Archive for June, 2018

A Board for Every Child

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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