Posts Tagged ‘education’

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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…and should education be not-for-profit?

The recent Right to Education Act being implemented from April 1,2010, is catching flak on a wide range of aspects. Advocates of the common school system, like Prof. Anil Sadgopal, want a school system that is defined as follows:

Common School System means the National System of Education that is founded on the principles of equality and social justice as enshrined in the Constitution and provides education of a comparable quality to all children in an equitable manner irrespective of their caste, creed, language, gender, economic or ethnic background, location or disability (physical or mental), and wherein all categories of schools – i.e. government, local body or private, both aided and unaided, or otherwise – will be obliged to (a) fulfill certain minimum infrastructural (including those relating to teachers and other staff), financial, curricular, pedagogic, linguistic and socio-cultural norms and (b) ensure free education to the children in a specified neighbourhood from an age group and/or up to a stage, as may be prescribed, while having adequate flexibility and academic freedom to explore, innovate and be creative and appropriately reflecting the geo-cultural and linguistic diversity of the country, within the broad policy guidelines and the National Curriculum Framework for School Education as approved by the Central Advisory Board of Education.

According to this article, the main objections to the RTE Act are:

  1. It will demolish the entire government school system except schools in certain elite categories (for example, kendriya vidyalayas, navodaya vidyalayas, the Eleventh Plan’s 6,000 model schools, and similar elite schools of states/UT governments).
  2. The Act will provide neither free education nor education of equitable quality. Rather, it will legitimise and maintain the multi-layered school system built through the World Bank’s District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) during the 1990s, and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in the current decade.
  3. The central agenda of the Act is clearly to privatise and commercialise the school system through neo-liberal schemes such as public private partnerships (PPPs), school vouchers, adoption of schools by corporate houses, religious bodies and NGOs.

There is a strong undercurrent from these arguments that emphasize the responsibility of the State as the fundamental provider of education and the role of private unaided schools (for-profit) is being refashioned. There is also a movement against privatization of higher education (by allowing foreign universities to set up shop in India), claiming that it would not only perpetuate iniquity but also result in a brain-drain with the best teachers moving to more lucrative positions in these new foreign universities, thus undermining the ability of state run institutions to be or become centres of excellence.

I am forced to ask: what solution or approach can we take to cover the educational needs of 200 mn school going students, 12.27 mn Higher education students, the 500 mn economically active population across 35 distinct states and union territories, 22 official languages (out of over 1500 mother tongues), 64.8% literacy, 70% rural population, 3.28 mn square kilometres (about 1/3rd the size of the USA) in size, 1.25 mn schools, 471 universities, nearly 22,000 colleges, 6.5 mn teachers, 1.2 mn new teacher vacancies, 0.7 mn untrained teachers and 0.5 mn para teachers in an economy worth USD 1.4 trillion? And yes, we are talking of conservatively 500 MILLION economically active (by ILO stats, nearly 600 mn) people today, poised to expand by another 100 mn people by 2020. The problems of governance and challenges of equity are obviously complicated by politics, law and order, the social system, skewed development indices etc.

Not only that, there is a huge drop out rate (68% students cite the need to work to supplement family income as the reason to drop out), leaving about 44 mn children out of school in the 11-14 age group. Out of the 134.38 mn students at the primary level, the retention rate is close to 75%, reducing the pool for those who would enrol in upper primary education to about a 100 mn. Statistics correlate by showing that only 53.35 mn were enrolled at the Upper Primary level. What is even more interesting is that 2008-09 enrolment in Higher Education was 12.37 mn which means that only about 23% of students enrolled in upper primary levels actually make it to college.

The economy of 1.17 bn people, sectorally, has 60% agricultural share, 17% industry and 23% services shares. Taking 500 mn as the economically active group, 300 mn people would be employed in agriculture, 85 mn in industry and 115 mn in services. The fastest growing sectors are mining and quarrying, manufacturing, electricity/gas & water, and, trade/hotels, transport/storage/communication/BFSI/Real Estate. India’s IT and ITeS sector contributes to 6% or USD 71 bn to the GDP.

The problem is systemic from what I can see. I have not been able to find a single consolidated report of a plan of action or any vision document to leverage the immense manpower that India has and will continue to have in the foreseeable future, to spur India’s growth (social and economic). The statistics are incomplete or non-existent – I could not even locate in which sectors the 500 mn people are distributed as a work force and how India plans to educate (and on what) and how it plans to empower them for equitable national growth. This is an appalling state of affairs.

In my opinion, the debate on whether education needs to be free or for-profit, is the probably the least of our problems. We have to go figure why about 25% of the 35 states and union territories in our country have less than 10% schools that HAVE electricity or overall why only 35% of our schools HAVE an electricity connection. We have to figure why the entire North Eastern region ranks the lowest in the educational development index published by NUEPA. We have to figure where we are going in terms of agricultural, industrial and services sector strategic growth plans, the backdrop of international developments in trade and technology, our mushrooming social sector, working conditions and so many other important and impactful considerations. We have to figure what each state or region brings into national growth from the skills dimension and how those skills can be brought into play by removing barriers in a focused manner.

No doubt it is a really challenging task and there are some really good minds out there with grassroots experience (that I do not currently have) facing real problems and solving them. I hope that at some point of time, we have enough power of self-organization to come together as a team and make a real impact!

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For my hundredth post, I would like to focus on a few key questions that attack various aspects of what I have experienced and learnt in the past two years. These questions are extremely important for me to attempt to answer and I hopefully will, atleast in part, as I go on. The questions may seem disjointed, but perhaps have a common set of answers.

The first, and overarching, question is:

Are there (or what could be) education systems that have (or would) worked outside the box (in contrast to what exists today) and have proved their reliability and validity in the context of today’s and future needs?

This is important to me because I need to understand if we can really envisage an alternate system of education – one more geared towards achieving a vision of a just, inclusive and humane society – than the one we have now. Not that an educational system is solely responsible for all that is wrong today, but in the sense that the educational system is an important enough component of achieving that vision.

There are many strands of thought that connect to this question, not the least being whether this disruptive change is at all required, but it is a question worthy of building an informed belief around. I would further acknowledge that perhaps this change could happen in a way that replaces a portion of the existing system.

The second question relates to the qualifications of a teacher in higher education in India. 

Do undergraduate and post-graduate teachers need a qualifying degree/diploma in educational theory, instructional design/methods and learning technology with a model of internship before they start teaching?

As I have noted before, this question puzzles me no end. I can’t understand why this is not a pre-requisite already (rather than a possible refresher down the line). School teachers require certification, but others do not? It is a different matter that existing certifications in India may perhaps need to be effectively revamped to meet today’s and future requirements.

But I think the answer to this question may have huge implications for achieving the overall vision of any educational system. In particular, it may help bring disruptive change that partially replaces the dominant paradigm.

The third question relates to the role of assessments in an increasingly collaborative world.

How does one assess learning based on principles of collaboration, free thinking and reflection?

What happens when we remove the boundaries of formal curricula, competency models and organizational metrics? This is an important gap, I believe, in connectivist thinking. I am particularly interested in this because the traditional model has an answer that can be tied directly to economic models, social aspirations, development and growth paradigms.

To build an alternative, intelligible and acceptable bridge to other parts/components of our world, we will need to answer this question. Lots of these other systems depend upon the ability of an educational system to provide these assessments to be efficient and effective.

And finally, the question:

What will it take for the change to happen?

I believe that a change is needed and that it should be disruptive change. The change has to be wrenched out and has to stand tall. What will  the drivers be? I think we need to look outside the educational system in order to assess these drivers. 

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves what the political system needs, what the justice system needs, what the economic system needs, as inputs that will help reshape their own destinies in the quest for a just, inclusive and humane society.

These are all overall questions that impact my thinking at this point. As is the fact with questions, I am sure many would share them with me. If anyone has what they think could be answers, I would greatly appreciate your stopping by!

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