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Archive for the ‘policy’ Category

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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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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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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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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Jay Cross anchored a fascinating conversation on Google Hangouts recently. Thinkers and practitioners on both sides of the MOOC divide (x-MOOC and c-MOOC) such as George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormier, Lal Jones-Bey, Jerry Michalski and Terri Griffiths came together. The purpose was to discuss how MOOCs could possibly be used by businesses.

Dave (at around 44 mins into the discussion) responded to my comment about how business regards MOOCs as being non-deterministic and thus non-reliable (the cMOOCs at least), by saying it depended upon the type of organization, really. If businesses want to survive and grow in the years to come, they must embrace uncertainty.

So let us look at what the past couple of years has taught us about online learning (or what it could be).

The first thing initiatives like Coursera have certainly taught us is that there is an audience out there that is serious about online learning and sees clear benefits from it – not just students, but also institutions. The second thing we have learnt is that this audience is global in nature (4-5% of Coursera’s 1 mn+ students are from India itself). The third, slightly implicit insight, is that this audience is ready to engage on learning that impacts them here and now. The fourth insight is that power laws are explicit here as they have been in the past, not just in online learning but elsewhere as well – so scale free networked behaviour is very visible in the interactions we see online. The fifth insight, key for many reasons, is that brands, institutional linkages and employer acceptance are external factors that have a potential to shape/alter the behaviour of the network and release both learning and commercial opportunities.

They haven’t taught us a whole lot about how to design for plasticity, resilience, reliability and growth, but that is because we have really not yet made critical breakthroughs, in any large way, on our understanding of how learning networks (and their environments) operate. This is partially the promise of learning analytics, of communities and networks of practice and the cMOOC experimentation, and partially the further development of the theory of Connectivism and the design of Connectivist environments.

So, there is an appreciation, but as I bemoaned back in 2008 in CCK08, there isn’t a direct connection between what business is looking for and what MOOCs are offering.  Dave’s response to my question seems to indicate that business needs to transform itself (to embrace uncertainty and chaos and to get away from the determinism it is so used to) to really appreciate the power of massive open learning. I think this is a tough ask because it needs some fundamental transformations in how business operates. Some, as Dave pointed out, have done it, but for the most that transformation is not on the radar. It is the same for educational institutions or the enveloping government policy, for whom it is the buzzword that they have needed to replace the existing one – ICT.

So, on the business side, as also most academic institutions and governments, the practice of MOOCs is really the practice of reframing MOOCs to situate them in current operational contexts. On the other hand it is clear that current operational contexts cannot reap the benefits of MOOCs without transforming themselves rather than the MOOCs. This is the status quo.

The two obvious ways that this status quo could end – existing businesses/academic organizations/government policy in need of transformations can transform or die and be replaced by institutions with the DNA that embraces uncertainty and chaos, or MOOCs can be marginalized or die a quick “bubble burst” death. Perhaps a not so obvious way in which both can survive needs to be determined.

I think that the way out is for business to quickly adopt cMOOCs as the underlying system of learning – as the system within which are embedded, and that governs, all “events of learning” (read traditional training courses and xMOOCs). In doing so, the notion of the “Course” in the MOOC moniker, must then be expanded beyond a single structured eventedness, to a larger “systemic” dimension.

What would that really mean? Businesses, academic organizations and government policy makers must live, breathe and eat the MOOC system by being embedded within it and treat existing traditional methods as legacy that will be replaced in future by something more meaningful. By doing so, these actors will build new practice, technology and theory, establish long staying resilient networks and become open to external influences.

In practice, the adoption of the MOOC as a system approach will resolve many things – reluctance to embrace new methods, determinism as key, inadequate training and lack of technology. As the system stabilizes, legacy or traditional xMOOCs will disappear since the system will start evidencing reliable and resilient networks and learning patterns. So today, what requires a 15 day face to face session or a certificate xMOOC program online, will simply become a pattern that the Connectivist system reinforces through certain systemic mechanisms (where that somebody to teach or that face to face experience may be one important, but not the only, factor in learning).

Even here and now, through informal learning, some of these mechanisms are at work in building great organizations and policy.

What organizations should do to adopt this system are the following things:

  1. Invest in designing the system – systems with emergent (aligned) outcomes can be designed with your business goals as the context
  2. Establish massive, open networks and relationships through your people
  3. Invest in technology and resources that will analyze, shape and feed the growth and trajectory of these networks
  4. Create networks of practice – a continuum of weak and strong ties around practice areas that may also potentially control information that is business sensitive to within a network strand. These networks will be the primary environment for learning.
  5. Phase-out traditional learning events – start with the less time and mission critical events, aim for building a network that is so reliable that it meets your existing time-based and expertise-led goals (serviced by current training modes), strategically demonstrate power of the network for learning in a few business mission critical initiatives (particularly at the leadership levels)
  6. Establish or conform to standards of system operation (you must look at it as you would look at any other complex system) and enshrine best practices

This, in my humble opinion, is what businesses should do with (c)MOOCs.

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I had a chance to review E&Y’s latest report – EY FICCI Higher Education Report Nov12 released at the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2012. I have reviewed their past reports here. The report leverages the UGC report, HE At a Glance Feb 2012.

Broadly, the report shows a picture of growth as a result of the capacity building in the Eleventh Five Year Plan. We now have 659 universities (152 Central, 316 State and 191 Private), 33,023 colleges (669 Central, 13,024 State, 19,930 Private) together serving 18.5 mn students. and 9,541 diploma granting institutions (no Central, 3,207 State, 9,541 Private) serving 3.3 mn students – a staggering total of 46.430 institutions and 21.7 mn students, not including the 4.2 mn students being served by 200 Open Distance Learning / Distance Education institutions (largest individual player with 1/6th the market is IGNOU). Private institutes (about 30,000) comprise 63.9% of the total HEIs and 58.9% of the enrolments. Our GER is now 17.9%, a big jump from the 12.3% reported last year.

General courses account for 2/3rds of students. Undergraduate degrees comprise 84.9% of the total. In fact, there is a dramatic decline as the degree level progresses – from 16.2 mn enrolments in UG programmes, to 2.2 mn in PG and a measly 0.1 mn in PhDs. Diplomas are sizable at 3.3 mn enrolments. Demand for professional courses (as compared to general courses),  and the number of private institutions seem to be increasing faster.

The report is centered around an analysis of the three pillars of our policy – equity, expansion and equity. It does a post mortem (rather just lists the achievements) of the 11th Five Year plan, and proceeds to list the initiatives and critical bottlenecks facing the 12th FY Plan. I would specifically like to call special attention to what is perhaps the first ever public acknowledgement of MOOCs on p29 of the report. Under the title of a meta-university initiative, the report states:

Establish meta university framework to promote inter-institutional collaboration and designing of innovative interdisciplinary programs. This framework would encourage the use of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and access to content, teaching and research support for all the members of a network.

True to style, the report looks at some key levers for enhancing the quality of India’s higher education institutions, namely merit-based student financing, internationalization of education, enabling research environment, high quality faculty, improved technology for education delivery, and employability. Collaboration between industry, academia and government is a unifying theme.

I get really anxious when I see these (like when they called them Game Changers). For example, how does merit based financing through which MIT, USA provides multiple financing methods, assured (?) placement outcomes and scholarships through alumni contributions, really enhance the quality of India’s higher education? In fact, how does taking an MIT example help us at all?

Nor does internationalization of education mean much to me. What if this became a condition for excellence? Amrita University has a tie-up with 50 international institutions – does that make it excellent. Why say MOOCs on one end at all then? Perhaps we are gearing up to internationalize the Coursera kind of MOOCs through institutional collaborations next as I have heard talk on already. But besides that, how is internationalization, as represented in the report (exchange programs, dual degrees, research collaborations) really going to help anyone except the guys who are already at the top? The same holds for “enabling research environments” – true research will happen in India when the entire system is empowered and not just when a few hundred teachers/researchers are involved.

High quality faculty – we are talking of an exemplar here – 150 teachers at ISB of which 100 are visiting faculty from abroad!!! The report also equates technology with tablets. That is a first for me, with examples given of B-schools in USA and Canada. Next in employability, there is no mention of mass employability initiatives. The same comments hold true for the examples of collaboration that they have presented.

The target enrolment by the end of the 12th plan is 35.9 mn students. The report sees critical bottlenecks. It argues for the lowering of barriers to entry by domestic and foreign players, equal opportunity to the private sector in all government programs (now that government seems to be increasing funding avenues), freedom for private players to operate, resolution of conflicting regulations for distance education (which has some valid concerns like territorial jurisdictions) etc.

The report does not see teachers (and students themselves, or edu-leaders) as key levers. It does not call out the fact that we have a crisis of educational leadership that report after report sponsored by the government has emphasized. It ignores the fact that critical bottlenecks arise out of India’s sheer diversity and scale, not from restrictions on private players. It does not mention, except in passing, that the Higher Education and Research Bill plans to cut bureaucratic paralysis, perhaps giving the system a chance to shape up. It mentions once that learner centric approaches need to be followed and teachers need to develop, but does not talk about pedagogy/education technology initiatives, nor about the critical bottlenecks in teacher education so evocatively brought out by existing reports.

In being driven by private diktat, the report pays scant attention to the real problems and needs of India’s education system. Somewhere we need to wake up and realize that the problem of capacity and the problem of the market, is not India’s issue at all. Somewhere it is our inability to accept that we do not understand the problems we face, and therefore continue to drive solutions that ill-serve our system.

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Recently (Nov 6), I had the opportunity to convene a session at the FICCI Higher Education Summit 2012 titled Powering the Higher Education System through Information and Analytics. Please also see the pre-session page on this blog. A summary presentation is provided below.

I had a really interesting panel reflecting government and corporate interests with people like Pankaj Jalote (IIITD), H A Ranaganath (NAAC), Deepti Dutt (UIDAI) and Sudhanshu Bhushan (NUEPA) [government/education] and Milind Kamat (Ellucian), Trey Miller (RAND) and Ambrish Singh (shiksha.com), and there was huge load of audience participation.

My research for this session (co-instigated by Pawan Aggarwal at the Planning Commission and Shobha Mishra at FICCI) has been extremely rewarding. The two committee reports that I leveraged heavily were the Yash Aggarwal Report and the S Sathyam Committee Report (more recent) that summarize the progress since 1872 in how India has handled data regarding school, higher and vocational education.

The pattern that emerges is no longer surprising. A plethora of data collection & reporting initiatives working sometimes at cross-purposes, led by different government agencies and with no coordination, lack of effective leadership, incorrect/inconsistent/incomplete data coverage, no unifying taxonomies (no international alignment to standards like the UNESCO ISCED), lack of (!) analysts to analyze existing data, centre-state coordination challenges, insufficient attention paid on analytics and proposals that ask the government repeatedly to increase funding, staffing and level of centralization.

Most of all the lament that things are really broken, that previous committees have been either defunct or dysfunctional or completely ignored by planners. A similar pattern can be seen in reports that I have covered in my blog earlier (Teacher Education, Open Distance Learning).

The fact that educational data is a challenged notion in India, does not augur well for stakeholders who need transparency and accountability in the education system. The fact that, as a corollary, research on education analytics is prominently absent in the country (while the world seems beset by it), is curiously anachronistic.

It is also frightening because for us as a nation to rely on such data, ignore recent developments and plan the future of half a billion Indians is suicide. It behoves us to pay heed when people such as Sathyam remark (Sec 7.1/7.2 of the report) that they hope that their findings and recommendations will not fall by the wayside (and they indeed do).

Sudhanshu Bhushan of NUEPA, in a pre-conference discussion, stated correctly that these analytics need to be seen in the perspective of the political economy that they operate in. We agreed that it is not so much of a crisis of intellectual capacity, but that of effective leadership. On the other hand, H A Ranganath, was of the opinion that the change must come from within the system, at the level of the individual, rather than dependence on government initiative while Pankaj  Jalote made the important point that data cannot be collected, it has to be provided.

Deepti Dutt, who with UIDAI, has experienced the pains of collecting and organizing unique identification data for what is now 0.2 bn Indians, had her experience to share on large-scale data management processes. Ambrish Singh brought in special insights into what students are looking for when they compare educational options. Milind Kamat talked about how to use information as a lever to promote institutional viability, effectiveness and quality. Trey Miller talked about performance measures in the context of practices worldwide.

Madan Padaki pointed out the need for the industry/employer as a major stakeholder that needs to be factored in. Another participant from Pearl Academy raised the bar by isolating the creative tension between the tyranny of data and the power of individual intuition.

I would hope that these discussions continue, in the interest of millions of Indians who live in the hope that there is some intelligence in the way we are operating today. I also hope they result in something, some day.

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