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Archive for the ‘Education Policy’ Category

Recently at a conference, someone asked me about the future of publishing. Remarking that it was a interesting question the answer to which I really did not know, which evoked much mirth, I ventured further to assert that the publishing and edTech are both a product and a function of the underlying system of education (and research). Viewed in such a manner, the future of publishing and edTech then naturally becomes a question of the future of the system of education itself. And that was something that was really complex to venture an opinion on.

However, I feel I must give it a shot. Our system of education is an educracy. Not that there is such a word yet to describe the bureaucratic system of education that we have (though there is the combination of education and bureaucrat – educrat – that merits an entry into the Oxford dictionary). The educracy is inspired by similar applications of bureaucratic models in organization theory in other fields. It is today the only way that we understand how to govern education.

Max Weber, a German sociologist, studied bureaucracy closely. He believed that conditions for its emergence included scale, complexity and the existence of a monetary system. For him, bureaucracy meant:

  • a hierarchical organization
  • delineated lines of authority with fixed areas of activity
  • action taken on the basis of, and recorded in, written rules
  • bureaucratic officials with expert training
  • rules implemented by neutral officials
  • and career advancement depending on technical qualifications judged by organization, not individuals

Source: Boundless. “Weber’s Model for Bureaucracy.” Boundless Sociology Boundless, 20 Dec. 2016. Retrieved 25 Feb. 2017 from https://www.boundless.com/sociology/textbooks/boundless-sociology-textbook/social-groups-and-organization-6/bureaucracy-56/weber-s-model-for-bureaucracy-352-10202/

Weber believed that bureaucracies are most efficient and effective mechanisms for the public governance. There is a clear administrative class hired to maintain the system and perform managerial roles, a hierarchy of information dissemination & control, a clear division of labour, processes & rules, clear record of activities and a fair degree of rationality & impersonal behaviour through the system.

While this was an “ideal type”, Weber believed that democracy and bureaucracy (read “large scale organization”) were incompatible. Weber’s friend, George Michels, called this the Iron Law of Oligarchy –  “effective functioning of an organization therefore requires the concentration of much power in the hands of a few people”. As John Dalberg-Acton famously said, ” “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

As the Wiki article puts succinctly,

Bureaucracy by design leads to centralization of power by the leaders. Leaders also have control over sanctions and rewards. They tend to promote those who share their opinions, which inevitably leads to self-perpetuating oligarchy. People achieve leadership positions because they have above-average political skill (see charismatic authority). As they advance in their careers, their power and prestige increases. Leaders control the information that flows down the channels of communication, censoring what they do not want the rank-and-file to know. Leaders will also dedicate significant resources to persuade the rank-and-file of the rightness of their views. This is compatible with most societies: people are taught to obey those in positions of authority. Therefore, the rank and file show little initiative, and wait for the leaders to exercise their judgment and issue directives to follow.

Systemically, therefore, the bureaucratic mode of organization that is in evidence in our education system, is really an oligarchy. And therefore, a change in the education system really involves a change in the power relations within the educracy itself.

Unless the order is changed, the system will not change, and neither will ancillaries like publishing and edTech. In fact, the order will keep consuming new innovation, especially those that, though revolutionary, do not gain critical mass.

The old order will view innovation from the old order’s lens. For example, someone else asked me about the huge dropout phenomenon in MOOCs. That was from an old order lens which assumed that if it was a course, then it must be completed and certified.

Instead, I asked, why don’t you consider that such a huge number actually “dropped IN” to learn something, to take away something without being directed to, to explore new knowledge and modes of learning, and the ones that actually completed these “courses” took responsibility to convert those learning experiences into something more formal probably just because the old order wouldn’t recognize anything alternative.

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In the traditional system of education, there are many fundamental incongruities. For example, let us take certification of progress or advancement.

The output of an academic level (degree, year) is a certification of progression. This certification, awarded by the institution, indicates the achieved levels of learning and performance. The value perception of that certification is either implicitly understood through common sense or popular conception of what that level should be (“She is an engineer!”), or explicated through rubrics codified in standards or through formalized benchmark tests (“She max-ed the SAT!”). This certification is agreed and generally understood to signify a common understanding about the underlying competency.

As a consequence, what is also assumed is that the education system is organized (within the constraints of policy) such that the general meaning of the certification remains the same. That is, it self-organizes in a way as to promote a fixed correlation between certification of progress and competence.

On closer scrutiny, this can hardly be an exact or specific relationship. No two institutions may share the same everything. It is a really complex environment. There are many moving parts that contribute to the perception of competence or academic achievement, such as the specific curriculum, the quality of teaching or infrastructure, institutional brand, the ability of students and the level of rigor of assessments. An MBA program from Wharton could be very different from an MBA program offered by a local college in India. Treatment of a subject like school Science could vary between the common core in the US and the CBSE in India. Even two neighboring schools may be altogether different in how they conduct and certify the progression, even within a shared bureaucratic practice.

All we can say, and say in general, is that we could generally expect some competencies to be demonstrable at a specific level, and that that set of competencies would also vary by the observer’s own frame of reference. But we cannot specifically and objectively prove that there is a causality between the design of the education system and it’s putative outcomes.

This is what is predicated by design of our education systems today. Whether it is a higher level of education or a professional entry level certification, the system connives a certain trust, within and across institutions, and with external stakeholders, a system based literally on bias and subjective interpretation of competency or progress, an almost incestual behavior that feeds and reproduces from within.

This is achieved because of the nature of the system itself. Rules are codified in order to set the parameters of behavior and performance at institutional levels, and all stakeholders follow this way of being.

Similarly, the bureaucratic form of organization is followed to address scale.But scale destroys the ability of a bureaucracy to focus on what is being organized.

By expecting self-replication of practices at all levels, policies and processes get constrained by the needs and abilities of the lowest common denominators. In fact, the popular approach to change initiatives is through the language of the system itself, to create more institutions (and thereby more bureaucracy) to address those aspects. When these institutions are created, they inherit the same shortcomings thereby reducing their ability to apply innovation, however brilliant, at scale. Order begets more Order.

This is an untenable system of education, because it is by design reductionist and deeply hypocritical. It tries to eliminate complexity, and in the process gives rise to incongruous and undesirable outcomes.

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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.

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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.

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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

Community

  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.

Content

  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

Policy

  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.

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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.

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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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