An open letter to CABE

The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meets on October 25, 2016 to discuss many important issues. The apex education advisory organization features education ministers, HRD officials, key institutional heads and key influencers from outside government. The CABE takes the important decisions about education in our country.

This time around, on the tentative agenda are a spate of important things. Such as:

  1. The scrapping of the no-detention policy
  2. The extension of RTE (the Right to Education) Act to span pre-school and secondary education
  3. The re-institution of a Class X board exam

The Class X Board Exam

It was found that only 4% of the students went through the school-based Summative Assessment 2 exam as prescribed by Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE) (on an average in the past three years). They found that not only were the school based exams considered medium standard, but also that the huge psychological stress barrier of a boards based exam, when removed, actually resulted in a lax attitude by students and a decline in quality of education itself. Students ended up losing the habit of regular studies given a virtual no-detention on the basis of the large proportion of co-scholastic evaluation counting in the final exam. They also found that the majority of parents, teachers and principals (the latter overwhelmingly so) wanted a board mandated exam instead.

In summary, they feel that the CCE scheme was unwarranted, misinformed and counter-productive, which is why board exams need to come back carrying 80% weightage and school assessment carrying 20% weightage, with a minimum passing score of 33% in each.

Perhaps the answer does not lie in standardizing exams, as most of the world is finding out (look at the gaokao noose in China and the resistance to standardized testing in the USA). The core system behind continuous, rather than one-shot assessments with a weightage to co-scholastic performance is most definitely a better system for learning than a rote-based, performance only driven system. The fact that neither could the board do away completely with board exams (by merely making it optional, there was no compulsion to change over for most schools, thereby keeping 96% of the students at a conventional advantage as compared with the 4% who did take the option), nor could it also not drive the program effectively as a change agent. They took a quick dip, found it is not working (across two ‘sarkars’) and decided to abandon it, in effect throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The CABE could take the view that CCE was improperly implemented, not uniformly adopted, and ineffectively communicated as a transformative change. It could argue that change in the education system is gradual and generational, needs emphasis and change management. It could state that the CCE was placed in a system that basically had the power to shape it in its own mould, in much the same way as it conducted the regular pre-CCE scheme of studies, and in essence defeating its very objective. Perhaps the CCE could have evolved in the face of this emergent response of a system under threat, but it did not, and that is where its demise may begin.

Perhaps we do have spine still in the education system. But then perhaps, we don’t. How can we argue that 4% of the students virtually lost interest in studying because they no longer were faced with the stress and indiscriminate rigor of a rote based system? It is like saying we would all end up committing heinous crimes if we did not have a mandate to the electric chair waiting for us if we did.

The scrapping of the No-detention policy

My perspective on this policy is that it basically helped get the gross enrolment ratio up. With no threat of ‘failure’, there was an easy progression on the way up and therefore also incentivized retention. A perfect fit to the Right to Education Act. It allowed people to take advantage of the system while unknowingly serving the political goals of getting every child to school. Teachers got the short end of the stick here, with no way to enforce discipline. No one really wanted to come to school to learn, they just wanted a certificate they could get a job with.

Different stakeholders are blamed, rightfully or wrongfully, on either side of the fence, for the failure of our aspiration to do things differently. Many states have blamed the policy for a downfall in educational outcomes and quality.

Five states out of 23 have asked to stay with No-detention. Different states and committees have given different suggestions on how to implement this policy – like the New Education Policy recommended we have no detention only up to age 11/grade V; some have suggested external (ostensibly ‘board’) exams at class III/V/VIII levels; and so on.

A series of important perspectives on these two issues are available here, for and against:

No respite for edTech

The complete absence of attention to Educational Technologies (edTech) in the CABE agenda is striking. Not even one small part of the agenda is focused on how we can truly leverage edTech to act as an agent for scale or performance. This, at a time when edTech is perhaps at par with other burning issues such as teacher education, curricular reform and inclusive education. Does this mean that the highest body in Education in India today does not regard edTech as a real force and change agent? Or will there be lip service to this domain?

What is the point in all this?

What we are doing successfully is that we are missing the point. We are trying to deal with two different themes altogether. One, which emphasizes learning and creativity and technology, and the other which emphasizes rote and certificatory cultures.

The twain shall not meet in ordinary circumstances, but our uncommon wisdom seems to guide us towards mixing the two up upfront. You cannot expect to twist the dominant paradigm into an aspirational one and then expect it to remain significantly unchanged at every level of exit. More often than not, and clearly visible in this case, the dominant paradigm has dwarfed, sabotaged and mutated the aspirational one.

What this means is that if we truly want to be inclusive about alternate systems of education, we have to stop trying to channel their outcomes into the singular dominant paradigm. And if you really wanted to change the dominant paradigm itself, you would need to deal with supporting the change and its agents fully, over a period of time, in smaller incremental steps. You cannot hope to make big bang changes which you easily discard when you fail.

What if we really wanted to make our aspiration more mainstream? Were there any other ways to make this work?

Possible Solutions

Perhaps yes. If the right incentivization was put into effect for each stakeholder so that they knew it was alright to experiment, without any terminal concerns, it may just work. For example, if schools were given extra autonomy, reduced curricular load, better pay & progression structures for teachers, necessary infrastructure, and allowed to build a different structure for performance evaluation & excellence which extended right to college and thereon to job opportunities, it may just work.

If the CABE decides to do this as a parallel system, it will perhaps be able to leverage the right resources to scale at the right time. Rightsizing the aspirations will mean that we recognize the aspirations for better educational opportunities at every stage and then credibility for performance and excellence in those opportunities when students compete for employment.

One of the ways that we could do this is to set up a separate Board altogether. Let us call it the National Progressive Board (NPB). The NPB would receive the same level of stature and credibility as the CBSE or State Boards for all practical purposes. The NPB would conduct its own performance evaluation and its evaluation would be normalized for entry to higher education with respect to other Boards. Rather than melting into one common examination for entry to (say) engineering and management institutions, this Board would get weightage basis its own evaluation structure. It would be subject to the same level of scrutiny as other boards are with respect to their performance.

But instead of using one single yardstick to view their output, different (not inferior) yardsticks could be equally applied for this board – sort of leveling the playing field. It does not make sense to align all competitive exams to the curriculum followed by the dominant board only – it marginalizes other boards and makes it difficult for them to sustain their identity.

Therein also lies a challenge. Boards often end up competing, directly or indirectly, for reach, student numbers and visibility. It is often noted that some Boards are not perceived nearly as good as others, and sometimes entry level criteria in (say) colleges are mutated to fit those discrepancies. Sometimes location-based or reservation-based policies for entry also mitigate the discrepancies. So a system exists that is inclusive and understands that there is no one-size-fits-all criteria for excellence, but it needs tweaking to ensure parity.

So if it was possible to incentivize interested stakeholder to adopt the NPB, and as a systemic intervention, the performance objectives of the NPB could be aligned with downstream educational and work opportunities for students coming from other boards, we would have a solution that could scale when we need it to.

Over time, if the NPB performs and its students and teachers can demonstrate that results are comparable (or better, hopefully, than systems following rote and certificatory rigor), it can start scaling up to larger audiences. This is perhaps how the Charter Schools in the USA started, and perhaps many more such initiatives across the world. If the NPB does not perform, there are systemic corrections that will happen precisely because stakeholders are unable to extract value. Over a period of time, expectations and alignment to the bigger vision will happen, if done correctly.

A Resurgence

The NPB could be charged with taking edTech seriously. It could evolve its own curriculum and train its teachers differently. They would have the time and space to do so, taking the best practices from all around the world and localizing them to our unique context.

The structure could also vary significantly. Rather than having age determined grade levels, the NPB could look at competency driven structures which are leveled progressions. Mobility from one certifying level to another would then perhaps even imply mobility from one type of institution to another within the NPB – schools that are meant to deal with different competency structures within a single Board, perhaps.

Teachers could then be specifically targeted for different certifying levels, with a minimum target level being assured by legislative acts like the RTE (instead of years of schooling). More specifically, teachers could be tasked very differently compared to the existing system – perhaps on the number of students they were successfully able to move from one certifying level to another rather than having to focus on completing an year of mandatory curriculum.

We talked about the NPB in context of school education, but what is to stop us from moving further to skills and Higher Ed with similar structures? They are faced with similar systemic issues and it does not make sense to stop the innovation at the end of school. I am guessing the premier institutions also could benefit from a healthy dose of progressive thinking in a similar vein.

Having a well defined competency based progression to higher and tertiary education may make for a more integrated and credible system.

At each level, the focus will be on outcomes, the same as any other board. But not every student will have to be judged the same way and exposed to unified age-based curricula. This will make the system flexible to meet various different needs and aspirations, while giving credibility to each structure.

Employability also needs to be addressed in a similar manner. The fact is that the current systems are not really producing enough employable people, as has been witnessed by many a study and bemoaned by both academia and industry. In that sense, even if we were to remove no-detention and even reintroduce board driven external examinations at every level, it still would not improve the terminal employability outcomes. It is chimerical to assume that detention or external board driven exam will improve the quality of the education system – we have not witnessed adequate terminal efficiencies in that legacy approach either. It’s like saying let us fix the ship so that it sails, even if it is in the wrong direction.

We have achieved this in some way in our diverse education system already, so it may not be an altogether novel approach. Our ability to split streams from core to vocational is one such example. Our distinction of ITI vs. IIT is another example of meeting different needs and aspirations. However, most of these initiatives stem from a singular approach to structuring education – age driven curricula, uniform one-size-fits-all approach to curricula, year based exit criteria, subject silos and so on. Perhaps it is time to innovate within the structure effectively and introduce greater structural flexibility, choice and focus.

Perhaps there is an opportunity for CABE to set things right this time, to get to root causes instead of just agreeing to the incidental and expected symptoms. I hope in my heart they will democratically evaluate alternate initiatives on merit, initiatives that are capable of systemic transformation, not demagoguery, myopia or bias.

There are three things I believe are necessary for success in product development, and perhaps in other endeavors in Life as well.

Courage. You need the courage to dream on a very wide canvas, the courage to fail and make mistakes, the courage to acknowledge what can defeat you and persist in your efforts to resolve it. You need the courage of commitment to stay the course despite what others may have to say or how detractors may perform their dance of distractions. You need the courage to be able to listen, shed your prior biases and conviction. You need the courage to trust your team and play an important part in keeping them challenged, ever growing as people.

Craft. Your craft – the skills you bring to meet the challenge – is really critical. It is not all about what you know already. It is more about what you can learn and teach and share. It is about how open you can be to ideas and thoughts – and how respectful you can be towards the contributions of others, small or large. It is the craft that distinguishes the weak from the strong, the doers from the doomsayers. If you don’t grow while making your product, it is never going to grow either.

Character. A product without character and a team without a conscience are bound to fail. It is the moral intent behind the product that helps it transcend the domains of the merely useful. To be transformational, there must be a soul to the product and its own consciousness and integrity. This is very important to realize and practice – which aspect of your product promotes or has the potential to promote greater social good, and which part is only purely parochial and transient, driven by greed rather than compassion or ingenuity.

Courage. Craft. Character. Three things that are perhaps extremely relevant in many areas – including edTech. Education, though, needs much more emphasis on Character than before. Large players with the ability to disseminate and scale the product, need to shoulder the responsibility for operating with professional, social and financial integrity. And if this happens, the sky is indeed no limit.

Our classrooms are digitally isolated by their very design. It is a distortion of our bureaucratic education systems wherein, on the one hand, grade levels are broken down into separate groups/classrooms, insulated from each other, while each group is encouraged (or mostly not) to independently interact with the outside world.

As a result, students learning the same concepts (from perhaps the same teachers), cannot break the confines of their own classroom group, to celebrate their own local diversity, far less the diversity offered by classrooms worldwide doing almost exactly the same thing, separated by time and space.

This distortion is brought upon us by our approach to managing scale in the education system. Although at one end, developing nations like India still see a significant number of one-room schools (multi-grade single teacher classrooms; in India the figure is around 10%), the vast majority of our classrooms at any level of education stand singularly insulated.

Is this distortion healthy? It is not. In an inter-connected world, fast augmented by accessible technology, our research shows us that increased diversity in the classroom leads to more tolerance, better thinkers, stronger communities, more successful employees and happier lives. It improves the self-efficacy of learners so they become exponentially better performers for the long-term and not just at a particular grade level or assessment. By also co-operating and sharing, they increase their own capacity to learn – a skill that is severely under-rated by bureaucratic systems of education, leading to reflections such as Do Schools Kill Creativity. Clearly, group wise insulation implies a loss of shared experience, so vital for individual sense-making.

This distortion permeates other aspects as well – for example, teacher performance is measured group-wise and in isolation from teacher performance elsewhere. Even for teachers, there is this near-complete isolation between the classrooms she teaches and what others teach, in the same location or worldwide. Thus this impacts teacher self-efficacy as well – her ability to evolve and grow. The same could be said for school leaders.

In a system so shorn of collaboration, we cannot celebrate the benefits of diversity and connected-ness. The distortion in the system ensures greater isolation, thereby lower levels of efficiency for all stakeholders. So far, this distortion is likened to commonsense, with increased diversity desirable but deemed impractical at scale. As a result, very little, if at all, of our education system is geared towards connection-making (in the Connectivist sense) for teaching and learning.

It behoves us to step outside the frame. By looking at increasing connected-ness and diversity in and across our classrooms, we can generate more opportunities for achieving high levels of quality in our systems of education.

The New Education Policy, 2016, has to give mission level status and significance to education technology by:

  1. Systematically building up our intellectual and institutional capabilities in edTech
  2. Planning and implementing strategic edTech initiatives
  3. Actively promoting edTech entrepreneurship and R&D

Mission Level Focus on edTech

The NEP draft places no mission level emphasis on education technologies (edTech).

A mission level emphasis on edTech is critical if India is to achieve the objectives of equity and excellence at our scale and align effectively with other government initiatives such as Digital India, Smart Cities and Make in India.

Although the policy mentions the term “ICT” at many places, “edTech” goes above and beyond “ICT” in many ways (more details in Appendix 1). It would be a mistake to conflate the two. ICT is more concerned about access, while edTech is concerned about effectiveness.

There are several, far-reaching benefits to treating edTech with a separate mission-level focus. When leveraged properly, edTech can:

  1. Improve learning outcomes significantly in both online and offline modes
  2. Increase the capability of teachers to not just teach better, but to actually achieve the goal of student centred learning that has for long been the aspiration of many a National Education Policy
  3. Describe, with the help of data and analytics, student performance outcomes and proactively predict failures to meet outcomes.

Mission Objectives

The potential objectives or goals for this mission-level focus on edTech could be:

  1. Build edTech capability and awareness in a systematic manner through edTech innovation centres, PhD and certificate programs and open-source community projects
  2. Plan and execute national and state-level edTech blueprints for maximum impact on educational outcomes and effective access to education. The blueprints would span areas such as:
    1. Education programs for teachers and administrators
    2. Incubations & Entrepreneurship
    3. Platforms and Applications
    4. Digital Identity Management
    5. Digital Curriculum and Courseware including MOOCs
    6. Techniques including Adaptive learning, MOOCs, Gamification, Augmented Reality and others
    7. Metadata, Tracking and Learning Analytics
    8. Certificate depository/blockchain
    9. Implementation schemes & formats
    10. IT Infrastructure provision
  3. Lower and remove barriers to adoption of edTech by all educational institutions by increasing choice, limiting regulation, infrastructure investment and sufficient funding

While there are many approaches to achieving this mission mode emphasis on edTech, some possible techniques are suggested below.

  1. Set up a separate mission-mode edTech initiative, staff it with competent people with comprehensive state-level participation. Equip each state with a state mission secretariat which has sufficient authority to push not just infrastructural ICT initiatives but also work closely with state education departments to promote edTech and indoctrinate new edTech methods within institutions. Provide sufficient funding, autonomy & control to operate.
  2. Set up a fund to enable 500 PhDs in edTech in the next 5 years. Participants should get international experience and then come back to work with the Centre and States. This could be managed by top class universities.
  3. Actively identify, seed-fund, incubate and promote local and rural entrepreneurs including a special focus on women entrepreneurs
  4. Create a Chief Learning Officer position for India. The CLO will be responsible for all mission-level outcomes and will coordinate and partner with other initiatives and agencies. This position can be complemented by the positions of Chief Academic Officer, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Operations Officer or equivalent. States could have similar positions.
  5. Completely revamp and promote the use of edTech starting with all open and distance learning institutions, teacher education institutes, departments of education and institutions like NCERT, NUEPA etc.
  6. Ease regulations to use of online learning for credit, subject to an accreditation mechanism to prevent misuse.
  7. Start small and grow organically
  8. The policy goals could also be based around the following major aspects:
    1. Infrastructure: Energy, Computing and Network
    2. Community
    3. Content
    4. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
    5. Policy
    6. Education Technology and R&D

Note: These are further detailed in the Appendix II.

Expected Outcomes

Conceived and implemented properly, the mission level focus could deliver on many fronts such as:

  1. Designated stakeholder entities/institutions reliably connected, trained and supported
  2. edTech champions (teachers, administrators and experts) trained to harness the network potential across India that can handle Higher Education, VET and School Education teacher capability building
  3. Aggregation and implementation/deployment of all past and current technology and content initiatives for Technology enabled learning or ICT enabled learning
  4. Development of rich interactive media content as necessary
  5. Cutting edge IP in administration, collaboration, learning, content and assessment technologies (among others)
  6. Teacher certifications and the building up of Teacher Assessors and Mentors
  7. Awareness generation and capability building across all HE
  8. R&D centres dedicated to evolving edTech
  9. Internationally recognized PhDs
  10. Highly productive and cutting edge global partnerships
  11. Many Ed Tech startups incubated
  12. A large number of disadvantaged individual or small scale businesses granted funds and supported by the mission
  13. Inclusive and equitable strategy, tuned for excellence

This is a scalable approach from which we can derive a high quality, continuously adaptive & improving growth engine for India.

Appendix I

ICT Vs. edTech

So far Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have been treated as the most important focus in education. It is obvious to appreciate how digital technology can help connect people, disseminate information and empower people and processes with necessary tools. This is our idea of ICT, which is a widely recognized paradigm since the late 90s.

But ICT for Education (also called Technology Enabled Learning) and education technology (edTech) are two very different domains.

Key Differences

To understand why education technology is so different from ICTs, one needs to understand the limits of ICT. ICTs are mainly concerned with the following:

  1. Establishing networks – developing physical and Wireless networks like the NKN and NMEICT (also underlying newer and wider initiatives such as Digital India and Smart Cities) to enable people and devices to connect, communicate and share data and voice services.
  2. Building Applications – conceivably every area of operations needs applications for automation to bring about large scale efficiencies, decrease response times and increase accuracy. ICTs enable these and we have made significant progress using ICTs for automation, even in education. Apart from automation of public services, the other significant uses include analytics, research & development and public security.
  3. Content Creation and Dissemination – a large effort arising out of ICTs is in the creation and dissemination of information. For public or private use, using ICTs for content dissemination is a necessary tool.

However, edTech is concerned with not just the specific applications of ICT for the Education system, but more importantly, the development of altogether new techniques and methods specific only to the education system. Some of these very specific areas include:

  1. Course creation – establishing content taxonomies, re-usable learning assets, metadata, building adaptive content, reusable competency definitions are all activities in the edTech domain but find no similarities in the ICT domain.
  2. Course delivery – learning paths, personalized learning, mentor and coaching models, proctoring, andragogy and self-directed heutagogical learning, badging & certifications, gamification, Augmented Reality – are all terms not to be found in any ICT vocabulary
  3. Analytics – academic analytics, learning analytics, social network analysis, sentiment analytics, digital identity are all specific to edTech, but often conflated with business intelligence paradigms. In fact, Learning Analytics models have been proven to identify at-risk students (sort of an early warning system that can help us much more than post-facto PISA type of analytics)

Digital courseware content is usually clubbed with ICTs (e.g. the largest content development initiative is the National Mission on Education using ICT). However, edTech champions would strongly differentiate the type of content, its developmental process, tools, delivery techniques and quality assurance to the point where it has no resemblance to the same types, processes, tools, delivery and quality assurance of other forms of ICT driven content.

To give an example, creating a video and posting it on Youtube would be classified as an ICT skill. When imparted as a skill to educators, they would be trained in creating videos and pushed to generate Youtube (or other) video content for their students. However, a video does not equate to an educational experience without many other pedagogical components such as interactivity, student progress tracking and analytics of various kinds.

This is the reason why, in the rush to create content since the NPTEL started, we still do not have any way to know how students and teachers are in fact interacting with and using the content, and to what outcomes. We just know video views and unique users, which are important ICT based statistics, but not significant enough if we want to understand if the students actually learnt something using the videos. The same holds true for almost all the components of the 4-quadrant model created under the NMEICT/NPTEL. Creating a Youtube channel for a course, is perhaps the most primitive and inaccurate step taken to disseminate the educational content.

In the area of MOOCs, a similar issue confronts us. When viewing the MOOC as a way to broadcast video lectures and objective tests, with or without facilitation (blended models of MOOCs), we are in fact doing great injustice to how MOOCs were initially conceived and implemented – the early MOOCs showed that education technology could be harnessed to help learners learn via networks and to regain control over their own learning through community interaction and reflection. However, the ICT view of courses is so widespread that MOOCs have become only a wellspring of static content, not interaction.

There are many other examples that can be taken that show how mistaken the conflation of ICT with edTech really is. This conflation is also visible in funding decisions by the government and in government policy. While there is a significant infrastructural investment in ICTs to be made, there is negligible effort in promoting edTech, and an even more fragile appreciation that edTech also requires research and development investment.

We must have a clear focus on edTech. This is crucial given the path-breaking initiatives for a digital and self-reliant India, the problems of access, quality and equity, the problems of governance of education and the diversity inherent in our education system.

Appendix II

Infrastructure: Energy, Computing and Network

  1. Provision of affordable and reliable power, computing and network services to selected entities involved in education.
  2. Provision of and integration with existing technology, content repositories and other services on a nationwide network (aggregate all existing efforts in technology, content and R&D) by a core team of 50 Ed Tech professionals over 5 years with support from existing initiatives
    1. Identity Management: The ability to uniquely identify a stakeholder and reach out to through multiple identified channels
    2. Campus ERP: A minimalistic ERP system that is based on a SaaS model
    3. Knowledge and Community Networking Services: A mechanism for dissemination and sharing information for, by and of the networks
    4. Communication & Collaboration Services: A mechanism for collaboration
  1. Virtual on-demand classrooms
  2. Audio and Video Conferencing, including application sharing
  • FM and Community Radio interfaces
  1. Satellite based two-way interactive TV


  1. Creation of an elite cadre of 170,000 EdTech champions across the country that shall be certified to create awareness, build & grow educational networks, disseminate information and act as a strategic implementation arm of the MHRD.


  1. Creation of localizable, rich media advanced elearning and offline materials across subjects (including vocational, medical and agriculture, in close cooperation with those and other councils)
  2. Integration of domestic community and Open content repositories through a process of academic, pedagogical and technical validation
  3. Creation of Teacher and Student Resource Kits and kits for assessment of teachers for continuing certification in ET.

Education Technology and R&D

  1. Development of cutting edge technology and EdTech pedagogy by a core team of Ed Tech professionals over 5 years with support from existing initiatives
    1. Personal Learning Environments for every connected person
    2. MOOC based learning environments on demand for community learning initiatives
    3. Social Networking tools for learning, recruitment and professional collaboration
    4. BIG Data Capture and Analytic Services: Provision for data collection services for each node, type of data and type of network. This will involve designing and implementing a single framework for organizing and assessing data, closely integrated with initiatives such as the UID and ERP for HEI. Create the systems for collecting and analysing educational data in ways that make the teaching-learning process adaptive and responsive
    5. Creation and implementation of cutting edge learning content management systems that will allow mass generation of authentic rich media content
    6. Web 3.0 and Semantic Web based development of educational services and applications
    7. Mobile Learning solutions
    8. Offline solutions
    9. Adaptive Learning and Personalization systems
    10. Content Security
    11. Virtual Labs, Simulations and Serious Games frameworks development/procurement
    12. Research and Development in edTech: Establish a mechanism to develop and integrate increasing amounts of intellectual capital/ human resources that can facilitate the network effect and lead & extend the state of the art; development of 500 international level PhD holders in 5 years

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

  1. Provide seed funding of 5 cr for 10 entrepreneurs each year in the field of edTech
  2. Provide 1,000 small scale women, disabled, socially and economically weaker sections INR 5 lakhs grants per year for supporting HEIs with products and services; provide easy loan schemes or microfinance initiatives for this audience
  3. Provide a support system (ET Labs and other institutions) for these ecosystems for design-through-adoption cycles


  1. Implement edTech certification in teacher career progression (and pay scale) systems; reward performers with more incentives
  2. Process to renew certification (not in terms of the licensed practitioner model that the policy proposes) every year that requires teachers to demonstrate project experience (employing ET in teaching practice evidence) and conform to ET guidelines
  3. Policy for creating champion teachers and teacher assessors
  4. Setting directives and guidelines for the use of funds and for the cooperation between and across MHRD, industry and academia.

Reclaiming SWAYAM

Today’s news article on the SWAYAM MOOCs and open-ness by Anil Sasi of the Indian Express raises some very important questions about the future of MOOCs in this country.

The facts of the matter are as follows. A proprietary rather than open source approach has been adopted because open source seems not be open after all. Choosing EdX, for example, they believe compromises intellectual property and requires a big fee to be paid to MIT (even after EdX, at the behest of IIT Mumbai and MHRD gave over the full source code and support to India in 2013 and assured that all IP will remain with India). Secondly, it seems they believe that open source systems do not have the depth of being able to handle enterprise grade learning environments. Third, this is the conclusion of expert committees of the government after in-depth deliberations, I assume, with a wide range of industry, technical and MOOC experts. Fourthly, the RFP itself built by PwC and the government, the basis of the INR 38 cr project award to Microsoft, is in itself plagiarized and deficient.

This defies logic. A really large part of the world runs on open source. The open source movement has shown that enterprise grade, mission critical applications can be made to work with community support. Total cost of development ownership is lower with use of open source. And open source, by definition, fosters collaboration and innovation.

At the risk of repetition, instead of manufacturing large systems, the government should invest in building API and making integration possible between systems. They should fund edTech startups to build MOOC based learning environments. They should enable an open architecture, not just in technological terms, but also in terms of an open architecture of participation.

How would that work?

On the technology front, let us assume we are API focused. Then we must openly build the following API sets (and more):

  1. User API – API that allows users of different types and institutions to be managed, for different stakeholders and their roles
  2. Identity API – that allows users to be uniquely and securely identified through the course of their life, with probable integrations with other systems like Aadhar
  3. Curriculum API – API that enables metadata and classification systems for content and pedagogy, that brings Corporate, VET, School and Higher education taxonomies together
  4. Assessment API – API that enables taking online assessments of different types, enables proctoring controls, provides secure test-taking and great analytics
  5. Certifications/Badging API – that allows certification/degree providers to create online badges and certificates that can be awarded; secure lifelong eportfolios and linked certificate depositories
  6. Authoring API – that allows quick and easy authoring, review and collaboration
  7. Content Delivery API – API that allows video streaming (live and VOD), CDN-grade access, shared folders and cloud distribution
  8. Network API – that enables social discovery, network and group formations, sharing and amplification and social profile aggregation; building both social and learning graphs
  9. Services API – that enables tutors to connect to students, mentors and coaches to their mentees, institutions to parents and so on, and provide services such as fee payments, digital and offline educational content, tutoring, adaptivity, virtual classrooms and so on.
  10. Andragogy/Heutagogy/Pedagogy API – that enables different techniques to teaching-learning to be used as desired by teachers and students, e.g. blended models or SPOCs.
  11. Learning Analytics API – that provides new ways of deciphering engagement, learning and interaction.
  12. Language API – that enables multi-lingual content and internationalization

(Remember that technology and all this talk about API is merely the greasing in the wheel. The real work is in exploring new paradigms of teaching and learning, especially online and blended. And this does not mean building online courses and calling them MOOCs.)

These API sets (and others I may have missed) would need to be supported by a strong developer program, funds allocated for several incubation initiatives with participation from private funds, R&D labs, education programs to build engineers and architects of future learning environments and many more. important aspects known to us from the experimentation & learning of the open community in discovering what works at scale.

Now imagine a time when these API are available (in fact a large number already are available in the open domain, they just need to be contextualized in some cases) for use by indigenous developers. They are not starting from scratch. They are not restricted by a monolithic RFP or scope. They are not constrained to be this one very large proprietary solution (although some may want to build such systems on top of the open stack, which is just fine). If things go well, a number of people will focus on developing alternative solutions to pieces of the puzzle, while others will integrate them into solutions that can be used in different contexts. No one size fits all.

This will give a boost to indigenous development, which at the current time is laboriously trying to build each component. It will bring about that strategic 10x inflection in edTech in India enabling thousands of providers, who are operating mostly in isolation, to get a framework around their efforts and build for scale. Strategic funding for R&D will help us achieve breakthrough innovations in teaching and learning at all scales. Private sector funding of edTech will find a purpose.

This is what the government should do. And only a government can achieve this at strategic scale, tying up all the piece of the supply and demand chains, particularly in a system so dominated by public education.

It seems the SWAYAM RFP dated 21st November, 2015 is actually inspired from previous RFPs made for other contexts. You have to only compare the SWAYAM RFP with two earlier RFPs:

  1. National Career Services Portal RFP dated  13th August 2014
  2. A JNU RFP on eLearning Development dated 5th February 2015


To give a sense of the malaise, here are indicative architecture diagrams from the NCSP and SWAYAM RFPs. Try and spot the differences.

ncsp_architecture swayam_architecture



You don’t have to be an expert to recognize copy/paste. A simple Google search is enough to lay bare the blatant plagiarism. The consultants for this RFP in turn may have been inspired by others across ministries and their appointed consultants.

But there are deeper issues here.

Firstly, the very respected Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) has been hired as the consultant to draft the RFP, select the vendor and monitor the implementation. It is possible they acted in similar capacities for one or more RFP consultations. To find PwC indulging in cheap copy and paste goes against the very reason they were selected.

Second. PWC is not doing this free of cost. The entire exercise is expected to cost MHRD about 30 lakhs with NICSI also getting a slice. With the efficiency that comes from copy and paste, one would think the effort would be far below proposed.


Third. It may also be okay, to copy and paste certain generic specifications. But would you propose the same technical architecture for two very different contexts? Worse, would you ignore the advances in technology over the past two (or more) years and be content with copying older ideas?

Fourth. Even while doing a copy and paste job, would you at least take care not to repeat earlier mistakes made by the earlier authors. The mere act of a copy and paste indicates an intellectual vacuum. When done improperly, it indicates the complete absence of intellect and intention. Take for example the following diagram (look at the circled phrase). Laughably, see how Sentiment Analytics, the subject of much excitement in the recent past has now become Sentimental Analytics!


Fifth. It is not very clear if PWC was the perpetrator of the earlier RFP or other similar ones in the past. And whether they were paid similar astronomical sums for their obvious consulting expertise to copy and paste.

Sixth. While the government can take a hands off position and blame PWC for these acts of omission, there is no way be not held accountable for their choice of consultant, for their inadequate review process and for other errors of their act of commission. The MHRD must explain how this travesty has occurred with full internal and vendor accountability. It is scary that we are going to invest so much public money and effort in an initiative which seems so flawed from the word go.

Seventh. I have not yet even talked about the actual content of the RFP itself. It is so obviously incompetent that I can only sigh with frustration at this phenomenal display of MOOC and technology expertise. And I am not talking about the Microservices vs. SoA kind of higher level technological debates either – just very simple things that I daresay most MOOC technology people would be happy to point out are missing, erroneous or irrelevant. It would be superb to place the panel of experts who edited or wrote the original version of the RFPs in a public debate, asking them to substantiate their proposals.

More galling than any other thing is the obviously brazen attitude that anything they do will pass public scrutiny. There is perhaps a babu-consultant-OEM racket in here which I hope someone takes the pain to uncover. Perhaps they genuinely believe we are idiots who will not really care.

I sure hope we are not.

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.


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


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


  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. 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
    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
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