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Archive for the ‘Teacher Education’ Category

Here is a story you shouldn’t miss. Rough Book is a movie built somewhat parallel to the theme of the movie 3 Idiots and has some common reflections on commercialization with the Nana Patekar movie, Paathshaala.

Rough Book is a muted drama focused on the teacher and her friends in a K12 setting – preparation for the board exams and the foremost engineering entrance exam, the IIT Entrance exam, in India. It details the trials of a teacher unwilling to go with the rest, to put learning in front of rote, life in front of learning. It tells the stories of students willing to accept the risks of being non-traditional, to allow themselves to be inspired by great educators.

While 3 Idiots was focused on a student’s life in an engineering school, and Paathshaala was focused on telling the story from the eyes of a school principal, beleaguered by  owners greed, Rough Book tells the story from the perspective of the teacher.

The common theme is that the love and joy for learning and teaching can create triumphs in even the existing system. That it can happen at our scale is the holy grail many of us aspire towards.

But the anomaly in all these narratives is the veneration of the existing system. The currency of the current system becomes the benchmark for performance on which the students and teachers in the system still stay judged. In fact, Rough Book ends with a respectful statement about the IITs, perhaps rightly so.

It is quite alright to suggest that if the ideology changes, the means and ends must also change. It may also not be incorrect to state that when ideology changes, existing systems no longer remain relevant or appropriate. But to state that ideological changes can be brought about from within a system, is to stretch it a bit. A system is only as good as the ideology that underpins it.

This has powerful implications on how we look at our systems. A shift from rote to participative learning, from tests to a thousand learning plateaus, from degrees to competencies and from the restricted spaces of the traditional curriculum to open and experiential learning and teaching spaces, marks a shift in ideology. Schools aren’t really built to navigate this shift, which is why people all around the world have engineered different environments to reflect this shift.

This leads us to the question of transformation of the education system, or more appropriately its disruption to make way for new structures of teaching, learning and evaluation, for new currencies in education and new goal posts for the future. The narrative isn’t that the education system is broken (no system can be represented in black and white), it is rather that a new system is needed to supplant it.

What does this imply for policy? It implies that policy makers have to start diverting funds, energy and focus into building new systems – even building migration paths for appropriate existing components, rather than continuously trying to reinvent from within. Practically, this means that new Central and State (and even district level) Boards of education, with new mandates, technology, curricula and training, must start being set up, with the existing ones notified of their end of life term.

Since this preparation will take time, it is likely going to be a generational change. But if envisaged now, at the brink of a new education policy, it will provide a lasting change model for our system.

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The HRD Minister is advocating a syllabus haircut for India. Following on the heels of the initiative by the Delhi AAP government in 2015 (“Delhi’s Syllabus Haircut“), which apparently went nowhere, the BJP government has tried to give it a populist national character by inciting NCERT to trim the syllabus by 50%. Subsequently NCERT, the apex education council that designs and manages the curriculum for the nation, has issued a public appeal for suggestions. The tenor is the same as that espoused by the Delhi government – the move towards more sports, life and experience learning and away from “bookish learning and writing mugged up answers for the examination”. They want to remove the “curricular burden” and to encourage all-round development. They also make textbooks thinner, interpreting the “burden” very literally as the physical weight of the textbooks.

Obviously, there have been vociferous arguments on either side. Those supporting the change make arguments like:

  • Textbooks are heavy to carry
  • 100% syllabus is not really negotiated anyway
  • An overweight syllabus encourages rote learning
  • Most of the syllabus cannot be applied, will not be retained or isn’t going to be useful later in life
  • Rote precludes experiential learning and the building of 21st century skills in students
  • Supporting assessment systems are not geared to judge true abilities of children and place undue stress on them
  • Rote learning has a flip side – rote teaching – and that must also be transformed
  • Ethics, values and life skills are really important to emphasize

Those against worry that:

  • It will be pretty difficult to implement, at scale, and may end up diluting the academic rigor, setting us back in terms of national and international competitiveness even further. This, in a time when we have the largest young population, could have disastrous consequences on the well-being of future generations.
  • It may take too much time to roll out. Aren’t there here and now, simple measures we can take?
  • Are our teachers really equipped to handle this shift?
  • Do we have the necessary infrastructure?
  • How do we really decide what is “superfluous” and can be cut?
  • Conversely, how do we decide what is important to be included? Are we going to use this as a ideological weapon for mass education using non-secular and subjective interpretations of knowledge?
  • This initiative is populist – demagoguery has no role in education systems – and we should steer clear of it.
  • Is this an experiment? Like CCE or ABL and other initiatives, will this be conceived imperfectly, implemented even more badly and then removed from public consciousness one fine day?
  • How will this affect other downstream educational options – vocational, higher and further education? How will this affect competitive exams, admissions to foreign institutions, career choices, policies for standardized exam setting and result moderation and virtually every aspect of the system?
  • What is really the “burden”? Aren’t there other smarter ways to mitigate it, if it really exists?
  • Are we confusing “syllabus” with “curriculum”? The two are different things altogether.
  • How are we sure that making textbooks thinner, cutting syllabi and promoting experiential learning will really make a difference to learning outcomes and help children achieve grade level proficiency and our nation achieve leadership in research and development?
  • Aren’t there other models we could use? After all, it is a fairly non-unique problem and other countries have perhaps far more experience in these ideas and a closer look at their histories could reveal pitfalls.
  • Is this concept really very new? Even Indian curriculum designers, in the National Curriculum Framework (2005) document and earlier as well, recognize the “burden” and have been taking steps to resolve it.

I think we are about to create a mass national disaster – not because the intent of promoting experiential learning is bad – but because we are really ill-equipped to deal with changes of this sort – both from a design and implementation perspective. There aren’t enough experiments on the ground that have scaled well (look at Activity based learning methods) and there is too much diversity to flatten with one-size-fits-all solutions. My worry is that we are clueless as to the real implications of what our demagoguery or abject opposition to this change can be. There are core systemic improvements, committed to in a stage-wise manner, that shall radically transform the country’s education system. If I were to choose the top 3 pillars of that transformation, they would be:

  1. Infrastructure & education Technology: At the very basic level, required equipment and resources need to be made available. This means that the resources necessary for transforming the classroom have to be somehow made available. I suggested local and rural entrepreneurship, aside from state provision of these materials and the encouragement to use locally available indigenous materials, as a possible solution. An important component is going to be basic electricity provision to classrooms and technology enablement.
  2. Empowering Teacher and Education Leaders: Side by side with infrastructure, the greatest asset we have is our teachers and the administrators of the institutions. We have to purposely design a system that incentivizes change to new methods (and I am not talking salary increases). New certifications and links to career progression, tracing a more direct link between new teaching & administration methods and outcomes  and systematic changes in curricula at all levels, are really important to institute.
  3. Community participation: The weight of nation-building by education, similar to other areas like health, cannot be borne or be the prerogative of a handful of agencies. Rather a more democratic and concerted effort by citizens has to underpin the transformation.

The great news is that India is a treasure trove of great ideas, gifted educationists and concerned citizens. We have diversity at a rich scale that leaves the world gasping. But we are choking on our own potential.

Perhaps we will leverage this opportunity to arise, awake and stop not!

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Massive Open Online Courses  (MOOCs) and OERs have captured the imagination of our polity.

The new Government’s election manifesto clearly specifies MOOCs, although not under school or higher education, but under Vocational Training as a means for “working class people and housewives to further their knowledge and qualifications”. Further, there is a firm push, although under the section of School Education, on establishing a “national eLibrary to empower school teachers and students”.

Although, framed under different heads and not explicitly and universally correlated with the underlying issues facing our education system, these two are important areas of focus for the new HRD Minister, whose own enviable background in Media and Communications provide her with some of the necessary insights into how to create engaging media based experiences for our students. I do sincerely hope that this background also translates to many of our teachers who need to enhance their communications effectiveness as also inspires more teachers to use popular media or innovative performing arts led approaches to education (e.g. Theatre in Science or dance in Mathematics education).

National eLibrary

A high quality national eLibrary backed by the right capability, technology and open-ness, can dramatically transform both teaching and learning effectiveness. If these are accompanied by permissive Creative Commons licensing terms that make it possible for any entity to use these materials (like for the NMEICT materials), then this will act as a great stimulant for uptake of these resources.

School OER initiatives such as the National Repository on Open Educational Resources (NROER), NIOS, Karnataka OER, Gyanpaedia, TESS and other national/international OERs like Gooru and MERLOT can be aggregated in the eLibrary. On the other hand, similar OERs for Higher Education and Vocational Education sectors through the MHRD NMEICT projects (NPTEL, CEC-NMEICT, ePG Pathshala and many others across the world like Saylor and edX) can also be combined into the same repository.

Along with these, as NROER and Gooru are fast demonstrating, external data from agencies like NASA or the Indian national archives can really add tremendous value if they are made publicly available.

However, we will suffer since there is no underlying content management architecture or content development (including metadata) standards framework at all. Ultimately, these different initiatives may not be able to inter-operate, quality will not be uniform and scarce expert resources will not be efficiently utilized. Both are solvable existing problems, but need urgent and immediate attention if the national eLibrary is going to succeed in intent and execution.

We shall also suffer if we are unable to decentralize content development and quality review across the board, training both teachers and students to contribute high quality instructional content. We shall also start feeling the pinch very soon for skills such as Instructional Design, which are scarce in the country.

MOOCs

On the MOOC front, we clearly are at a precipitous juncture. On the one hand, the focus on MOOCs and the intent to spread them across sectors makes me really feel that we are on the right path. But, on  the other hand, we need to appreciate the transformative potential of MOOCs as originally conceived.

Also called cMOOCs, these original MOOCs were started in 2008. The term MOOC was coined by Dave Cormier during the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008 (CCK08) MOOC. CCK08 and subject cMOOCs were based on the theory of Connectivism coined by George Siemens and of Connective Knowledge posited by Stephen Downes.

These experts believed that eLearning was at an inflection point – that traditional online learning had utterly failed because of it’s design and execution and that we needed a new way of thinking about eLearning. So they forged a new path that would help learners and teachers to revisit their roles in the context of fast changing information and social landscapes.

It is a path that the later MOOCs (like edX, Coursera etc.; also called xMOOCs) have not leveraged, being content to perpetuate the ills of traditional elearning. Only this time, the scale is massive and that has reflected in the massive dropout rates and low engagement ratios on these platforms. In fact, they simply seem to have missed over two decades of insights from the evolution of open & distance learning and e-learning.

In India, we can still make a more informed choice and perhaps evolve our own MOOC methods and models. Hopefully  they shall be ones that are based on learning from the mistakes the world has already made, rather than porting models from the West as-is.

MOOCs and eLibrary – Connecting the dots

These two initiatives – MOOCs and the National eLibrary (or OER) are more deeply connected and pervasive than is generally realized. A strong and efficient eLearning system is one where the content management process connects seamlessly with the learning delivery systems using standards based inter-operability and metadata.

This inter-connnection helps in many ways. Predominantly, it enables resources to be published and re-purposed into multiple formats for different devices & form factors – mobile, tablet and PC. But it enables production and delivery efficiencies to the tune of almost 30%. At scale, this translates into savings of hundreds of crores of rupees. Significant thought must go into designing these systems and their inter-relationships.

In Conclusion

The focus on technology enabled education is indeed extremely good for India. Going forward, we should fill the obvious gaps in capability, technology and pedagogy, so that we are able to fully leverage education technology for the nation.

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There are many positives happening in EdTech in India. A government led mission called the National Mission on Education using ICT (NMEICT) has created massive amounts of content for engineering, arts and humanities, social sciences and natural science. It has also delivered the under 50 USD tablet, Aakash and a slew of innovations including Virtual LABs and the A-View web conferencing tool (that seems to work better than Skype). The school sector is running alongside nicely with initiatives to build content (NROER, K-OER) and delivery systems (Virtual Open School, NIOS). Teacher Ed is also getting the necessary focus from a content perspective (though the technology pieces are still being conceptualized). The Vocational Ed sector is running behind yet (although I have word of some level of content development), but one hopes it will catch up sooner than later.

The writing on the wall is pretty clear – India seems to be moving quickly towards a blended learning strategy that relies on platforms such as edX, existing physical infrastructure & “facilitator” faculty, and video lectures. Learning Analytics and Badging seem to be getting a mention (only just).

It seems an obvious response to scarcity of quality teachers, also exacerbated by the remoteness of interior locations. But interestingly these seem to ignore some of the learnings of the past 20-30 years and even some current work such as Sugata Mitra’s SoLE research and pilots in government schools.

Carefully crafted models of blended teaching and learning can definitely impact the system. However, systems designed to “spray and pray” will cause more harm than good. The current approach to virtual schooling seems to be to provide technology to broadcast lectures by the expert teacher and leave the local facilitator to do the support job. Blends are far more involved than that simplistic view.

Blends place a larger demand on students capability to learn with the help of technology. Learners need to build the capability for self-discipline, self-motivation, self-organization, peer learning, higher levels of exploration & discovery and even how to overcome technical constraints of under-reliable hardware, software and connectivity. 

Blends also place a heavy demand on the local facilitators of such instruction. The “distance” between the teacher and student needs to be filled by the facilitator. This distance is on the emotional plane as well as on the planes of knowledge, coaching, mentoring. contextualization and organizing the process of learning. In that sense, the facilitator needs to work very closely with the remote teacher and needs to understand the very intent and idiosyncrasies of the remote expert.

On the other hand, the remote expert needs to understand the limitations imposed by “distance”, and work to the capabilities of the facilitator. The expert also needs to cope with diversity, since it is obviously a much larger class than before and very diverse. The expert needs to be able to design learning paths that the facilitator can effectively implement. Especially in cases where the facilitator is also a competent and experienced teacher, the expert must allow for some level of creativity & local insight to be exhibited by the facilitator. Additionally, the remote expert must learn how to leverage data – about classrooms, facilitators and learning patterns – to make the blends iteratively more effective.

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FICCI held its first school conference at New Delhi on March 10. I was helping facilitate a session on Teacher Education, which has perhaps become one of the really important challenges of our education system. The NCF 2005, NCFTE 2009, the Justice Verma Committee, the Centrally Sponsored Scheme, the new Teacher Mission and the RTE Act provide the backdrop against which the discussions are happening.

As per Dr. Amarjit Singh, AS, MHRD, lots of great things are happening:

  • Focus has been on quality of teacher education, program and curricular revisions. a new model curriculum and various short and long program formats have been designed
  • The CBSE has set up a Centre for Assessments, Evaluations and Research
  • The NCERT is building learning indicators – a set of “common core” learning outcomes
  • NUEPA is building school standards
  • The Open University, UK partnership is underway with 3000 teachers being trained across 150 teacher development units
  • North east state open universities are starting MOOCs
  • The CIET has built a semantic content store called the NROER
  • The Delhi SCERT has actively introduced the flipped classroom and shared curriculum practices
  • Various examples of digital content and community based programs across K12 and Teacher Ed

Prof. MM Pant gripped the crowd’s attention by invoking John Daniels’ solution of training 10 million teachers by flipping pre- and in-service education. Dr. Anjlee  Prakash talked about the role of the teacher and her professional development in the context of a connected, networked and technologically advanced world (FICCI School Conference_LLF_2014 for FICCI), and the role of MOOCs & blends thereof in Teacher PD.

A few other takeaways from me:

  • We need better technology to aggregate, remix, repurpose and feed forward content and conversation to ever-growing networks
  • We need design and development of systems that engender network formation and scale
  • We need interoperability with the myriad tools and systems being developed
  • We need better technology and processes to capture and analyze interactions of teachers and students with the OER created by different initiatives; need learning analytics systems in place quickly
  • We also need to raise heutagogical capabilities in a concerted manner, perhaps with a set of coaches or mentors that we actively support

It was a packed conference session with many other speakers including Prabhaav, TESS India and Microsoft. And we obviously ran short of time (my apologies to the speakers, especially Anjlee and Lokesh!).

And yes, I am building up a repository on teacher education. Please do send me your links!

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The Indian government has allocated USD 1.15 bn or INR 6,308 crores for teacher education in the 12th Five Year Plan under the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education. Approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs in March, 2012, the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) formally approved it this month.

The 11th Five Year Plan had allocated INR 2500 cr or about 0.45 bn USD out of which we were able to spend only INR 1600 crores or USD 0.29 bn.

The approval was almost entirely based on the report created by the National Council for Education research and Training (NCERT) almost exactly 3 years ago in August, 2009. This is incidentally a report that I have reviewed and critiqued earlier

The 59th CABE Meeting at New Delhi in June, 2012 devotes a significant chunk to deliberations on this scheme under the heading “National Mission on Teachers and Teaching”. As the CABE notes suggest, this National Mission will be a focal point for all things related to teacher education and would focus on issues such as improving supply gaps, working conditions, remuneration, professional development, recruitment, institutional quality and use of technology.

It is proposed to launch a National Mission on Teachers to address comprehensively all issues related to teachers, teaching, teacher preparation and professional development. This will be one of the major thrust areas of action during the 12th Five Year Plan. The final contours of the Mission and its operational features are under discussion. The Mission, however, would address, on the one hand, current and urgent issues such as supply of qualified teachers, attracting talent into teaching profession and raising the quality of teaching in schools and colleges. On the other, it is also envisaged that the Teacher Mission would pursue long term goal of building a strong professional cadre of teachers by setting performance standards and creating top class institutional facilities for innovative teaching and professional development of teachers.

The same section also had a mention of the report of the Kakodkar Committee, which essentially made a case for increasing Ph.D output from our engineering and technology institutions (new buzz is 10,000 PhDs by 2025). Left me a bit puzzled why it was mentioned under the National Mission for Teachers and Teaching. Perhaps our engineer PhDs from the IITs will re-engineer our teacher education problem. What about getting more PhDs in education in a concerted manner? Similarly, the Singh-Obama 21st Century Knowledge Initiative 2012 also gets a mention.

Under the thrust on technology enabled learning, network facilities (under the National Knowledge Network, NKN) and the work of the National Mission on Education using ICT (NMEICT) that focuses on content creation for both under- and post-graduate courses including the provision of Virtual Labs, gains centre focus. However, no mention of using the NMEICT to generate teacher education resources is specifically made, which is extremely vexing.

I wish the planners and the experts the very best for the implementation in the 12th Five Year Plan. They are going to need it.

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