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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

sllcs

sllcs-swayam

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.

pab

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!

sentimental

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.

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

Vision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re-quoting Sarason on the system of education,

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

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

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

Section 4.5 Curriculum Renewal and Examination Reforms

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4.9 Use of ICT in Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section 4.10   Teacher Development and Management

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

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

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

Good that a teacher educator cadre is being proposed.

Section 4.17 Open and Distance Learning & MOOCs

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

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

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

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

Section 4.15 Regulation In Higher Education

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

Section 4.19 Faculty Development in Higher Education

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

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

Section 4.20   Research, Innovation and New Knowledge

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

My Policy Recommendations

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

12th Plan – Recommendations

MOOCs – SWAYAM API

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

Government

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

Institutions and education providers

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

Employers and Guilds

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

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

Revamping teacher education

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

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

Promotion of Information and Communication Technology

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

Some earlier recommendations on Technology Enabled Learning (TEL)

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

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