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Archive for the ‘Indian Education’ 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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Very recently, the Indian government announced a demonetization measure by removing 500 and 1000 rupee notes as legal tender, ostensibly to combat cash hoarding (black money) and counterfeiting (which was helping fund terror). Of course, we have seen the impact of fiscal demonetization on the economy in the short term, though the long term prognosis is yet to emerge.

The immediate impacts that I see on the system of education in our country are as follows (not an exhaustive list):

  • Slowdown in the rate of growth of private schools. Slowdown in money chasing real estate, regulatory clearances, investments and siphoning of money in Education, at least in the short to medium term. This may be accompanied by a corresponding growth/investment in the public system.
  • The push to online payments at school. I believe more schools will now start accepting money in non-cash forms. This means a fillip to existing fee payment, school uniform and bookstore platforms.
  • The increased visibility of the coaching institution and the individual tutor. More and more tuition teachers and coaching schools (at one point claimed to be a USD 23 bn parallel system expected to be about 40 bn USD in 2015) will move to online payments.
  • Lowered spends on research. Research shall be impacted, with owners who are already handicapped by ‘marketing spends’ kind of vision on research, holding back on new projects. In fact, all facile investment will reduce.
  • Higher international collaboration. Cleaner international money will flow and it is time to leverage that for maximal impact.

On another note. What would be the equivalent of currency in education? Is there a parallel with the black money and counterfeiting that is happening with regular currency, but in the educational market? Is there a ‘currency’ of the educational market? And therefore, if a demonetization of that ‘currency’ has to happen for similar reasons, what would that look like?

If we look at ‘currency’ in the educational context, it would be most likely be constituted by marks or scores (more literally marksheets) and certificates (such as degree certificates and work certificates).

A quick look around clearly shows the menace of fake certificates. The screening firm, First Advantage, found that 51% of the prior experience certificates were fake globally, India being a notorious example. Then there are websites advertising fake education certificates, sometimes in connivance with officials in the system, it seems, all over the world. Many instances abound in India as well.

What would be the equivalent of educational black money? Little harder to trace an equivalent there if one is not probing the real currency angle. But let us look at it from the lens of employability, the argument being that the degrees or certificates that provide a social and economic return to the economy are ‘white’ educational currency, while the rest are ‘black’ educational currency.

Less than 20% of our graduates are employable. In that sense, the rest are unwittingly just hoarding ‘black’ degrees and certificates. Institutions are hoarding degree certificates, sitting on a stock of certificates for the foreseeable future depending upon their capacity and their authorization by the government.

There may be more interpretations, for example, extending to institutions who are building capacity they cannot fill or usefully utilize.

So what would happen if we made a move to demonetize this education currency?

For example, de-recognize all degrees for a year and make it mandatory for anyone holding a degree to prove its authenticity? Or for all institutions to be stripped of its ability to provide a degree certificate till they can prove that they have a structure in place and systems to ensure employable graduates and provide real data on their current state of being able to generate ’employability’? Or breakup degrees into smaller chunks that have to be individually certified? Or for government to stop mandating this educational currency, in all or part, for their own recruitment?

A move like that would be inconvenient for most, but may have similar (to fiscal demonetization) longer term effects. It may push a greater academia-industry interaction, move us to digital certificates and transparent scoring mechanisms, bring more professionals into the running of institutions and set up fences against black marketeers entering the education space – all of which sound like the right things to do, whatever the process.

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

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

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

The Class X Board Exam

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

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

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

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

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

The scrapping of the No-detention policy

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

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

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

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

No respite for edTech

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

What is the point in all this?

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

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

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

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

Possible Solutions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Resurgence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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This past year has been very eventful. Here are some of my impressions of 2015.

xMOOCs have strengthened this year. The major players have received lots of new funding, added 1800 new courses, 100 new credentials, doubled enrollments to 35 mn students and co-opted many new partners from academia (over 550 universities in all) and industry.  Class-Central’s report talks about 5 emerging trends.

  • Rise of self-paced courses (20% of the course listings on Class-central are self-paced)
  • Death of the free certificate (average per course costs are USD 50+ for providers such as Coursera and edX)
  • MOOCs for High schoolers (to bridge the college readiness gap)
  • Sharper business model (with paid credentials) – also aligning to the for-credit model, which has the required scale if endorsed by university partners, althoughJust one specialization from Coursera makes 10x the revenue, in ten months, that the entire university of Harvard makes with 60+ courses. The numbers tell a clear story: students don’t care if the certificate is id-verified or not.“. There is also a revenue model in tying financial aid/loans for these courses.
  • Huge funding (nearly USD 200 mn between just Coursera, Udacity and FutureLearn)

All in all, xMOOCs have started looking rather like Lynda (which LinkedIn, very sensibly, acquired) and so many other online course providers who have established business models in traditional online learning. What is different is scale and hype, but the rest remains essentially the same. In fact, it is a well rehearsed strategy to grow the numbers using a free approach and segue into a paid marketplace, the runway being the patience and appetites of investors.

India, too, has joined the bandwagon. With early experiments by the IITs and other institutions, now the focus is on converting existing content into ‘MOOC-compliant’ (whatever that means) offerings from existing content and the building of an indigenous platform called SWAYAM. SWAYAM is supposed to be a “Single Window, centralized, integrated, multi-lingual, user-friendly platform enabling module based efficient learning” and will integrate central and state universities, training providers, educators, students, examination partners, internal platforms etc. and will feature Enterprise CMS, CRM, Analytics and eCommerce and other supporting modules; available in offline modes and on any device (Volume 2).

Meanwhile, policy changes are towards more open-ness in sharing resources and textbooks for free/paid online access. There are several new initiatives like ePathshala and eBasta (which I never really could get my arms around; in any case it has no more that about 6,500 downloads in the past 6 months) that aim to bring free and paid digital versions of textbooks and learning materials to the mobile devices in online and offline modes. Government continues to exercise muscle power in online learning, being the main funder and the largest scale provider, probably to the angst of private players. A realization also seems to be seeping in that offline versions are key (look at what Khan Academy Lite is trying to do) and so is multi-lingual content (Khan Academy Hindi). Be that as it may, these are moves that utilize technology for some kind of dissemination, hardly moves that are going to improve education. Elsewhere, government is also waking up to the fact that it needs to put information systems online, such as Saransh.

The unregulated Indian PreK12 market seems to be consolidating. Zee Learn and Treehouse have merged to create the largest player with over 2000 pre-schools, with Eurokids (884 centres) and Shemrock (425 centres) following behind.

EdTech funding this year has touched a new high. Over USD 3bn was invested worldwide with nearly half that in education finance companies Social Finance and Earnest.The rest mainly in online edTech providers, xMOOCs and tutoring. In India, edSurge reports, there were 27 deals valued at about USD 60 mn. Audrey Watters is doing a great job at putting some of this information together.Top areas of investor happiness? Test prep. Tutoring. Private student loans. Learning management systems. Online “skills training.”

More detailed figures on Indian edTech reveal a total investment of USD 66 mn in India. This is compared to USD 60 mn in just one of many edTech investment in China. Indian investment looks to follow a similar pattern – Test Prep. Online skills/training/curriculum. Tutoring. And this is less than 1% of total private investment deals in India in 2015.

I can’t recall, sadly, innovative ed-tech in 2015, perhaps apart from some work in adaptive learning by companies such as Knewton. Perhaps it is just that I have not kept up, but nothing stood out really.

Atleast I had fun being part of Dave Cormier’s Rhizo15. The great part of a cMOOC is that you get to meet some incredible people who expose you to some really mind-blowing thinking around learning and education. You learn to renew yourself through the experience of being connected with others and discussing new ideas. I hope that good sense will prevail in India and we will start experimenting with some of these models instead of aping the xMOOCs and building learning management systems.

And I cannot but mention the most impressive post of 2015 for me. Audrey Watters wrote The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’ and questioned popular rhetoric. Not merely is the analogy anachronistic, but it is also not very relevant. However, the big revelation to me this year, is that there is an organized system out there whose outcomes are not very educational after all! More on that later.

Inexorably though, in 2016, the online courses and tutoring juggernaut will keep progressing and the space is going to be of the more of the same variety. Hopefully India will see increased traction – it is just a matter of time.

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