and education providers

  1. Institutions and education providers may train its faculty in developing high quality digital content for courses they offer, as also in giving courses using MOOCs pedagogy (with or without blending them with faculty-led problem-solving sessions).
  2. Re-assess and revise existing curricula from the viewpoint using MOOCs as a way of delivery instruction to students in formal, non-formal and informal higher education.
  3. They may develop frameworks for instruction quality assessment and assurance, towards which they may develop quality standards against which quality is to be assessed.
  4. Institutions and education providers may undertake R&D of MOOCs and its variants to address areas that are still “works-in-progress” or address needs that remain unaddressed. They may also collaborate with others to undertake development of MOOCs tools and platforms.
  5. By collaborating to create a common vocabulary linking credits to learning outcomes across all programs and courses (similar to the European Credit Transfer System [ECTS] – http://ec.europa.eu/education/tools/ects_en.htm – or through some other mechanism), a robust framework for credit transfer may be created. This shall allow MOOCs to play a significant role so long as they comply with the framework.
  6. Open and Distance Learning Providers may quickly adopt MOOCs technology and pedagogy to provide new learning experiences to their students. India could also have its own Open University MOOC initiative like in countries such as UK and Australia.
  7. Teacher Education Institutions may quickly build capability in MOOCs and adopt them formally in their curriculum. It is also very important for them to invest in leading this change across other institutions.

Employers and Guilds

  1. They may encourage their own HR departments to arrange for continued education of their employees in emerging areas of technology or management.
  2. Employers may work with industry associations like FICCI and others to facilitate development of standards for quality assessment and assurance.
  3. Agree on a common Badges system, perhaps based on the Mozilla OpenBadges framework.
  4. Help MOOCs pathways emerge and the MOOC system become fully interoperable – recognizing and sharing MOOC credits, credentials, prior learning and portfolios. Facilitator organizations like MOOCs University (http://www.moocsuniversity.org) and OERu could also become useful entities in the ecosystem.
  5. Help consolidate learning records through providers such as Degreed (https://degreed.com/). Degreed is a free service that tracks and scores all of a person’s education—from books and online courses to formal college degrees.
  6. Help build/recognize “nanodegrees” or similar employment pathways as popularized by Udacity – https://www.udacity.com/nanodegrees – or XSeries from MIT-edX, https://www.edx.org/xseries or Signature Track from Coursera.

I had proposed various recommendations in my other consultations for FICCI.

Revamping teacher education

So long as we continue to teach teachers in the same way as we teach our students, teacher capability in our country will be inadequate. The following points can be considered:

  1. Evangelists: Carefully identify 2 edTech champion teachers from each district of the country and put them through an intensive two-year program (in India and abroad) that exposes them to technology enabled learning and teaching techniques. Each one of them should at the end of the two years have a viable actionable plan for improving usage of technology by teachers, building a community of teachers, creating starter guides, running coaching programs for teachers, revising the ICT curriculum & practice in B.Ed colleges etc. Then give them enough resources and authority to implement agreed measures such as independent audit/assessment, budgets to hire small teams, recruit part-time teachers, equipment, travel etc. The program can be created by the government in-line with their ICT objectives.
  2. Practice what you preach: Revise the teacher education programmes so that they include elements such as gamification, simulations, serious games, MOOCs, OERs and other edTech advancements as part of the teaching and learning strategy of the program itself that is delivered by teacher educators. Include new theories &practices of digital social learning in the curriculum. Allocate sufficient budgets for global scholars of new digital learning paradigms to interface with our educators via structured & focused programs and projects.
  3. Experiment and Design: Create R&D hubs where teachers, technologists and teacher educators come together to solve our challenges of infusing technology and network led approaches at scale and with quality & equity. These hubs should have the objective of providing solutions for the greatest impact at the lowest possible average costs, as well as for setting the edTech strategy and plan for the country.
  4. EdTech certification: Include edTech certifications and evidence based practitioner endorsements a criteria for career advancement

Promotion of Information and Communication Technology

  1. SWAYAM
    1. Instead of trying to agree on one single platform, allow multiple coordinated MOOC initiatives to flourish
    2. Focus on creating a common API for enrolments, activity tracking, gamification, certification, content access for NMEICT content etc. that saves everyone time in development and centralizes data, but still allows them to be individually creative and autonomous
    3. A core part of the implementation of these APIs by any provider should be that they “talk” with centralized servers for taxonomies (curricular definitions), learner profile data, learning experience data, content and so on and so forth. This is important if we are to influence at scale
    4. Create an initiative that is solely entrusted with the task of Learning Analytics – dissemination, analysis, modelling and predictive analysis for building adaptive learning algorithms and recommender systems
  2. NMEICT
    1. All content and services developed under NMEICT should be exposed through API. Content should be made easy to discover and re-use.
    2. NMEICT should set up an open broad based membership structure, open API and charter that incentivises contributions from society and large organizations for the national good.
    3. Content Management and Publishing platform needs to be established that allows re-use and re-purposing for different devices, and shall allow a whole new level of content augmentation through user generated content
    4. Curricular metadata and taxonomies should be made available in a centralized fashion
    5. National repositories of content – weather, space, manufacturing, labour and many others – should be open to providing data for educational purposes that can be used by teachers and students for projects and exploration
  3. National Learning Corporation: Merge independent initiatives like SWAYAM, NMEICT etc. under a common umbrella
  4. Educational Data Mining: Extend DISE to include learner and teacher activity data; improve and extend coverage; build a strong cadre of information and analytics professionals. Make data openly available much beyond what is available currently.
  5. Entrepreneurship: Explore and establish schemes for micro- and rural-entrepreneurs to support the education system. Devise ways in which these entrepreneurs can provide services and products for the local education system. Provide 1,000 small scale women, disabled, socially and economically weaker sections INR 5 lakhs grants per year for supporting educational institutions with products and services; provide easy loan schemes or microfinance initiatives for this audience
  6. Capability: Create a scheme to fund 500 global Ph.D.s in Education technology over the next 5 years. Areas of focus – MOOCs, Serious Games, Simulations and Gamification, Big Data / Learning Analytics, adaptive learning, 3D printing, wearable computing for education etc.
  7. Community building: In order to help establish a national community that can create and localize content, share best practices & data, and evolve to support each other in the implementation of ICT, make it easy to discover resource persons, experts, experienced practitioners through social networks and start multiple domain specific open source projects to engage the community.

Some earlier recommendations on Technology Enabled Learning (TEL)

  1. Content Development
    1. Quality Development Standards for open education resource development should be developed
    2. Systems to manage and reuse large scale content repositories and curricula should be established; assets should be separately made available so that they can be repurposed by any educator for their own contextual use; Learning resources should be mapped to different curricula and regional requirements; content should be publishable to multiple devices and form factors
    3. Crowd sourced solutions for aspects like content curation and translation should be implemented
    4. Use of more advanced learning formats like serious games and simulations should be considered
    5. Sourcing of appropriate available open content and its adaptation to local contexts should be a priority to increase the available resources
    6. Analytics on effectiveness and usage of these assets should be available so that they act to improve the content creation process itself
  2. Learning Environment
    1. Teachers should be able to assign and track learning resources to their class/batches
    2. Students should be uniquely identifiable online
    3. Students should be able to search for additional resources to meet their learning needs
    4. Learning should be tracked; assessment results should be stored
    5. Systems should adapt to the needs of the learner (learning paths)
    6. Students should be able to work in groups, collaboratively; and create their own networks
  3. Analytics
    1. One or more analytics warehouses should be created where student interaction and progress information can be securely maintained and in a standardised fashion
    2. Learning Analytics should be set up that provide meaningful actionable insights from the classroom level upwards
  4. Mobility
    1. More and more devices should be able to support content, learning tools and analytics so created/implemented
    2. Offline solutions for content access should be invested in a way that central aggregation of learner data is possible
  5. Research and Development
    1. R&D for Educational Technology should be incentivised – we need hundreds of EdTech PhDs and many entrepreneurs in EdTech
    2. Incubation funds should be made available for selected projects
    3. TEL  champions should be enabled across the country
  6. Management of TEL
    1. Desperately need a Chief Learning Officer for the country and for each State; need a skilled cadre of trained EdTech resources to provide the supporting structure
    2. Need access to infrastructure for power, computing, storage and connectivity to be rolled out at a much faster pace
    3. Need centralized dashboards for all TEL showing health of TEL in the nation
    4. Need awareness and advocacy efforts at a national scale
    5. Need international collaborations in EdTech

Microsoft may well have the last laugh in the struggle to build SWAYAM – the Indian government’s flagship initiative on MOOCs. The deal is priced at 38 cr INR or about USD 6 mn for a 3 year period post which the government will handle it. This is supported by changes in regulations which permit colleges and technical institutions to use SWAYAM courses for credit – see the UGC and the AICTE guidelines. It is supported by the NMEICT commitment for re-purposing of NPTEL content for MOOC-based consumption. It is supported by host institutions sharing infrastructure and other support for students taking a partner institution course.

This is indeed a positive development for online learning in India. For the first time, online learning will be an acceptable part of the learning curriculum, formally recognized for their credit power. This may enthuse students and teachers to accept the platform and courses, and give students a way to improve their scores and understanding of the subject.

Of course, this platform is not really as open in the sense that it is not open to all for free or to those outside the education system itself to accumulate credits for future sojourns in the academic system or otherwise. It resides as a component within an existing institutional framework with limitations on use. In its implementation, it is likely going to be in the nature of an elective course (at least that is how I think it will be implemented). Over time, whether these courses actually turn out to be massive, is also a question.

When I helped coin the full name of SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), I had for inspiration Ivan Illich’s famous statement in Deschooling Society (1971):

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.

MOOC systems are intended to be webs, an institutional inverse and are new education funnels. Just like the Connectivists say that Learning is the process of making connections and that Knowledge is the network, the web-like nature of learning is its most powerful when actualized through technology and digital networks. They are not intended to be closed and institution specific. I hope some of that thinking permeates how the system is conceived of and implemented, else it will be no different from how online learning has happened all these years.

But in the more relaxed sense, even this is a valuable opening move. Perhaps our Open and Distance Learning system can migrate to SWAYAM as well (IGNOU, NIOS, SOUs) and bring with them learners who have by choice embraced the distance learning paradigm.

There are many important considerations for getting this to work for the long term for Microsoft and SWAYAM.

  1. Open Software, Cloud and API: Use of open software and non-proprietary cloud platforms and technologies: It is imperative, for long term sustainability, to ensure that software stacks are open and reusable in different scenarios. The system must be interfaced with using Open API based services and must exposes developer SDKs. Tie in to vendor specific platforms or application software on a general scale should be avoided.
  2. Design: It is super critical to bring some standardization into MOOC design and development processes while allowing for creativity. MOOCs are/should be designed differently from online learning courses. They become a continuous site of interaction, reflection and knowledge creation rather than episodic learner – course silos.
  3. Delivery: Support for MOOC learners (peer and institutional) needs thinking. The host institution may or may not be capable or able to support such myriad course choices. The partner institution, which creates the course, may need to think of how to certify (if there is a manual component involved in assessments).
  4. Data modeling and security: This is a really huge piece of the puzzle. While data should be available in anonymous forms to researchers, personally identifiable and behavior/performance data should be protected zealously. Data will have to be modeled too along standards that we have to evolve.
  5. Equal Opportunity: A crucial part of this platform’s success will be to allow multiple sources of MOOCs to be hosted on the platform. For example, publishers must be allowed to publish and advertise digital courses found to be at par with the government sponsored content. So too may external organizations, whether HE/SE/FE or not, should be allowed the opportunity to host their courses for fee or free. Otherwise this is akin to creating a government monopoly.
  6. Engagement: The single largest determinant of the platform success is going to be engagement of teachers, experts, administrators, students and parents.

Some additional notes from a previous conversation with a colleague:

Firstly, it makes sense to have many platforms if and only if we agree that a common API can be created by SWAYAM that saves everyone time in development and centralizes data. This common API can be loosely coupled with many content repositories. However a core part of the implementation of these APIs by any provider should be that they “talk” with centralized servers for taxonomies (curricular definitions), learner profile data, learning experience data, content and so on and so forth. This could be a middle of the road approach which shall also allow distributed centres of innovation. Do look at the Clever API way of doing this as an example (https://clever.com/). They centralize student information from 30,000 schools and then make them login to a single platform with hundreds of tools and resources – this saves time and brings forth continuous innovations in content, curricula and edTech.

The second part is that the money we are spending will yield very low return if content assets are not leveraged through a proper Content Management and Publishing platform which stores content in raw formats and is able to repurpose and publish to multiple platforms and devices. We are going to save atleast 30% in costs of new development, 100% of the cost in repurposing (or close to that) and countless hours of effort and money in publishing cycles and deployments. Plus we will enable an entire generation of teachers and experts (and even students) to contribute content pieces on a mass scale.

Thirdly our strategy for compute and storage should be to enable the fabric upon which all systems work – so rather than providing a scaled up portal, if we provide enough power to serve applications, services, content and data to downstream MOOC or online/blended learning environments and store learner & teacher experience data and performance on the shared cloud, we shall end up truly leveraging the massive scale that we have. Just as an example, let us assume that for the same topic in an engineering course, all institutions with lakhs of students taking the course, we are able to amass and match student profiles with course performance data (content viewed, apps used, forum activity, test results etc.), then we will have an unprecedented scale to build adaptive learning algorithms and recommender systems. Plus we shall be able to, on a mass scale, exchange taxonomies with available international content repositories in a meaningful manner. This also sets the ground for continuous improvements.

The fourth is our ability to take this to low cost devices, phones and even standalone centers with little or no connectivity. It should be possible to use our CMS and build delivery mechanisms to sync data and content between the remote center and the central computing resources.

The fifth is our ability to build a community that can create and localize content, and evolve to support each other. No government can physically build a national community that is to be so large and connected. Using central services APIs, we can soft-connect every individual in the learning system and allow distributed sites of development.

The sixth is that it gives the chance to practice good governance, since all activity can be monitored/reviewed/analysed centrally alleviating the pains that exist today in manual data collection and analytics. One has only to see the Sathyam committee report to understand the scale of the problems we face in educational data mining in India.

 

The Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy 2016 is now available.

The report is a scathing indictment of political interference and corruption in the Indian education system. It is unrelenting in stressing lack of political will to make education a priority. It strongly condemns the corruption and malpractice in India’s education system. It castigates the custodians of educational research and delivery. Overall, the recommendations can be summarized as follows:

  1. Our structures are not working. Let us delete some, add some more new structures and revamp the rest. These structures have to be accompanied by more transparency, decentralization, autonomy and accountability – and there should be a structure for that too. The Higher Education Management Act, for example, should allow an overarching HE regulator to emerge. Centralize high stakes testing by consolidating entrance tests for each discipline. Basically, the order has failed, so let us have more order.
  2. We have met capacity. Now let us focus on capability. The solution is to build military style and bureaucratic cadres that bring in professionalism and expertise into the system. It is on automation and use of ICT (and Big Data with the proposal of a Central Bureau of Educational Intelligence to be set up). It is on efficient management techniques, and coaching and remediation within the system. We need to lower the bar on who can become a teacher, increase tenured positions and promote merit.
  3. The education system is unfocused on education. Teacher unions, strikes, student political activism on campus – these distract from the core aim of education – and unions and students need to refocus.
  4. Existing policies explicit promote a favour taking-giving culture and exploitative black market fee regimes – remove that control on fees and influence. Regulate the market flexibly, but do allow it.
  5. If folks have a problem with what is to change, they can go to education tribunals that will sort out their grievances. The law should support enforcement of a new order with clear mandates. The rest need to fall in line.
  6. Measure, rank and accredit institutional outcomes. Link them to student outcomes and a Gross Employability Ratio. The API system has resulted in a deterioration of research. We need a new all-encompassing framework for Quality Assurance mandatory for all institutions to conform to. Hark back to NARA in Sibal’s time for a national body for accreditation and regulation.
  7. Indian students are spending more on studying and researching abroad than what our universities are spending on their research. So create niche centres of excellence here instead to promote research – and give them full autonomy. Again, allow foreign institutions to give degrees here, but they should be in the top 200 (which is what Coursera thinks too, by the way).
  8. Rapping the NCERT for failing to execute on the NCF 2005 (now itself stale and in need of revision), the recommendations are for NCERT to redesign textbooks. Similarly, IGNOU seems to never have been reviewed for its quality and credibility since its inception! But it should be made a national university so long as it acts as its own regulator. NIOS must emerge as a credible player in vocational education and must also move from a departmental management mode to something more full-blown, like IGNOU. NUEPA comes under fire for not critically reviewing what it is doing and for not undertaking much serious research on the problems of the Indian education system.

It’s a nuanced and detailed report. The authors should be complimented for their method and commitment. They must be especially thanked for their outspoken criticism. However, I must comment on two things:

  1. The report seems to be guided by a dominant political and market narrative. The existing system is broken, fix it by more structure and regulation balanced by accountability. Make the market more open and simplify/deregulate to make entry barriers go down. Make the education intelligentsia more accountable. Make the campus less political. Increase the level of emphasis on culture and values. Make the law more powerful. Create cadres. Leverage Digital India.
  2. There is no underlying framework of thought on the education policy itself or a high level vision. There are no principles explicitly enunciated which act as a basis for the recommendations. There is a great deal of uncovering what is wrong and a greatly detailed empirically grounded prescription for what should be done. But there is no guiding vision or framework. There is no prescription for policy makers nor is there any comment on competence of the policy making process and its agents themselves. There is no mention of entrepreneurship in education, no focus on edTech as a separate area of investigation, no mention of empowerment of students, parents and teachers, no thoughts on open-ness in education etc. This makes it uninspiring, factual and unconvincing (at least to me).

There can be a framework guided not by political or market narratives, and one that can guide policy. An example framework could be along (say) 5 pillars:

  1. Democratization
  2. Leveraging Scale to meet scale
  3. Dis-aggregation and decentralization
  4. Capability not just capacity
  5. Glocalization

The problem with not having a framework is that you have no way of knowing if your recommendations are aligned. Not just that, you have no way of presenting a cohesive model and plan of action. You have no way of pacing the developments or setting targets. You have no way of understanding what the outcome of the policy could be in the short, medium and long-term. You have no mechanism to address conflicting policy directives or recommendations. And you have no way to broker consensus on what is really important and why.

It’s a long report. Some details below.

They recommend a new bureaucratic cadre called the Indian Education Service, earlier mooted by Anil Bordia, as a mechanism to improve governance and quality. In fact, the use of the word cadre throughout the policy indicates their thrust towards more bureaucratic structural changes in the education system with attendant autonomy and accountability narratives.

They are concerned that universities are sites of political organization. That interferes with education. Nothing new there too, considering the recent fracas at JNU.

They invoke Kapil Sibal (although not by name) who suggested a judicial autonomous system of tribunals to handle litigation. And also hark to his work on Foreign Universities and the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority – but fail to explicitly mention those schemes.

They recommend that 6% of the GDP should be spent on Education, a demand that started from the 1968 policy.

They are very conscious of students from socially disadvantaged or economically backward backgrounds who require extra mentoring/enculturation (hark the recent IIT expulsion of such students).

They advocate a one class – one teacher norm, suggesting that it is a period of consolidation for the school sector.

Very interestingly, and this may pinch, they recommend teaching to be converted into a ‘licensed practitioner’ model for both government and private teachers, who would have to undergo ‘independent external testing’ every 10 years to continue as teachers.

Another ‘cadre’ for teacher educators is desired. Teacher unions are encouraged to focus on curriculum development. Teacher mobility (equitable postings across the state) is encouraged. Strong political and administrative will would bend teachers to become more disciplined and accountable, with SMCs and Headmasters given control to take disciplinary action against truant teachers. teacher absenteeism, teacher vacancies and lack of teacher accountability has “destroyed the credibility of our school education system”.

Decentralization to empower local level governance and decision making by school management is also encouraged, provided they are held accountable for results. Student outcomes linked to teacher accountability is the magic wand for improving quality. There is to be a separate cadre for principals too.

The school is now a management unit which ought to function “efficiently”. IT is expected to usher in enhanced school governance and accountability.

The committee also felt that the RTE (Right to Education) “is designed to conform to the spirit of common school system and common curricula.” It feels that increased diversity in the classroom benefits all students, and this should extend to minority institutions equally. In fact, the RTE should be expanded to focus on learning outcomes (basically the law should also step in, apart from political and administrative will).

On no-detention, this should apply only to Class 1-5 and the laws should be suitably amended to scrap this post that. Kids upto 11 years need not be burdened by the shame of repeating a class, whether they learn or not. But later on, it sort of gets more serious. And, of course, focused remediation by the teacher or by technological methods could work to improve the situation.

On vocational education, the report reiterates the existing government policy, structures and direction. Better connects between VET and the school and university systems (“bridge”), NSQF, SSCs and NSDC and the like.

The sector to be hit by regulation is the pre-school market with the additional recommendation that children get the Right to ECCE from age 4 to 5. NCERT would develop the curriculum and Aanganwadis would take the execution up.

And then there is the discussion around languages and how Sanskrit should be introduced at primary and upper primary stages as well. Similarly, in sports, Yoga emerges as a recommendation, that should be encouraged in every school.

Many recommendations on Higher education too – from changing how VCs are appointed, to setting up a new Act under which HE will be governed, to accreditation agencies and structural accountabilities. On MOOCs, they are circumspect and brief, not wishing to commit until they get more evidence. But they are indeed scathing on the NCERT, NIOS, IGNOU, NUEPA and other organizations for the quality and speed of their work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An interesting post by George Siemens on how he is negotiating change in the education system.

This lead to reflection about how change happens and why many of the best ideas don’t gain traction and don’t make a systemic level impact. We know the names: Vygostky, Freire, Illich, Papert, and so on. We know the ideas. We know the vision of networks, of openness, of equity, and of a restructured system of learning that begins with learning and the learner rather than content and testing.

But why doesn’t the positive change happen?

The reason, I believe, is due to the lack of systems/network-level and integrative thinking that reflects the passion of advocates AND the reality of how systems and networks function.

Will Richardson responds by invoking Sarason:

“Unfortunately, none of these reformers confront the governance system as a system that includes the school, the school system or district, the board of education, the state department of education, the university, the parents, the legislature, and the executive branch of government. These are stakeholders in a very complicated educational system. They are not passive stakeholders; they have similar but by no means identical interests and agendas; more often than not they are in conflict with and mistrust one another. It is a system so balkanized as to prevent meaningful discussion of, let alone agreement about, educational goals and priorities. It is not a system that can initiate and sustain meaningful reform. on the contrary, its features are such as to make reform extraordinarily difficult and even impossible. Under severe and unusual pressure it may permit tinkering, even the appearance of reform, but as time goes on and the pressures decrease, the leadership changes, the tinkering and reform lose force and purpose, confirming the adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same. It is not a self-correcting system; there are no means, procedures, forums through which the system “learns.” ”

George follows his trajectory over the past few years and writes (the last of which Stephen does not full agree with):

Ideas that change things require an integrative awareness of systems, of multiple players, and of the motivations of different agents. It is also required that we are involved in the power-shaping networks that influence how education systems are structured, even when we don’t like all of the players in the network.

I don’t think this is simply an argument about how to bring about change, from within or externally. It is more a core belief that either the system can change or cannot. Quoting Sarason again:

It is a system with a seemingly infinite capacity to remain the same in the face of obvious inadequacies, unmet goals, and public dissatisfaction. It is a system in which accountability is so diffused that no one is accountable. It is a system that has outlived all of its reformers, and will outlive the present generation of reformers

George’s concern, however, remains valid:

I’m worried that those who have the greatest passion for an equitable world and a just society are not involved in the conversations that are shaping the future of learning. I continue to hear about the great unbundling of education. My fear is the re-bundling where new power brokers enter the education system with a mandate of profit, not quality of life.

More people need to engage in this conversation, even if their beliefs mean that they dismiss  the current system. There is a rebundling happening and there is a clear and present danger that George identifies accurately. We saw how MOOCs were usurped in 2011.

In India, it is not all that different. I have witnessed, at close quarters, many practices that are nothing to do with educating, but more to do with sustaining the system – whether in corporate, government or academic communities. It is almost as if there is a sense of fatalistic acceptance by the stakeholders with greed and disengagement equally the two vital pillars of this systemic sustenance.

But it is really important to understand that external influencers must engage with internal adopters – that is who they will meet on the inside. And a shared vision will triumph in the end.

 

 

 

 

Of late, I have been increasingly dismayed by the growing indignity in Indian Education. Somehow the very character of the system seems to be under great stress.

Take for example, the Manoj Mishra-ization of Indian education. This gentleman, lauded by the Times of India as one who is Leading a fight to get India’s truant teachers back in class, is a District Education Officer in Uttar Pradesh. The Times eulogy is deafeningly definitive.

As he walks along the dusty streets of the wheat-farming villages a couple of hours’ drive from Nepal, older people touch his feet in a sign of respect. Young women pull out their phones and take selfies by his side.

Mishra took it upon himself to reform teacher attendance. Faced with various problems, he has been unyielding in his efforts to get truant teachers back into school, resisting political pressure and threats to his life. His state education minister seems to be more than supportive too. He has had to resort to several unconventional methods.

By August 2014, when he showed up in Deoria, he was already causing a stir. He had been reprimanded for beating up three teachers with a stick because he believed they had landed their jobs using fraudulent documents. That episode made the headlines in the nearby city of Gorakhpur.

The punchline for the article is interesting. Mishra says:

…making teachers go to school is only one small step forward. Whether they teach or don’t teach, I can’t tell. But now, at least, they come to school.

Perhaps there is a certain indignity in both these realities – that teachers do play truant and that such totalitarian corrective measures are equally endorsed and vilified by a political class.

And then there is the indignity of our educational leadership.

Earlier, schools would be run by educationists for philanthropy. But now businessmen, property dealers and families run schools. They deal with teachers the way they would treat their other staff. They have made recruiting teachers as simple as hiring an office boy for just Rs 10,000 a month.

In fact, this is admission time – translation – the time when the coffers will get filled with soaring per seat rates for parents and new farmhouses are bought in cash.

Or the indignity against our educational leadership, as in the AMU case (and of which I have been personally a witness too, in another context).

His confirmation comes after a controversy broke out on social media that he was “humiliated” by Ms. Irani when he went to meet her as part of a delegation led by the Kerala Chief Minister on January 8, to seek her support for the off-campus AMU centre in Malappuram, which is “developing much slower than expected.

Or it is the radicalization of dissent, sharply polarizing the country, whether on caste or nationalist lines. I must point out A Syllabus on Sedition, an almost MOOC-ish effort to bring forward a repository of curated resources to frame the events at JNU and the Hyderabad Central University.

These indignities worry me. These are indignities, among many others, which our children face, everyday at school. In humiliating ourselves through our greed, quest for power and incompetence, we humiliate our children and propel them backwards in development of visionary thought, prosperity and power.

Perhaps this is not just an Indian phenomena, and that we are cursed into it because we are human. But that doesn’t make it any better, does it?

This past year has been very eventful. Here are some of my impressions of 2015.

xMOOCs have strengthened this year. The major players have received lots of new funding, added 1800 new courses, 100 new credentials, doubled enrollments to 35 mn students and co-opted many new partners from academia (over 550 universities in all) and industry.  Class-Central’s report talks about 5 emerging trends.

  • Rise of self-paced courses (20% of the course listings on Class-central are self-paced)
  • Death of the free certificate (average per course costs are USD 50+ for providers such as Coursera and edX)
  • MOOCs for High schoolers (to bridge the college readiness gap)
  • Sharper business model (with paid credentials) – also aligning to the for-credit model, which has the required scale if endorsed by university partners, althoughJust one specialization from Coursera makes 10x the revenue, in ten months, that the entire university of Harvard makes with 60+ courses. The numbers tell a clear story: students don’t care if the certificate is id-verified or not.“. There is also a revenue model in tying financial aid/loans for these courses.
  • Huge funding (nearly USD 200 mn between just Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn)

All in all, xMOOCs have started looking rather like Lynda (which LinkedIn, very sensibly, acquired) and so many other online course providers who have established business models in traditional online learning. What is different is scale and hype, but the rest remains essentially the same. In fact, it is a well rehearsed strategy to grow the numbers using a free approach and segue into a paid marketplace, the runway being the patience and appetites of investors.

India, too, has joined the bandwagon. With early experiments by the IITs and other institutions, now the focus is on converting existing content into ‘MOOC-compliant’ (whatever that means) offerings from existing content and the building of an indigenous platform called SWAYAM. SWAYAM is supposed to be a “Single Window, centralized, integrated, multi-lingual, user-friendly platform enabling module based efficient learning” and will integrate central and state universities, training providers, educators, students, examination partners, internal platforms etc. and will feature Enterprise CMS, CRM, Analytics and eCommerce and other supporting modules; available in offline modes and on any device (Volume 2).

Meanwhile, policy changes are towards more open-ness in sharing resources and textbooks for free/paid online access. There are several new initiatives like ePathshala and eBasta (which I never really could get my arms around; in any case it has no more that about 6,500 downloads in the past 6 months) that aim to bring free and paid digital versions of textbooks and learning materials to the mobile devices in online and offline modes. Government continues to exercise muscle power in online learning, being the main funder and the largest scale provider, probably to the angst of private players. A realization also seems to be seeping in that offline versions are key (look at what Khan Academy Lite is trying to do) and so is multi-lingual content (Khan Academy Hindi). Be that as it may, these are moves that utilize technology for some kind of dissemination, hardly moves that are going to improve education. Elsewhere, government is also waking up to the fact that it needs to put information systems online, such as Saransh.

The unregulated Indian PreK12 market seems to be consolidating. Zee Learn and Treehouse have merged to create the largest player with over 2000 pre-schools, with Eurokids (884 centres) and Shemrock (425 centres) following behind.

EdTech funding this year has touched a new high. Over USD 3bn was invested worldwide with nearly half that in education finance companies Social Finance and Earnest.The rest mainly in online edTech providers, xMOOCs and tutoring. In India, edSurge reports, there were 27 deals valued at about USD 60 mn. Audrey Watters is doing a great job at putting some of this information together.Top areas of investor happiness? Test prep. Tutoring. Private student loans. Learning management systems. Online “skills training.”

More detailed figures on Indian edTech reveal a total investment of USD 66 mn in India. This is compared to USD 60 mn in just one of many edTech investment in China. Indian investment looks to follow a similar pattern – Test Prep. Online skills/training/curriculum. Tutoring. And this is less than 1% of total private investment deals in India in 2015.

I can’t recall, sadly, innovative ed-tech in 2015, perhaps apart from some work in adaptive learning by companies such as Knewton. Perhaps it is just that I have not kept up, but nothing stood out really.

Atleast I had fun being part of Dave Cormier’s Rhizo15. The great part of a cMOOC is that you get to meet some incredible people who expose you to some really mind-blowing thinking around learning and education. You learn to renew yourself through the experience of being connected with others and discussing new ideas. I hope that good sense will prevail in India and we will start experimenting with some of these models instead of aping the xMOOCs and building learning management systems.

And I cannot but mention the most impressive post of 2015 for me. Audrey Watters wrote The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’ and questioned popular rhetoric. Not merely is the analogy anachronistic, but it is also not very relevant. However, the big revelation to me this year, is that there is an organized system out there whose outcomes are not very educational after all! More on that later.

Inexorably though, in 2016, the online courses and tutoring juggernaut will keep progressing and the space is going to be of the more of the same variety. Hopefully India will see increased traction – it is just a matter of time.

RIP Jay Cross

People ask how my new book is coming along. I tell them I’m not writing a book, I’m leading a crusade.

Jay Cross, The Real Learning Project.

The last interaction I had with Jay was in August this year. Jay shared a copy of his latest work “Aha! Get Smart – The missing manual for do-it-yourself learners“.  He wrote:

I hope to inspire hoards of people to experience the Aha! of having learned something significant and remembering how they did it.

Through this project, Jay wanted to empower learners to discover their agency in learning, something that is incredibly important for the future.

Jay tells us to remember that we are in-charge of our learning, not the teacher or the institution. It is not something that happens to you at events or courses, it is something that is owned by you, on a continuous basis, life long. Learning becomes a process for improving your Life.

Throughout the book, there are useful cues and practical help to JDI (Just Do It). The ideas that learning is personal, social, conversational, tacit, reflective, continuous – run through the book. Jay also ran up against the power law in networked learning:

Fifteen years ago, a rule of thumb for community participation was 1-10-100. Out of 100 people, 1 would lead the charge by posting interesting and provocative information. 10 would comment, converse, and otherwise post. The remaining 89  would watch. The ratio must have changed. People who are accustomed to posting news and pictures on Facebook are more likely to take part in any social network they come upon, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with us.

Although we had episodically interacted over the web in various contexts, I remember first meeting Jay when he was kind enough to come all the way to New Delhi for the EDGEx conference we had organized in 2012.

I believe that Jay’s message is incredibly important for all of us. We need to celebrate the Aha! in learning. Now, more so.

RIP. Jay Cross. The man who coined the term eLearning.

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