Archive for April, 2010

I came across this fascinating OECD-CERI project through Dave Cormier and George Siemens’ Open Course in Education Futures. Please download the Schooling for Tomorrow StarterPack document here. It gives practitioners, administrators and other stakeholders a way to think about key questions such as:

  • What is shaping the future of schooling?
  • What might schooling look like in the future?
  • How to go about it?

It provides a framework based on an analysis of trends (such as growing inequality, economic globalization, population trends, the expanding web and social interaction), realistic scenarios based on these trends (such as bureaucratic systems and system meltdown) and considers five dimensions (attitudes, goals, structures, geo-politics and teaching force) on which the scenario can be contextualized and analyzed as a possible alternative future. Taken together, this framework could provide an effective way to construct our future realities and allow us to then transform our beliefs through powerful, coherent and effective plans of action.

Scenario 3 is interesting. Schools as core social centres are visualized within “new community arrangements with learning at the core”. The Right to Education Act, that came into effect this year in India, sees a similar approach. However the Act and its main vehicle, the Sarva shiksha Abhiyaan, does not seem to focus on the community apart from the administrative and quality dimension. The Starter Pack scenario goes ahead and explores many new dimensions that I believe would be helpful in shaping policy and outcomes. For example, the goals:

Schools continue to transmit, legitimise, and accredit knowledge, but with intense focus on social and cultural outcomes.

Competence recognition also developed in the labour market, liberating schools from some credentialing pressures.

These goals are  extremely important in the Indian context. Specifically, we need to move away, perhaps, from thinking about facilitating the emergence of a new engineer, to facilitating the emergence of a new engineer who will bring value in the context of the region’s natural resource and abilities; which in turn, will play into a wider national strategy.

I would suggest that a bit of all and perhaps a preponderance of one will be the dominant paradigm in most countries around the world. Within any country’s educational system, there will be a rich diversity and discussion around many forms and systems of education.

Take for example Scenario 4 (The extended market model), that talks of a “demand-driven”, highly developed learning market responding to stakeholders dissatisfied with the public school system and with the obvious threat to social equity – sums up pretty much the debate around privatization in education and the common school system in India.

I believe that this is a useful approach to try to bring some collaborative direction to our problems. This should help not only clarify the problem, but also point us to possible scenarios unique to our region and how to go about thinking of the change.

Postscript: I re-evaluated using trends as a basis for a model such as this.

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Major General S B Akali, Director, Global Institute of Healthcare Management, talked about facilities should be reused and how mobile technologies will really make the largest impact. He talked about how technology can change culture and lifestyles. We must figure what direction to take ICT in because one tree can create a thousand matchsticks, but one matchstick can burn a thousand trees.

Raunaq Singh Ahluwalia, Director, University 18, states give the kid a computer and connectivity, and he will win over the world. There is a lot of content available. Citing the NIIT Hole in the Wall experiment (which I happen to be perhaps the lone person in the world thinking “so what”), he thinks that there is no requirement to tell our students what to do. Over time, if we do the basics right, we will have trained people to really understand how to evolve over a period of time.

Dr. Nivedita, representing ISTE, the Indian Society for Technical Education, created in 1941, focuses of education for engineers and technicians. They cover from curriculum to teacher training and awards. They have 78000 teachers, 350,000 students and 1820 institutional members. They create the quarterly Indian Journal of Technical Education. They are fairly active, so it seems from the presentation.

This panel was a bit confusing because I did not particularly understand what the relevance of the panel topic had to these talks.

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Madan Padaki, Co-Founder and CeO, Meritrac Services, said he distinctly gets the sense that online examinations will become commonplace a few years from now. With that comes a responsibility to make sure that we not only provide the rights systems and processes, but also the right methodologies. In a survey they conducted with heads of institutions, 77% of the heads wanted to implement technology in assessments. 99% of students were aware of technology led assessments and some felt that this was a mark of the degree of professionalism of the university they were interested in enroling in. He thinks the process is one of 12-18 months and needs to be meticuluously planned. Apart from that online exams could benefit from a wide variety of devices and systems, not just an internet based portal.

Prof. Sudhi Ranjan Dey, Executive Director & Dean and Chairman, Academic Senate of IBMR Business School talked about the need to go online and the possible uses of open source in the examination system. It could be used for internal assessment as well.

Dr. Sarabjit Singh, Principal, Apeejay College of Engineering, came next and talked about his experience running two programs from a university in London and the steps involves from the assessment perspectives. He also talked of redeployability of teachers given the standardized content that is available on their network.

R Dhirendra, President, Eduquity shared the sense of daja vu with Madan. He had tried convincing the Ministry as far back as 2001. He believes that examinations are a high stakes business, conventional and socially oriented. The challenges are manual intervention of multiple examiners, time consuming and arduous. The challenge also is to move to a more personalized assessment methodology, how to make examinations more friendly and how we should measure other skills using technology. In India, the ground realities shift day to day, and we need to learn to cope with this reality. Technology is changing all the time and there is no one size fits all solution.

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Brig (Dr) R S Grewal, Chitkara University, talked about the state of the art required in campus today. With students driving the transition to new devices, applications and content in an ubiquitous, the central problem, he felt, was that around control and information security. The entertainment industry has its own impact with students connected with devices like iPODs, leveraging the campus network for internet connectivity and downloads. The Campus network needs therefore to be flexible enough to keep on changing. Students need to be involved in knowledge construction and in assessing their own learning. But the human perspective is equally important. Teachers may not be as tech savvy as the students. And students need to be motivated as well to become more responsible for their own learning.

One observation I am starting to make is that there is already a big divide between top notch institutions such as DU and IITs, and the next rung institutions.

Dr. Rajiv Shorey, computer scientist, President, NIIT University, shared a not too distant futuristic look at the classroom. First of all, the technology enablement will come from braodband connectivity, borderless networks, pervasive computing, sensor networks, community outreach and connected communities. We need to make our campuses green through minimizing the carbon footprint, green computing and green communications. The classroom is now fully digital with bi-directional communications, maybe integrate multiple multi-location experts teaching the same classroom. He played a video from MS Research Labs that looked frightening similar the Wesch video, but with a smattering of MS tools (of course!). He anticipates thousands of startups in this space.

Prof. Sanjay Jasola, Dean School of Information and Communication Technology, Gautam Buddha University, talked of Web 2.0 tools for learning. They are using Moodle, Learning Activity Management System, Brihaspati, DimDim/WiZIQ, blogs etc. He showed a slew of examples of how easy it is to get tools and content on the web or to create your own.

Dr P K Chaturvedi, Dean, Faculty of Engineering, Skyline Institute referred to the low employability mentioned earlier in the day. He talks about increased mobility of students in terms of getting access to equipment, content and even equivalent certifications.

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Moderated by A M Thimmayya, SVP, Distributed Learning, Manipal Education who referred also to the debate between India and “Bharat”.

The theme was – Democratizing the dissemination of Quality Education.

The first panelist, Dr. C K Ghosh, Director, Student Service Centre, IGNOU, spoke about the value of the sensitizing people that technology can be used for learning. He mentioned how EDUSAT is helping get high quality content and how power failures could be combatted by looking at alternate power technologies like solar power. With so much going around ICT, we should not forget the simplicity of audio; in fact why not use VSAT + FM radio as a way to reach out. Railing against the entire recognition/accreditation process, he maintained that quality should speak for itself.

Sharat Kumar, former director, Institute of Management Technology, talked about his experience in leading faculty and students to create the brand that is IMT today.

Prof. Sunitha Raju, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, talked about how they run a degree program online and brought into focus hwo technology can be used in a blended manner to impart education effectively.

Prof. Seema Parihar, Deputy Dean, Central Placement Cell, Delhi University, seemed perturbed that a connotation could be that digital learning or adding technology is the missing link to the formula for a good teacher. Surveys she has led show that teachers are not very comfortable with teacher reviews. It is also very important to prepare an action plan against the feedback that has been collected. “eLearning cannot create a university but a university can create eLearning” was her last comment.

Dr. Neeta Kapai, Deputy Director, Campus Placement Cell, IGNOU talked about tie ups with Common Service Centres (and telecentre.org) training students for industry and providing them consulting on employability and industry focus.

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Mr. B K Murthy, Director, Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications and Technology, Government of India, started by talking about a National Knowledge Network approved by the government in late March 2010 (costed around 5900 crores, taking over from National Mission). The plan is to connect all academic institutions on a high speed redundant mesh network. Applications in e-gov, health, grid computing, telemedicine and country wide classrooms (6 such virtual classrooms have already been established).

Prof. S Choudhary, Vice Chairman, National Council for Teacher Education talked about the wonderful impact of technology on teacher education, a change in mindset from questioning technology use to how we can use it effectively. However the big question is the low level of utilization of ICT at the school level. 38% of the teachers have access to the Internet according to a World Bank report. We have unique problems such as the ICT equipment being under lock and key of the headmaster and an arduous process for the teacher to even get these into the classroom. Language is a big problem, most of the content seems to be in English. A serious problem is that the attitude of adminstrators and teachers is weak in terms of these changes. Technology may be over hyped, the real problems need real attention. In India, “the bullock cart and the jet plane will coexist”.

Rajan Varada, moderator and Resource Person, United Nations Solution Exchange, applauded the reality check given by Prof. Chaudhary.

Dr. S. Nandy, a Six Sigma black belt, Associate, Quality Council of India, was next. He agreed with Prof. Chaudhary in bemoaning the poor attitude of government, teachers and management of the educational institutions. The teaching learning process could do with great improvement – through collaboration and those processes that will excite students to ask questions. Leave apart the institutions like the IITs, how many of the other institutions do meaningful research. Overall, the quality of HE needs a lot of focus and this is something that is an essential piece of the accreditation puzzle.

Prof. A K Bakshi, Director of the Institute of Lifelong Learning (ILLL) at Delhi University, talked about the use of technology for learning at DU. We have to be clear about the use of technology. Requirements are scale, the other is the mindset of today’s students, helping us meet the fast growth of knowledge. ICT has not percolated because of access problems, but also of high quality content. So ILLL follows a three prong strategy – high quality content to empower teachers and students; capacity building in ICT skills; and infrastructure and connectivity – to help leverage technology for education. Content in 15 UG disciplines with thousands of teachers from Delhi University involved in this venture. This is text and multimedia enriched content. A studio has been setup for video sessions and e-LABs. The move from rote learning to out of the box thinking is most critical.

Prof. Z H Khan, Director, Centre for Information Technology, Jamia Islamia University, spoke about the comprehensive nature of JMI (from nursery to PhD). There are about 15,200 students and over 4500 students in the school sector. The university has fibre and copper connectivity with about 3000 internet nodes with a central MIS system for administration. For teachers they have had programs in Web 2.0 for education and new tools and techniques.

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We have an envious growth rate. Access is the most important dimension and bottleneck. We want to get 30% of our HE age group access to good quality, equitable education. ICT is a powerful tool in that quest. ICT implementations will help create the basic supporting infrastructure – content, delivery mechanism and evaluation. Nothing can replace face to face education, but we could come close.

ICT could be used to bring institutions together globally. She talks of hubs and hubs and spokes as ways to model mentorship and interchanges between institutions.

We need to also improve evaluation systems. Assessments like SAT and GRE suffer from lack of ways to evaluate subjective questions.

Scalability issues are floundering at the governance level. ICT can play a very important role in helping here (she should be looking NAAC :)) and increasing transparency and providing access to information to all. Participating institutions should be enabled in a friendly manner, to send in their information to a central regulatory body. ICT can help streamline processes and data/knowledge flow.

Collaboration is going to be increasingly important in a global context.

As far as industry is concerned, we are very IT enabled. It gets frustrating sometimes to integrate with academia (placement, HR, curriculum planning) because of lack of ICT adoption across the spectrum. Maybe industry can probably help with defining the learning outcomes that it needs from the education system. Maybe there can be a database that can provide everybody with visibility on which industry needs what skill over time.

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Our education system is a bit like Karol Bagh Market (a popular and crowded market place in Delhi). There must be some wisdon to separate engineering, agricultural etc institutes separate from universities, he said. There is some wonder to this; why we have not looked at university as a comprehensive systems as in countries like USA and UK. We have 30,000 students at the PG level; about 1,50,000 at UG level. There is very little connection between the medical colleges etc. and the basic sciences of the university system. The reasons he attributes to competitive politics and perhaps a certain level of anxiety.

There are 3,00,000 open learning students with whom there is negligible interaction. Knowing well that the services sector is doing very well and most of DU’s graduates are ending up in the services sector; sometimes at the risk of contributing to the science and technology initiatives of the country.

We have 70% PhDs in our UG teaching. At the PG level, we have made significant investments. At the UG level, the problem is to teach the teachers. DU’s response is the Institute of Lifelong Learning – to create content, novel material that is state of the art. We are not leveling ourselves to the level where it can generate serious excitement in teaching in the classroom. This is where ICT can become important. Also DU’s recently introduced semester system at the UG level will improve discipline, engagement with the students and attendance. Not only that vocational training as part of the university system is an important initiative (e.g. medical transcription).

We need to learn how to scale up. We have a lot of small models that work. IT tools will be of great importance – whether through administrative tools or content.

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HE cannot be separated from other types of education. The challenge is to provide firstly, access (GER – Gross Enrolment Ratio – is 12% of 18-24 age group, world average is 23%); secondly, the quality of teaching learning is a bottleneck – if it improves, the GER will go up – this will improve by enhancing the domain knowledge of the teacher; technology cannot teach, teachers can. We must provide the appreciation and knowledge of ICT but also provide the best content. Pedagogy is important and it is important to focus on Technology enabled teaching and learning.

Teacher training has become very important for pre-service and in-service teachers as well as contiunuous enhancement right from KG to HE. ICT@Schools and National Mission on Education are two important initiatives. National Knowledge network is also getting funded now.

According to NASSCOM, only 25% engineers are rated employable. How can we link in an emphasis to Vocational Education – this needs to be looked at. Only 5% of our workforce has a skill based certification. There are 230,000 VETS in the country.

HE cannot function without a strong research program. Funds are being pushed into scholarships and research programmes to support our PhDs and HE scholars. There is, to an extent, some dilution in research at the HE level. We need more stringent quality definitions and criteria for promotion and advancement.

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A small group of educators, technologists, bureaucrats and private companies are sitting together to dliberate the use of Digital Learning in Higher Education in India. We have Prof. VN Rajasekharan Pillai, VC, IGNOU, Prof. Deepak Pental, VC, Delhi University, Prof. A K Bakshi, Director, ILLL, DU, Dr. B K Murthy, Director, DoIT and many more eminent names. More details here.

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…and should education be not-for-profit?

The recent Right to Education Act being implemented from April 1,2010, is catching flak on a wide range of aspects. Advocates of the common school system, like Prof. Anil Sadgopal, want a school system that is defined as follows:

Common School System means the National System of Education that is founded on the principles of equality and social justice as enshrined in the Constitution and provides education of a comparable quality to all children in an equitable manner irrespective of their caste, creed, language, gender, economic or ethnic background, location or disability (physical or mental), and wherein all categories of schools – i.e. government, local body or private, both aided and unaided, or otherwise – will be obliged to (a) fulfill certain minimum infrastructural (including those relating to teachers and other staff), financial, curricular, pedagogic, linguistic and socio-cultural norms and (b) ensure free education to the children in a specified neighbourhood from an age group and/or up to a stage, as may be prescribed, while having adequate flexibility and academic freedom to explore, innovate and be creative and appropriately reflecting the geo-cultural and linguistic diversity of the country, within the broad policy guidelines and the National Curriculum Framework for School Education as approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education.

According to this article, the main objections to the RTE Act are:

  1. It will demolish the entire government school system except schools in certain elite categories (for example, kendriya vidyalayas, navodaya vidyalayas, the Eleventh Plan’s 6,000 model schools, and similar elite schools of states/UT governments).
  2. The Act will provide neither free education nor education of equitable quality. Rather, it will legitimise and maintain the multi-layered school system built through the World Bank’s District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) during the 1990s, and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the current decade.
  3. The central agenda of the Act is clearly to privatise and commercialise the school system through neo-liberal schemes such as public private partnerships (PPPs), school vouchers, adoption of schools by corporate houses, religious bodies and NGOs.

There is a strong undercurrent from these arguments that emphasize the responsibility of the State as the fundamental provider of education and the role of private unaided schools (for-profit) is being refashioned. There is also a movement against privatization of higher education (by allowing foreign universities to set up shop in India), claiming that it would not only perpetuate iniquity but also result in a brain-drain with the best teachers moving to more lucrative positions in these new foreign universities, thus undermining the ability of state run institutions to be or become centres of excellence.

I am forced to ask: what solution or approach can we take to cover the educational needs of 200 mn school going students, 12.27 mn Higher education students, the 500 mn economically active population across 35 distinct states and union territories, 22 official languages (out of over 1500 mother tongues), 64.8% literacy, 70% rural population, 3.28 mn square kilometres (about 1/3rd the size of the USA) in size, 1.25 mn schools, 471 universities, nearly 22,000 colleges, 6.5 mn teachers, 1.2 mn new teacher vacancies, 0.7 mn untrained teachers and 0.5 mn para teachers in an economy worth USD 1.4 trillion? And yes, we are talking of conservatively 500 MILLION economically active (by ILO stats, nearly 600 mn) people today, poised to expand by another 100 mn people by 2020. The problems of governance and challenges of equity are obviously complicated by politics, law and order, the social system, skewed development indices etc.

Not only that, there is a huge drop out rate (68% students cite the need to work to supplement family income as the reason to drop out), leaving about 44 mn children out of school in the 11-14 age group. Out of the 134.38 mn students at the primary level, the retention rate is close to 75%, reducing the pool for those who would enrol in upper primary education to about a 100 mn. Statistics correlate by showing that only 53.35 mn were enrolled at the Upper Primary level. What is even more interesting is that 2008-09 enrolment in Higher Education was 12.37 mn which means that only about 23% of students enrolled in upper primary levels actually make it to college.

The economy of 1.17 bn people, sectorally, has 60% agricultural share, 17% industry and 23% services shares. Taking 500 mn as the economically active group, 300 mn people would be employed in agriculture, 85 mn in industry and 115 mn in services. The fastest growing sectors are mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity/gas & water, and, trade/hotels, transport/storage/communication/BFSI/Real Estate. India’s IT and ITeS sector contributes to 6% or USD 71 bn to the GDP.

The problem is systemic from what I can see. I have not been able to find a single consolidated report of a plan of action or any vision document to leverage the immense manpower that India has and will continue to have in the foreseeable future, to spur India’s growth (social and economic). The statistics are incomplete or non-existent – I could not even locate in which sectors the 500 mn people are distributed as a work force and how India plans to educate (and on what) and how it plans to empower them for equitable national growth. This is an appalling state of affairs.

In my opinion, the debate on whether education needs to be free or for-profit, is the probably the least of our problems. We have to go figure why about 25% of the 35 states and union territories in our country have less than 10% schools that HAVE electricity or overall why only 35% of our schools HAVE an electricity connection. We have to figure why the entire North Eastern region ranks the lowest in the educational development index published by NUEPA. We have to figure where we are going in terms of agricultural, industrial and services sector strategic growth plans, the backdrop of international developments in trade and technology, our mushrooming social sector, working conditions and so many other important and impactful considerations. We have to figure what each state or region brings into national growth from the skills dimension and how those skills can be brought into play by removing barriers in a focused manner.

No doubt it is a really challenging task and there are some really good minds out there with grassroots experience (that I do not currently have) facing real problems and solving them. I hope that at some point of time, we have enough power of self-organization to come together as a team and make a real impact!

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Education is the key to progress. It empowers the individual. It enables a nation.

It is the belief of our government that if we nurture our children and young people with the right education, India’s future as a strong and prosperous country is secure.

These words, part of the Indian Prime Minister’s address to the nation today, put into effect the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009.

The Act will provide for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in a neighbourhood school till completion of elementary education. No child shall be liable to pay any kind of fee or charges or expenses which may prevent him or her from pursuing and completing the elementary education. This means no school fees or indirect costs such as uniforms or textbooks need to be borne by the child. The student teacher ratio is pegged at 30 to 1.

School management committees consisting of local administration, parents/guardians and teachers will be responsible (with 50% women and disadvantaged parents reserved participation) for monitoring the utilization of government funds and the operations of the school.

Sukanta Chaudhuri makes some interesting comments in a Telegraph article. And the Times Of India, a leading newspaper, cites the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2010 and compares (under the not so subtle caption – “how others secured their future“) the duration of compulsory education implemented by countries worldwide.

According to the news item, the total requirement for implementation works out to a whopping USD 38 billion. India’s GDP (@market prices, estimated value) for 2009-10 stands at USD 1.4 trillion with a 7.2% rate of growth. More than a million new teachers need to be hired and trained while about 0.75 mn existing teachers need to get certified.

Basically, Indian education has a large problem. The largeness of the problem is shared by other areas such as healthcare in terms of sheer numbers and the infrastructure to manage these large numbers. But India has also an extremely large manpower advantage in the first half of this century, which if utilized well, can really boost its place in the global scenario.

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