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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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Particularly in Higher Education in India, I have long been bothered by a systemic gap in Teacher Education. The gap lies in the preparation of teachers for HE. Today the minimum entry criteria for an Assistant Professor in HE is the National Eligibility Test (NET) or the State Level Eligibility Test (SET/SLET) [UGC Regulations 2009, and the most recent one UGC Regulations 2010], a good academic record and 55% marks at the Master’s level. PhD holders are exempt from the NET requirement.

The norms of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (faculties of agricultural and veterinary sciences), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (medicine, dentistry, nursing and AYUSH), National Council of Teacher Education (faculty of education), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE, Engineering and Technology, Pharmacy and Management) and the Rehabilitation Council of India (rehabilitation and special education) will supersede these regulations. Of these, the most striking exceptions are for education and those under the AICTE (which excludes perhaps 30% of the HE institutions in the country).

Essentially then, these regulations are majorly for Arts, Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, Commerce, Education, Languages, Law, Journalism and Mass Communication programs across HE in India, not really affecting professional education in most part.

The selection process include advertising at a national level and a Selection Committee that is formed on the basis of the guidelines laid down by the UGC (typically university nominees, college principal and governing body member, a couple of subject experts, college Head of Department and so on).

For the direct qualification at a Professor level, the requirements include 10 years of high quality work, atleast 10 publications, atleast 10 years of teaching/research experience including guiding doctoral candidates, (surprise) contribution to educational innovation (read innovation, design of new curricula and courses, and technology mediated learning process) and a minimum score in the Performance Based Assessment System (PBAS) indicator called Academic Performance Indicator (API)  [must read: Pratiksha Baxi on Kafila : The UGC Dictates]. A Professor could also be directly recuited if her credentials prove that she is an outstanding professional with established reputation in the given field, having made significant contributions.

A college principal, on a side note, is expected to have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, must have been an Associate or Full Professor for 15 years and must have a minimum API.

An Associate Professor must have 55% score in her Masters Degree, a PhD, atleast 5 publications, atleast 8 years of teaching/research experience with evidence of having guided doctoral students, significant contribution to educational innovation  and must have a minimum API.

Norms in the 2010 UGC regulations also vary slightly in other disciplines such as Music and Performing Arts. Regulations in professional programs like Management/Business Administration at the institution level include a focus on past work experience and credibility in the industry, but let go of the more rigorous requirement of being an educational innovator.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. What does it take to teach vs. what does it take to become a teacher?

I strongly believe that domain expertise is really crucial, but coupled with that must be some amount of knowledge/skill/passion for teaching. The regulations sort of assume that you are born a good teacher or that you have become one through experience. The regulations attempt to quantify in the PBAS what constitutes quality in research or innovation in education (but fail miserably, IMHO). For example, educational innovation is thought to be:

Participatory and Innovative T/L Process with materials for problem based learning, case studies and group discussions etc., with points given for interactive courses (5 points), participatory learning modules (5 points) and case studies (5 points). If the teacher uses ICT (Powerpoint/Multimedia/Simulation/Software) in addition to chalk and board, she is entitled to 5 more points.

The PBAS provides a maximum score of 20 for “use of participatory and innovative teaching learning methodologies, updating of subject content, course improvement etc.” in an overall score of maximum 125 and a minimum required of 125.

Similarly, if you look at Paper 01 of the National Eligibility Test, called General Paper on Teaching Aptitude and Research [samples here], there is some attempt to gauge whether the test taker is a good teacher or not (atleast in the limited manner of a multiple choice question diagnostic test). The test covers analytical reason, math, english, data interpretation, general knowledge, basic IT knowledge, and a bit of knowledge around education and our education system. I am guessing some intrepid test preparation institutes would have a good amount of printed course material and question banks already around these to help students get past this death-defying assessment.

And in typical style, someone in the bureaucracy decided they want a review and have posted an undated questionnaire online which seeks to “elicit the views of a cross-section of the society regarding utility, effectiveness and continuity of UGC-NET”. The questionnaire (and you will miss it if you don’t click on the link to the MS Word quiz labelled “questionnaire” in the last paragraph) is a multiple choice quiz of 4 survey (Yes/No) questions. There is no mention of the results so far though the NET has been running since 1989.

There are perhaps better ways to elicit views.

Directly impacting these issues is really the availability of technology (hardware, software) and content at the institutional level given the scale and diversity of the Indian HE challenge (now 33000 institutions, 600+ universities and about 20+ mn students). I am hoping that over time, these conditions will evolve and improve – the existing resources being Sakshat-NMEICT, InfLibNet, Journals access etc. – to embrace OERs and low cost hardware riding on the National Knowledge Network itself which is being now extended to private institutions as well. Infrastructure is required in order for a teacher to teach.

Other direct impacts are can be derived through focus on areas such as

  • providing an ecosystem (and infrastructure) at the institutional (or group) level that encourages innovative practices,
  • the building up of a community of teachers, facilitating their interactions through techniques such as peer coaching, peer conferences, awards and recognition
  • devising a program for teacher educators for HE,
  • devising programs for pre-service and in-service teachers that are embedded, not in the traditional system, but in precisely the new age education systems that they will seek to further
  • embedding appropriate andragogical and heutagogical techniques in the curriculum and building teacher skills to adopt these in their own learning
  • investing in open and distance learning at the institutional levels
  • providing a more rigorous system of assessment and evaluation for teachers at the entry level without acting as a bottleneck

So what is the UGC doing in the area of HE teacher education and training. According to the UGC website, it has established 66 Academic Staff Colleges. It is interesting to read through the Refresher Course rules and regulations. They lay down career progression linkages through the Career Advancement Scheme which stipulates the number of refresher courses that must be taken in order to considered for the next higher level. At this point, it seems that they have to attend at least one orientation and 1-2 refresher courses.

The curriculum coverage is as follows:

The content of the Refresher course will have essential percentage of the core material in the subject discipline along with required percentage of areas of emergence and priority, (both national and global), essential laboratory and practical component, computer application and I.T. Contents, if required with relevant advancement to the subject discipline.

The Orientation Programme provides opportunities for newly appointed teachers as well as for in-service teachers to make them familiar with the use of tools (software) and “Internet Literate” as Orientation Programme has I.T. based contents and about one week time will be devoted to I.T. based contents and training.

The curriculum for the Academic Staff Orientation Course may have the five components with 144 contact hours, i.e., 6 hours daily for 4 week programmes and 3 week Refresher Courses may have a minimum of 108 hours as already communicated to the UGCASC/ RCC. In addition, computer awareness and application of computers in teaching and research in different areas as relevant for the subject disciplines. All UGC-ASCs and UGC – RCCs have been requested to take steps to implement the programmes/courses accordingly.

If you take a look at the responsibilities of the ASCs, the overwhelming focus seems to be on subject and (assuming very basic) IT skills. Teacher participation is all paid for by the government. The detailed list of Orientation programs in 2009-10 gives very little reason to cheer. Organizations like JNTU, Hyderabad and MANUU, Hyderabad are actually talking workshops on effective teaching and open source software in education, but the vast majority are definitely not. One thing that may be good is that I see a lot of focus on principals and administrators based workshops.

Of course, none of these are in any way open or visible. Like much of Indian education. Which is not to say that innovation does not exist, that  there are not people with cutting edge thinking in education and that the future is grim – just that those dark corners need to be illuminated soon.

In school teacher education, however, the situation is richer with the National Council for Teacher Education (which has been although recently superseded by the government for 6 months on account of malpractice). NCTE has come up with many publications and I would suggest that they are worth a look, particularly the National Curricular Framework which has good ideas such as the Teacher Learning Centre. They have also got a Teacher Education Institute evaluation and accreditation mechanism.

It also has developed a Central Teacher Eligibility Test to select teachers fit to teach in schools for Classes 1-8 (essentially for BEd students). Please do look at the curriculum and sample tests – it will be an interesting exercise for teacher educators around the world to contribute and critique these.

Of related interested is how organizations like the Distance Education Council address the problems of faculty development and certification for blended programs and those offering academic (tutor) support online. This is something that is quite important to address as well.

In summary, it remains a challenge for us to figure out a more effective system for teacher education in HE today. The existing mechanisms need to be reviewed and the hidden dialogues around this issues needs to emerge.

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During the EDGE2011 conference, Ernst & Young, came out with a report called 40 million by 2020: Preparing for a new paradigm in Indian Higher Education, building on its earlier report with FICCI (Making Indian Higher Education Future Ready, 2009). This post deals with the salient analysis of and in the report.

At the outset, overall I really appreciated the rigor of the report. The data supports the arguments and there is a coherent case made for five game changers in Higher Education – Financial innovation, use of ICT/technology, focus on research, thrust on vocational education & training (VET) and changes to the regulatory framework. Here are some of the top data points and analyses of the reports.

In 2010, India had about 26,500 higher educational institutions compared to about 7,000 in the US and 4,000 in China. This is the largest in the world. Close to two-thirds of these are general education (Arts, Science and Commerce) colleges and these account for about 80% of the enrolments. Engineering is the most preferred professional course, followed by Pharmacy and Management courses. Despite the sheer number, barely 1-2 Indian institutions make it to top rankings such as the FT-Top 100 Global MBA Rankings.

Which is also perhaps the reason why there is a growing number of Indians who prefer education abroad. This market is growing at a 24.5% CAGR with close to a 160,000 students going abroad for studies in 2006. This import of education itself is valued at 0.46% (or USD 3.1 bn in 2005) of GDP or 80% of the government central current spend on higher education!

In the last 25 years, Higher Education enrolments have been growing at a CAGR of 6% with the current tally of 16 mn students expected to be 40 mn by 2020. Capacity utilization is a key concern and directly impacts the 33,000 new institutions target of an additional 24 mn students. We have 15-30% underutilized capacity. This is because of quality issues in HEIs which really arises from the shortage of faculty (we need about 45,000 PhDs and an equal number of M. Phils) and poor infrastructure. We have an extremely high student to teacher ratio (22:1) as compared to developed country averages of 11.4 students to a teacher.

The Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) is extremely low (12%) , even as compared with other BRIC countries (Brazil is at 34% and China at 23%), despite having the third highest number of students in the world. Not only that there are regional skews and the system is more or less an elite system of education. And the last 10 years show GER growing at a 3.09% CAGR as opposed to Brazil’s 13.39% and China’s 19.24% (2000-2007). India’s 2020 target is 30% GER.

Distance Education (DE) and VET have shown about 7% CAGR over the past 20-30 years with ITI/ITCs accounting for 43% while vocational education in senior schools accounting for 33% of capacity. Since India has a large young, independent population with a median age of 25 years, this demographic dividend (68% of population in 15-64 years segment by 2020) has to be capitalized upon using DE and VET. This can enable India to become a global source of manpower aided by the track record indicators such as a third of NASA being Indian. Globally, a shortage of 56 mn workers can be potentially met by the surplus of 47 mn workers from India.

VET (a potentially $4bn market in 2012, growing at a CAGR of 25%) has traditionally been a government led initiative, but now the private sector has started making inroads here. However key problems are that enrolment & utilization is low (51% levels as estimated by FICCI). We have about 7,000 ITIs/ITCs (Industrial Training Institutes/Centres) with a capacity of a million students. The kind of budgets being spent on creating quality capacity in the face of a huge enrolment potential we have, in my opinion are ridiculously low, in a country with the state of development that India is in. A look at the National Skills Development Council statistics would be enough to convince anyone of that.

The VET problems are essentially teacher quality (61% of teachers with less than 12 years of schooling), lack of effective funding and inadequate infrastructure. The worst finding seems to be that curricula are not consonant with market needs! Other problems include VET being unattractive as an option, poor placement track record and poor employer perception of certifications. The governance structures are also myriad and complex with two different ministries (labor and human resources) involved in VET and low autonomy in ITIs. There is low mobility between VET and mainstream Higher Education, which further adds to the problems. The result – today, less than 10% of our workforce undergo VET.

The sectoral growth is being pegged at 18% CAGR till 2020, from INR 46,000 cr (USD 10bn) to about USD 50 bn in 2020. However, universal higher education is still a distant dream with most states falling into the elite category as per the Martin Trow classification. Not only that, “the Indian higher Education system suffers from a large rural-urban divide in access, gender inequity, and large differences in GERs in various communities”.

Private sector spends are 2/3rds of the total spend on Higher Education. Government spends 0.6% (USD 4 bn, Central Government) of its budget on Higher Education which has the potential to grow compared to countries like Finland who allocate 1.6%. The largest allocation of this spend is General Education (about 38%). This share is growing (35%+ CAGR). But there are certain skews in the distributions of central and state funding across general and professional education.  For example, states spend the bulk of their budgets on general education while the Centre spends a large part of professional education. The Centre’s spend is also skewed towards a very few

Given that tuition fees are extremely low (accounting for only about 19% of total public plus private education expenditure, 2007; or less than 15% of expenditure of Indian Universities) and the fact that most of the State government spend is on operations rather than expansion, on general education rather than professional education, there is a problem with the sources, distribution and use of funds. Shockingly, scholarships account for only USD 10 mn, targeted at only 2% of the student population.

Student financing currently has problems like high interest costs, heavy documentation, high administrative cost and lack of provisions for economically weaker sections. HEIs also under-utilize other revenue streams like foreign students at differential fees and research and consultancy services. Fee regulation is an important issue, sufficient political in nature as well.

The current regulatory framework is a significant barrier for creation of new capacity (State leads the governance and infrastructure provision for education with legislative and policy barriers to entry). This is changing now with relaxation of these barriers on the cards.

The report makes the case that we must replicate the private sector higher education success story, given now that the private sector accounts for a large and growing proportion of the higher education segment (63.21% in 2006, with a predominance in professional education such as engineering and Pharmacy).

Technology emerges in the report as an important enabler. And within technology, network infrastructure, management software, content availability, research collaboration and distance education platforms garner a mention. Mobiles, Television and Radio are also mentioned as carrier channels for education. There need to be reforms led by the regulating authority, the Distance Education Council, to facilitate the growth and expansion of distance education in the country. Special Education Zones and Special Knowledge zones are being seen as a mechanism to allow greater autonomy and space for innovation for private players. We have to improve key ratios such as the number of students to a computer, which stands at 229:1 for the average Indian college as opposed to the 4:1 or 2:1 imposed by AICTE.

Technology infrastructure is also analyzed in the reports on the basis of indicators such as Internet penetration, PC ownership, computers per 100 (average number of computers per college is 6, according to the UGC survey in 2008) and other parameters. Unfortunately, the reports leave out mentioning the fact that the underlying infrastructure is also very weak – basic needs, electricity and telecommunications – in many areas of India, which need to be solved before we even start discussing computers per college. Local language content/interactions are also a huge challenge identified by the report. English is an understood medium for only 17% of the 368 mn rural literate Indians.

Interestingly, the reports have data indicating that there has been rather poor administration and implementation of technology led schemes like IGNOU’s radio/TV programmes – which is eminently believable. It is perhaps here more so in any other part of the reports that I find the core problems being addressed directly.

On the Research aspect, Higher Education spent 4% of it’s total budgets on R&D (much lower than other countries in India’s peer group such as China with 10%) in the context of an already low national expenditure of 1% of GDP. The number of researchers are also abysmally low with the HE sector contributing to only 14% of the research manpower in the country. Only 18% of the research manpower have PhDs, another shocking statistic. In terms of the number of research papers that are published, India is 13th in the world, 1/15th of the number in the US. What’s worse is that there is a huge skew with 10% of the institutions in India contributing to 80% of the research papers. The same grim picture holds true for patent filing.

The reasons for poor levels of research have to do with the quantity & quality of PhDs (less than 1% of total HE students complete a PhD and these numbers are declining), the existing quality of teacher-guides being an important factor along with the time spent on research activities. Grants for research are at a miserable USD 0.25 bn, about 5% of Harvard University’s spend on research in 2008! Specialized government interventions in research have virtually isolated themselves from Higher Education, adding to the malaise. Interestingly, private HE sector R&D is not performing too badly in comparison to public HE counterparts. Key issues are funding, system of rewards, IP frameworks, collaboration and raising the quantity & quality of manpower for research. 

On the aspect of governance, the reports make a strong case for streamlining the administration. It is a valid point, which is recognized by the Government and steps are being taken there to make the system more efficient. The key groups of stakeholders are Central Government, State Government, Regulatory bodies & professional councils and Accreditation bodies. There are too many of them, sometimes with conflicting or duplicate objectives and jurisdictions, some of which I have covered earlier in other posts. So far, this complex systems, which allows only not-for-profit entities (all others are unapproved), has been inimical to the balanced growth of the HE sector making them unattractive for high quality players  with high entry barriers. Obviously a politically charged arena, HE also suffers from lack of strong managers and low operating flexibility.

The three pillars to focus the growth on, according to the report, are Access, Equity and Quality.

Recommendations include:

  • HEI Quality: Mandatory accreditation, better governance, branding & marketing, development of international centers of excellence
  • Privatization: create special frameworks and conducive state policies, PPP arrangements, tax concessions for infrastructure providers, relaxation of Foreign Direct Investment restrictions to encourage foreign capital, legislative improvements for enablement, efficient governance and transparency.
  • Innovation: Enhance use of technology, promote new distance delivery methods, encourage industry focused models such as education cities and innovation universities
  • Financial: Increase capacity with a  focus on low GER areas, world-class infrastructure provision, enhanced student financial support, performance based funding component, rationalise tuition fee structure, monetize revenue through other sources (such as IP), attract higher fee paying foreign students, improve existing utilization/processing
  • Technology: promote development and free delivery of quality tested localized educational content; improve infrastructure & IT systems; help create communities of practice (!); and provide a way to tap expert internal knowledge through indigenous eJournals
  • Research and Development: reward research systematically, connect research centres to HE to industry for collaboration, build a conducive environment (time devoted to research, infrastructure, grants, resources, connections), improve quantity and quality through special measures 
  • VET: Streamline administration & governance, build VET-HE bridges, make VET align to market needs, give public VETs more autonomy and improve infrastructure
  • Regulations: Simplify and reduce, more transparency, promote autonomy and accountability, encourage foreign universities and correct structural flaws/skews.

These reports are not quite comprehensive insofar as they do not bring out certain systemic aspects of failure of the HE sector in India such as that of a heavy weight curricular structure, absence of basic livelihood infrastructure, deficiencies in teacher training, systemic shortcomings in educational planning, education management capability, innovation in learning technology, weak educational data collection and analysis and so on.

The malaise that threatens our educational futures is not manifested in just lack of innovation, financing models, R&D, VET and regulations, it goes deeper than that to a mindset – whether private or public – that is far more critical to change immediately. Once the mindset changes, it will be easier to design and implement a transformation strategy. This mindset is a chalta hai mindset (everything will do) and a reluctance to deal with the harder issues. In fact, if you really think about it, the answers have less to do with jobs that need to be done and more with doing correctly the jobs we have right now.

We need to work on the 3Cs of education – Capacity, Capability and Conscience. More on this later…

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I came across a recent article in Forbes titled What Educators are Learning from Money Managers. The article is rife with purported linkages between how corporations work and how education could be if it learnt its lessons from the “money makers”. The point made is that if public money (and private funding in public education through donations) in education has poured in, it is not seeing the results it should because the approach may well be wrong.

And the approach by companies such as Wireless Generation, is to infuse assessment and monitoring of student and teacher performance with the help of technology combined with professional practices. Larry Berger, the founder and CEO of Wireless Generations says that Education is in a revolution of sophisticated analysis of the data set. Essentially he is talking about software that lets teachers evaluate their students better and take corrective action very rapidly (“every two weeks”) and the availability of cloud-computing and portability/ubiquity as technology innovations that can support this revolution.

So this is about Charter school operators such as Achievement First, who bring in a professional management and execution of performance based processes (for the student, teacher and school). Joel Klein, chancellor of the 1.1 million student New York City Department of Education, is taking a portfolio-theory approach to education reform, meaning that he wants a selection of large, professional organizations to choose from when he sets up a new charter school. He has learnt, through his experience as an Assistant Attorney General under the Clinton administration, two things – “competition and accountability“.

Chief among strategies are:

  1. Expand the good schools and close down the bad ones
  2. Rely on young teachers coming out of training programs like Teach for America and University of Chicago’s Urban Teacher Education Program
  3. Pay teachers higher, but expect longer days and hours; enforce performance based indicators
  4. Employ technology to bring about rapid personalized response
  5. Focus on curriculum and leadership, rather than on bureaucratic roles
  6. Focus on lagging students first
  7. Replicate and scale these best practices

Some of this is kind of an approach is already incubating in India as I have referred to in my other posts. There are professional school operators bringing in technology and best practices, higher accountability and competitiveness, funding is on the increase, teachers do get paid higher, curriculum development is an exciting place to be and there are movements afoot to enhance the quality of teacher training programs and professionalization through movements similar to Teach for America. In fact, I believe, that 6000 high quality model schools, are being set up in India.

There is also, of course, student education loans (given the extremely low fee structures in public institutions) and heavy advertising by private education that is accompanying these trends (and many more market phenomena expected soon).

I am inherently uncomfortable in this notion of productionizing (if there is such a word) education. The problem is that in India the scale is many many times higher (and the infrastructure – physical and human – is many many times lower) that these models instantly would appeal to planners. There is no doubt that we need systems that ensure that a well-qualified and satisfied workforce comes into place sooner than later, that curriculum would benefit from ICT and advances in pedagogy, that teachers also need better working conditions and incentives, that there should be ways to monitor quality etc.

But education as the systematic production of learning, inherently a concept fraught with dangers that theories such as Connectivism identify, by whatever technique or best practice, seems to me the wrong abstraction. I think there are alternate ways that must be tried and tested at the point where we are at in India, rather than playing copycat to the ideas like the ones in the Forbes article.

Why – because what works elsewhere (if it does) may not be the best or viable methodology for us here – our scale, diversity, history, culture, geo-politics, economics and legacy are all different and unique; because Western systems of education and educational technology are under terrible critique at the moment, which means there are important lessons they are learning post implementation that we must take note of; because there is a lack of organized debate on what else could be; because we have a tendency to be motivated by hype more than substance; and because there is serious research happening worldwide that can change the way we think about education and educational technology.

Concretely, WBTs have failed to live up to expectations in terms of quality and effectiveness, but we embrace them as the mode of national level content development; Virtual Classrooms have ended up being more or less meeting rooms with facilitation tools, but we are investing in national level classrooms; Learning Management Systems are changing the world over to include AI, Web 2.0 and social learning, but we are stuck in the bureaucratic management of learning processes; Gaming and Simulations, as also Virtual World technology, are recognized as game changers, but we would rather not go there; and many other examples. I think we are so preoccupied with reach/access that we have not thought hard enough of the what after reach/access? question, assuming it is all there and is the best that can be.

As a consequence, we will go the way the market predicates, and that market will be large with plenty of innovation. But it may not be a market, in my humble opinion, that will provide the largest social benefit.

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A small group of educators, technologists, bureaucrats and private companies are sitting together to dliberate the use of Digital Learning in Higher Education in India. We have Prof. VN Rajasekharan Pillai, VC, IGNOU, Prof. Deepak Pental, VC, Delhi University, Prof. A K Bakshi, Director, ILLL, DU, Dr. B K Murthy, Director, DoIT and many more eminent names. More details here.

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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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