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Time to Depoliticise Education: Hamid Ansari

Performance Pay, Quality, Teacher performance

Vice-President Hamid Ansari today sought quick steps to rebuild professional identity and skills of teachers and to depoliticise education to improve the quality of teaching.

“The key to improving quality of education system is to bring the focus back on teachers. It is a matter of concern that our society and polity today does not accord that primacy and reverence to teachers,” Ansari said in his address to the 44th Convocation of Utkal University here.

Recalling that people in ancient India believed that the guru was Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara, he said “we are inheritors of a civilisational legacy that accords the highest place and respect to teachers.”

Seeking concrete steps to depoliticise education and cease to view teacher appointments as patronage or largesse, Ansari said politically empowering teachers, while professionally dis-empowering them, was a disservice to the cause of education.

He said the current system of teacher recruitment, teaching methods, performance assessment, incentive and reward pattern and way of accountability raised many questions.

“Far too often the focus, regrettably, is on completing the syllabus rather than on cultivating critical thinking skills and competencies. This needs to be corrected,” the vice-president said.

The need of the hour was to painstakingly rebuild the professional identity of teachers, nurture their skills and professional competence through continuing education, he said adding it must be ensured that their work reflected Constitutional values and society needed to recognise their work and reward them appropriately.

Referring to Yashpal Committee tasked to suggest measures for rejuvenation of higher education, Ansari said its report pointed out that universities remained under-managed and badly governed with constricted autonomy, internal subversion within academia and multiple and opaque regulatory systems.

Describing education as an important instrument for social and economic transformation, Ansari said it was the key to enhance competitiveness in the global economy.

Ensuring equity in access to quality education for all, particularly the marginalized, was central to economic and social development in the country.

He said that it was in April 2000 the World Education Forum at Dakar adopted the Dakar Framework for Action which recognized that education was a fundamental human right and was the key to sustainable development and peace and stability within and among countries.

Stating that quality lay at the heart of the goal of ‘Education for All’, Ansari said “we have achieved considerable progress in universalizing elementary education through the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan during past decade.”

The passing of the Right to Education Act and its implementation had transformed a human right into a fundamental right for all children to demand 8 years of quality elementary education, he said.

However, a critical element of Eleventh Plan strategy in education was to have a paradigm shift from access to quality, which was yet to be achieved, Ansari said.

Quoting the Approach Paper to the 12th Five Year Plan, he said “Despite improvement in access and retention, the learning outcomes for a majority of children continue to be an area of serious concern … Quality as mandated under the RTE shall have to be realized in tangible terms, failing which it will be difficult to wean students away from private tuitions that are prohibited under the RTE.” he said.

The situation was not significantly different in case of higher education, he said, adding that the Yashpal Committee Report had noted that ‘we have followed policies of fragmenting our educational enterprises into cubicles’ and that ‘most instrumentalities of our education harm the potential of human mind for constructing and creating new knowledge’.

Thus higher education in India suffered the pincer effect of low enrollment and poor quality. The Approach Paper to 12th Five Year Plan called for “a strategic shift from mere expansion to improvement in quality higher education” for which “the focus should be not only on larger enrollment, but also on the quality of the expansion.”

In order to improve quality of education, Ansari said “we must shift focus to learning outcomes from the current emphasis on input indicators such as infrastructure, teaching faculty and staff employed and resources made available.”

Poor quality of education, especially in public sector, would negate fundamental and human rights of citizens and deny them equal opportunity to fully realize their potential and lead fulfilling and rewarding lives, Ansari said.

“There is also an urgent need to move away from the lure of branding and elitist education. The average institution must improve for overall institutional improvement in the human resource development sector. The enormous resources deployed for education in the last decade in terms of human and material resources must be justified by vastly improved learning outcomes,” the vice-president said.

Government schools must deliver educational outcome that were commensurate if not superior to those in the private sector, he said adding the booming tuition and coaching industry that stood as a monumental reflection of the institutional and systemic failure of education must be reversed so that centrality was accorded to classroom learning.

State universities, and the 30,000 strong college system, which were the backbone and represent the bulk of enrollment, must obtain greater funds, create new infrastructure and enrich their existing academic programmes.

“We must create avenues for skills training and vocational education so that entering universities does not become a default choice for the sake of employment, particularly for those who might not have interest in the subject or desire for higher education.”

Outlook, 02 March 2012

Comment

Unions Act In Teachers’ Interests — Not Students’

Global news, Teacher performance, US

Gov.Dannel P. Malloyproposed comprehensive education reforms involving teacher certification, evaluation and tenure, setting off an exciting, constructive public debate about whether and how to change the rules that govern the employment of teachers and administrators.

Reform requires that we change the way we do business. We must moderate seniority rules in favor of considering the abilities and training of teachers in making staffing decisions. We must add time to the school day and school year to increase the time teachers are engaged with students and with each other in professional dialogue. At present, however, these initiatives are often stymied by collective bargaining.

The Connecticut Education Association and American Federation of Teachers are actively involved in this public debate, as they should be. But we must recognize that the CEA and AFT are trade unions, charged by law with representing the interests of their members, not with setting public policy or implementing educational reform.

Teachers do important work, often selflessly above and beyond expectations. And their insights into education make them critical participants in the discussion of reform proposals. The role of teacher unions, by contrast, is very different. In my 35-plus years of representing school districts, whenever boards of education have proposed additional instructional or professional time, the teachers union has demanded increased compensation for any extra work.

That is their job — to advocate for better salary and working conditions. But the interests of children are not part of that discussion. Teachers unions are not and cannot be true partners in reform. While we value their perspective, they exist to represent the interests of their members in negotiations over wages, hours and conditions of employment.

School boards are prohibited from setting working conditions unilaterally, as is the right of non-union employers. Rather, with limited exceptions (such as the length of the school day or school year), school boards must negotiate with the CEA or AFT over wages, hours and conditions of employment. Moreover, proposed changes in the school day or school year trigger “impact” negotiations over demands for additional compensation.

Revision of the rules governing teacher evaluation and dismissal are key to reform efforts. Although the CEA and AFT purport to advocate for reform, there is a fundamental conflict of interests in such matters. In each school district, these teachers unions have legal status by virtue of their being the designated bargaining representatives of teachers.

That designation gives them the right to demand bargaining over any change in working conditions. It also imposes upon them the “duty of fair representation,” the obligation to represent bargaining unit members in grievance or dismissal situations. By law, teachers unions must represent all teachers, including the ineffective or incompetent. Their professed willingness to weed out low performers directly contradicts their legal obligation to their members.

As but one example, statutory changes were proposed last year by ConnCAN and others to change the “last in/first out” seniority rules. Somehow, the teachers unions got involved, and with little public discussion that initiative to change union rules in the interest of students morphed into a union proposal to give union designates an equal voice with management in establishing and implementing evaluation plans.

Such a role for union representatives in evaluations would directly conflict with their duty to advocate for their affected members. Fortunately, the legislation was not adopted, but not for want of union advocacy.

In the ongoing debate over reform, all voices should be heard. Teachers will be affected by the laws that are passed in this session. Their designated representatives are highly effective advocates who will and must argue on their behalf. But we must not forget that teachers unions are unions. In making important public policy decisions on education reform, the General Assembly must keep that truth in mind and base its decisions on the interests of the entire school community.

The Hartford Courant, 26 February 2012

Comment

Sibal hits out at states over education reforms

Learning Achievements, Teacher performance

HRD Minister Kapil Sibal today took on the states for blaming the Centre for all ills plaguing Education, asking them to play a more “proactive” role since the responsibility in this sector lay “squarely on their shoulders”.

Sibal said any decision taken by the Central Government for overall development of education in the country is perceived as an attack on the federal structure.

“This is the tragedy of the country… we all blame the Central Government for everything. If a child does not go to school, the Minister and the Centre must respond. This is not the job of the Central Government. If we try and set standards and request the boards to apply those standards, then they say, it is an attack on federal structure,” he lamented.

Seeking a more “proactive” role from states as the delivery mechanism ultimately lay with them, Sibal said they must realise that responsibility of education lay “squarely on their shoulders”. At the same time, he felt, the “federal structure should be far more cohesive”.

Voicing optimism that there would be a marked improvement in quality of education in the coming eight years before 2020, he said “much of that depends on the level of commitment that we will see from the state governments”.

Sibal regretted that states are also not prepared to accept policy issues showing little efforts to abolish class X boards despite the best of intentions of the Centre.

“Its very difficult to convince the states… they have not abolished class X board till date and they are not onboard on many of the issues,” he said at a function here.

Sibal felt that the Right to Education should be given three more years to show its results and said several provisions under it such as teacher recruitment would bring about a much needed change in the quality.

So far, he said teachers appointed by the state are “next to nothing” and the quality of the text books are not “age equivalent”.

“We can prescribe the quality of syllabi and set standards but ultimately the text books are prepared by the state governments, but I dearsay the content of the textbooks are such that they are not age equivalent,” he said.

On the issue of funding, he said there has to be a structural change and the issue has to be addressed because states are of the view that unless Centre provides 100 per cent assistance, they cannot deliver the

He said no government so far in the history of the country has allocated Rs 2.31 lakh crore for elementary education and this should be appreciated by the states.

Firstpost, 16 January 2012

Comment

India’s Education Dream Risks Remaining Just That

Secondary Education, Teacher performance

NEW DELHI — At one of the better colleges in India’s capital, there is just one large room for 140 faculty members to sit and have a cup of tea or grade papers. “If even half show up, there aren’t enough chairs,” said Ghazala Amin, a history professor there. “There is no other place to work. In this situation, how do you expect teachers to work?”

The lack of amenities for faculty members is not the only issue. After 30 years at Jesus and Mary College, which is one of dozens administered by the University of Delhi, Ms. Amin makes the equivalent of $22,000 a year — less than half of what some of her better students will make in their first jobs. New opportunities offer not just more money for graduates but also mobility and flexibility, which are virtually unheard of for faculty at most of India’s colleges and universities.

All this means that India is facing a severe shortage of faculty members. But it is not just low pay and lack of facilities that are being blamed. According to a government report published last year, a massive expansion in higher education combined with a poor supply of Ph.D.’s, delays in recruitment and the lack of incentives to attract and nurture talent has led to a situation in which 40 percent of existing faculty positions remain vacant. The report’s authors, mostly academics, found that if the shortfall is calculated using the class size recommended by the government, this figure jumps to 54 percent.

Experts say this is the clearest sign that India will fail to meet the goal set by the education minister, Kapil Sibal, who has pledged to more than double the size of the country’s higher education system by 2020. They say that while the ambition is laudable, the absence of a long-term strategy to develop faculty will ensure that India’s education dream remains just that.

“This is a factor that we didn’t really study very carefully,” said Chiranjib Sen, one of the authors of the report and a professor at Azim Premji University in Bangalore. “It’s obvious that the faculty quality and numbers is a very crucial element in the quality of education.”

Mr. Sen says it is “a criminal thing” to increase the number of colleges and universities but not the faculty to run them. “If you can’t even manage what you have, how are you going to manage even more?”

This is a problem that has touched even elite organizations, including the Indian Institutes of Technology. The government, which funds them, has decided to increase the number of campuses to 15 from 7. Meanwhile, it has had to significantly increase the number of students to meet quotas for certain disadvantaged groups that were announced in 2008. At I.I.T. Delhi, for instance, the size of the student body has jumped from 4,800 to almost 7,000, almost entirely because of this policy. Where there should be 700 faculty members, or one for every 10 students, there are only 450, said M. Balakrishnan, the deputy director in charge of faculty.

He says the problem is not one of insufficient resources. Instead, there is a “huge misunderstanding” about how quickly his organization can grow and attract faculty. “The research institution cannot grow very quickly,” he said. “It takes time. We need to provide housing and research facilities for them to want to be here.”

Whatever the reason, the fact that there is a faculty shortage “has an enormous impact on research,” said Krishna Jain, a retired physics professor from I.I.T. Delhi. “You spend so many hours teaching, so how can you do research?”

And, Mr. Jain said, it is now more difficult to attract good students to support faculty in research programs for one simple reason: “Salaries cannot compete with the business world. So everyone wants to do an M.B.A. There’s too much emphasis on what you earn.”

In India, it was the information technology industry that allowed millions of Indians to earn good salaries. But this skewed the expansion of engineering education, said Mr. Balakrishnan of I.I.T. Delhi, because small private colleges accounted for the bulk of growth. And because these were mainly money-making enterprises, a “large number” of the professors there were not, in his opinion, qualified to teach. “So the faculty shortage may be actually 80-85 percent.”

For him, addressing the faculty shortfall problem is one part of the larger question of who should lead the huge expansion of India’s higher education system. Mr. Balakrishnan said India could do this only if education was subsidized. To maintain quality, he said, a massive investment by the government was needed, as well as some support from those businesses that wanted to launch institutions in the “philanthropic mode.”

Dinesh Mohan, his colleague at I.I.T. Delhi, said only the government could ensure that everyone received a quality education. “There is no example from any country in the world where it has not come from government,” he said.

Citing the United States as an example, he said initiatives such as the G.I. Bill and public funding of even top private universities ensured that no academically excellent student was denied admission. “What you have is a churn — classes mingling,” he said. “Innovation comes out of this process. A large proportion of faculty in schools and universities comes from this. They’ve understood the importance of poor people entering the system for better academic output. Rich people’s children do not typically become professors.”

Closer to home, Mr. Mohan added, there was an even bigger success story in the making. “You can make the quantum leap,” he said, using a phrase used often by India’s education minister, “and China has shown that.”

He said that while India produced about 700 engineering Ph.D.’s last year, about 6,000 earned such degrees in China. Mr. Mohan said China’s large state-owned firms had been asked to hire more Ph.D.’s, and that the same needed to be done in India. This, he added, would see many more Indians enrolling in such programs, some of whom would enter academia.

Mr. Sen, the professor in Bangalore, said the Chinese had not only increased capacity but quality, too. “They have been doing all kinds of experiments to make sure that their academic institutions maintain standards, at least in the technical field,” he said. For example, some universities have two tracks in the same department. “If you publish or have a degree from abroad, you will be put into the top track. And if you don’t perform, you’ll be dumped.”

This is not yet happening in India, according to Mr. Jain. “At a place like Harvard, only one in five appointments gets tenure,” he said. “In India, once you make an appointment, after a year you’re assessed. There’s a probation period of one year, but that’s just an eyewash.”

This type of quality constraint, coupled with low salaries for academics and the overwhelming rise of private colleges whose fees keep most students out are not good signs, said Ms. Amin, the history professor. She, for one, did not believe that India was on target to increase its gross enrollment ratio — the proportion of eligible students actually enrolled in colleges and universities — to 30 percent, from 12.5 percent to 13 percent, by 2020.

“On the one hand, you want inclusive growth. But on the other, fees will go up” if the expansion of private education continues unabated. “With the kind of situation there is, I don’t see that quantum leap happening. I don’t see it happening in the next 25 years.”

And Kavita Sharma, the former principal of a college that is part of the University of Delhi, also did not expect to see higher education grow at the rate India’s leaders talk about. She said that while the contents of the report on faculty shortages were not new, the fact that the government had published it could help to change things. “Now that it’s out in the open, out-of-the-box solutions will also start coming. I do see that every day higher education is being written about, talked about, which didn’t happen some years ago.My own feeling is, as your universities improve, then the profession will be attractive.”

Mr. Balakrishnan of I.I.T. Delhi, meanwhile, was more optimistic. He felt India could enroll as much as 25 percent of eligible students in colleges and universities — about twice the current figure — by the end of this decade. “Tangible changes are happening,” he said. “The debate that has happened in the last few years has taken people out of their comfort zones. There is more consensus across the board that we need to scale quality education.”

The New York Times, 15 January 2012

Comment

O teacher, my teacher

Higher Education, Teacher performance

Battles with bureaucracy can wear you down but the opportunity to shape the minds of a generation makes up for it all
Shreya Ray. Politician “requests” on admissions, battles over funding and curricula, students who are in it for just the degree—the job can drain you. The upside? Enthusiastic youngsters who make you forget all of the above; and more importantly, a chance to truly change the world by shaping the minds of an entire generation. We spoke to three people in the field of education to find out why they enjoy what they do.

Kartik Shanker,42 Assistant professor, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bangalore
How he got here: It was quite by chance that Kartik Shanker began studying the subject he now guides PhD and MSc students on, and even more so that he got into teaching in the first place. In school, Shanker wanted to be a doctor. But he couldn’t clear his medical entrance exam (“I can’t express more strongly how happy I am at that failure. As a doctor, my experience would have been infinitely narrower”) and took up zoology. As an undergraduate zoology student, he founded the Students’ Sea Turtle Conservation Network in 1988 with classmates. It was at this point that he was drawn to the idea of teaching. After his MSc, Shanker took his first stab at teaching, as a biology teacher at the Rishi Valley School, Andhra Pradesh. The experience convinced him he’d like to be a teacher-researcher. He followed this with a couple of research jobs. The first was a one-year stint at The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology as a researcher (2002), the second was a three-year stint at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (Atree), Bangalore, from 2003. In 2006, he joined the Centre for Ecological Sciences at IISc., to teach and research. But there’s also informal teaching that happens by way of providing guidance to students, discussing their PhDs, reading their papers. In this process, I learn as much as I teach,” he says.

Education: He completed his BSc (zoology) in 1989 and MSc (zoology) in 1991 from Madras University. He did his PhD in the community ecology of small mammals in the Nilgiris and the Western Ghats (1998) and postdoctorate in the genetics of Olive Ridley turtles on the east coast of India (1999-2002). A day in the life of: When in Bangalore, Shanker gets in to work by 10.30-11am. “Most of my day is divided between answering emails, attending to manuscripts and proposals of students and other academic commitments like journal reviews, discussions with students about their work and reading assignments and administrative work,” he says. He teaches for a term (August-November), and lectures twice a week during that period. He wraps up by 6pm. When he has to write his own papers, he either stays back in office or closets himself at home for two-three days. During the January-March term, the season for fieldwork, Shanker makes field trips to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Orissa and Lakshadweep with his students.
What I love about my job: “I certainly love the research. And then there’s teaching. Part of me wonders if my love for it is about enjoying the attention and liking the sound of my voice (laughs)! What I particularly love is the perspective and the enthusiasm that fresh minds can bring to a topic. They ask you questions you can’t prepare for.”

What I’d like to change: “I could do with spending less time on administrative work! Also, I would like more experiential learning for students and a break in hierarchies. There shouldn’t be any more of who’s the teacher, who’s the student.”

To improve education in India: “When our students come to us, the first thing is to deconstruct what they have learnt. As one grows up one gets more shackled in one’s mind and unfortunately, the Indian education system promotes that. Also, the issue of funding for college departments needs to be dealt with.”

My dream students: “If they could be more creative and independent.”

How do we create more educators? “When you see exciting institutions, with people doing exciting work, academics that are widely respected, you will want to join the place. Only by creating such institutions can we draw more talent.”

Money matters: Rs. 9-12 lakh a year, plus benefits like staff housing, medical insurance, sports and library facilities.

Abha Adams,58 Adviser—education with Step by Step school, Noida
How she got here: In the 1970s, there wasn’t much an undergraduate passionate about theatre could do about her theatrical aspirations, so Abha Adams decided to approach it through a somewhat circuitous route, by opting to teach theatre. Very early into her teaching years, as a lecturer at Lady Shriram College (LSR) in 1975, she realized she had a skill she hadn’t recognized. “I realized I work best with young adults, and connect very naturally with them. To contribute to their thought process, engage them to think differently, is an invaluable feeling,” she says. After six years of teaching drama to students of English literature and some semi-professional theatre on the side, Adams moved to the UK for a master’s degree (“I wanted to spread myself”). It was the start of an 11-year whirl.

She went on to do an MPhil, got married, worked for three years in community theatre, seven years at the BBC as a producer of educational programmes, and two years with the Arts Council England’s department for South Asian studies, where she devised ways to incorporate Indian arts into the British curriculum. In 1992, the family moved back to India.
“I had come back with expertise in media and arts management, and simply didn’t know what to do. I heard about the Shriram Group coming up with a new school, with a commitment to performing arts. In 1993, I joined Shriram School, Vasant Vihar, as principal.” Adams went on to become the director in seven years, and started three schools with the group. “But after 13.5 years, I needed a break. Increasingly, as director, I had felt a disconnect with the children, the teachers and the curriculum. The battles with administration, bureaucracy, politicians, the system, wore me down.” She quit, took three months off and then took on her current role as adviser—education for the Step by Step (SBS) school in Noida. Adams is the lead consultant with the team that set up the school and has designed and developed it since inception. Her secondary roles include sitting on various educational committees, such as those of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and working for various arts and training organizations. At SBS, she designs and develops the syllabus, works with the leadership team over issues related to human resource and special education, among others. Most importantly, she is back in the classroom, among children, which she describes as “the high point” of the job.

Education: She completed her BA English (Hons) from LSR in 1973 and MA from Delhi University in 1975. She finished an MA (in drama and theatre art) from the University of Leeds, UK, in 1981 and an MPhil in drama from the same university in 1983.

A day in the life of: Adams gets to work by 9.30am and the first thing is a meeting with the senior management, including the principal, heads of school, heads of curriculum, heads of personnel, finance and special education. This is followed by two teaching periods. She wraps up by 4pm.

What I love about my job: “One of the greatest gifts is when you have the opportunity to contribute to someone’s learning. I get such a great deal by being a part of children’s lives.”

What I’d like to change: “The attitude of some parents. I specifically mean parents of the affluent class, which feels that everything is a commodity and who have no respect for the teaching profession or teachers. They are terrible role models for their children.”

To improve education in India: “There’s no point in any suggestions if the biggest challenge is left unaddressed: lack of political will. If our political masters really wanted to educate India, they would have. But it is not in their interest to educate because they will lose their vote-banks.”

My dream students: “I want them to be thinking, compassionate, courageous human beings.”

How do we create more educators? “If you want to pay market salaries vis-à-vis corporate sector, the fees will have to be commensurate with these, which also means we will only be attracting a small student-parent community. So money is not the way to do it. At our school, for instance, we have a fully equipped crèche (a huge support for working mothers), we have flexible timings, part-time opportunities, extended maternity leave (up to 18 months), sabbaticals, and a rich staff-development programme.”

Money matters: Rs. 24 lakh a year. In the case of government positions, there are added benefits like staff housing, etc.

Saikat Ghosh, 31 Lecturer, English literature, Shri Guru Tegh Bahadur Khalsa College, University of Delhi, New Delhi
How he got here: Like most Indian teenagers who need respectable fallback options in the dire scenario that science is not their thing, Saikat Ghosh had homed in on the idea of becoming an economist. But by class XII he had changed his mind, deciding to take up English literature and then, possibly, a media job. But once the world of academia got hold of him, there was no letting go. “My teachers inspired me with their learning and multifaceted creativity. They were my role models. This is when I decided that I would love to work towards becoming a teacher,” he says. “After my MA, I had already started working in various jobs, including a short stint at TheIndian Express as a journalist, a few ad hoc teaching jobs at Ramjas and Kirori Mal College, until I landed a permanent teaching job at Khalsa in 2006,” he says.

Education: He completed his BA in English (Hons) from Kirori Mal College, Delhi University, in 2000, MA from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in 2002 and MPhil from JNU in 2004, on Saadat Hasan Manto’s short fiction.

A day in the life of: Ghosh gets to college by 8.40am and is there till 1.30pm, busy with classes or tutorials. “The challenge is to make students feel that instead of cramming and devouring guidebooks, they can make original and meaningful contributions on their own,” he says. After a quick lunch, he goes to the library or to the office of the Delhi University Teachers Association, where he works. Ghosh is also the staff adviser for the college theatre group, and during the college festival season, spends many afternoons rehearsing plays with the college theatre society.
What I love about my job: “As a teacher, you benefit from the enthusiasm of the youth. If you are receptive to their energy, you can remain young all your life.” Then there is the bit about intellectual freedom. “I am only accountable to my students. Nobody above me tells me how to teach.”

What I’d like to change:“The so-called reforms in the educational sector. These are bringing in corporate hierarchy and limiting intellectual freedom. There is a concerted attempt to dumb down and reduce knowledge to a utilitarian pursuit (such as a new course that trains students to join BPOs, or business process outsourcing firms).”

To improve education in India: “Education has to be retained by the state in the public interest, as it is still the most powerful means to social transformation in a poor nation like ours. ”

My dream students: “Those who think on their own and do not want to be spoon-fed.”

How do we create more educators? “What we need to do is, right from the undergrad level, introduce a different kind of learning that will orient them towards research and teaching. At the moment, academia is not really considered an option by most school students and parents. ”

Money matters: Rs. 4.8-5.4 lakh a year, plus housing or a housing allowance and reimbursement of medical expenses.

livemint.com 25 December 2011

Comment

Rural teachers below par, says study

Teacher performance, Teacher salary

A study sponsored by the United Nations has found many primary school teachers in the rural areas inadequately skilled for their job.

The study notes that most of them are weakest in situations where they are required to find creative ways for an effective teaching. It also observed that the current nature of qualifications and “usual types of teacher training” were not sufficient to guarantee effective teaching.

“A much closer look is needed at what teachers know, what they are able to do and how they translate their own capabilities into practice,” suggests the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) on “Teaching and learning in rural India” by Pratham, a non-government organisation. The study was conducted in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan in collaboration with Unicef and Unesco, covering a large cohort of almost 30,000 standard II and standard IV students randomly selected from the enrollment registers of government schools.

The study found no relationship between specific teacher characteristics like years of experience, gender, age, educational or professional qualifications and student learning outcomes.

“Selecting candidates with the best possible academic qualifications does not automatically ensure that they know how to teach young children. But teachers’ ability to teach, as measured by a simple teaching capability assessment, is correlated with higher student achievement,” it said.

Teachers’ content knowledge was in many cases inadequate when compared against a standard 4 curriculum. Although simple corrections of basic competencies could be done well by most teachers, their ability to explain content was clearly easier to do for simpler concepts or operations than for those that have slightly higher levels of difficulty.

“Teachers are weakest when it comes to application of their knowledge or skill to a given situation where they have to take the initiative to generate something new, such as a meaningful summary or a problem for students to solve,” the survey observed.

Researchers involved in the study also felt great need of “child friendly” class rooms in primary schools, but lamented that teachers’ theoretical awareness of the importance of such classrooms did not translate into practice.

“In four out of every ten classrooms observed for this study, none of the six very simple ‘child friendly’ indicators were observed,” stated the report. Findings of the study indicated that children did learn over the course of a year, “too little and too late. The process of falling behind begins early. Once behind, there are no mechanisms within the school system to help children catch up,”the report suggested.

Deccan Herald, 29 October 2011

Comment

Obama Unveils Education Plan

Global news, Learning Achievements, Quality, Teacher performance, US

President Barack Obama is replacing key planks of former President George W. Bush’s signature No Child Left Behind education law, allowing many schools to escape looming punishment if their states adopt a new set of standards.

Under the new system, which Mr. Obama announced Friday, states would qualify for a waiver from existing rules by requiring, among other things, that evaluations of teachers and principals be linked to the results of student tests and other measures of performance.

In announcing the change, Mr. Obama said his predecessor deserves credit for focusing the education system on accountability and closing achievement gaps, and said schools needs to stay focused on those goals.

“But experience has taught us that in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them,” he said.

The president was introduced by the Republican governor of Tennessee, a move meant to symbolize the bipartisan support his move enjoys among states, if not members of Congress.

The 2002 law has infused accountability into education across the nation but also has garnered widespread criticism for its rigidity. Schools are required by 2014 to have 100% of students proficient in math and reading. Those schools that fail face severe consequences, including staff dismissals, conversion to a charter school or closure.

The White House had hoped a bipartisan coalition in Congress would rewrite the law by now, but legislation has stalled, leading the administration to bypass lawmakers altogether. The act gives the education secretary broad authority to let states bypass provisions of the law.

“Congress hasn’t been able to do it, so I will,” Mr. Obama said Friday.

The vast majority of states are expected to apply for waivers. Those that receive them won’t be required to have all students proficient by 2014, but will be instructed to set “ambitious but achievable goals.”

To qualify, states must meet three tests. First is the rigorous evaluation system for teachers and principals.

Second, they must set high achievement standards. Under existing law, states can set their own standards, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said many set the bar too low. Under the new waiver program, students who meet standards must be considered ready for college or a career.

Third, states must develop strategies targeted to the worst-performing schools. For the bottom 5% of schools, that means turnaround plans akin to those under the existing rules. Other interventions must be targeted to another 10% of schools deemed low-performing.

Many Republicans like some of the changes pushed by Mr. Duncan but object to the mandate coming from Washington and say the administration is overstepping its bounds in granting these waivers.

“While I appreciate some of the policies outlined in the secretary’s waivers plan, I simply cannot support a process that grants the secretary of education sweeping authority to handpick winners and losers,” Rep. John Kline (R., Minn.), chairman of the House education committee, said Thursday. Mr. Kline has said his committee wouldn’t try to overhaul the law all at once, but in pieces.

Margaret Spellings, who served as education secretary under Mr. Bush and helped write No Child Left Behind, said she worried the new flexibility would allow states to set weak standards. “If these waivers allow the state to promise the sun and the moon and then not follow through—which some of them are famous for doing—then we will see a retrenchment of accountability,” said Ms. Spellings, who currently serves as a senior adviser at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, said in an interview that teachers would welcome the relief from the existing law’s emphasis on testing, and that his union was comfortable using test results as part of evaluations.

“Every teacher ought to be able to demonstrate evidence of student learning,” Mr. Van Roekel said. The union nonetheless believes no current standardized test is reliable and valid.

Mr. Duncan in August said the administration had no choice but to act on its own to change a law four years overdue for a congressional rewrite. He described the existing law as “far too punitive,” “far too prescriptive” and filled with perverse incentives.

The move builds on Mr. Duncan’s effort to drive change at the state and local level. He has already succeeded in pushing states to make a range of changes in order to compete for money through Race to the Top, a competitive grant program. Among other things, Race to the Top rewarded states that made it easier for charter schools to open. That isn’t part of the new waiver guidelines.

Under existing law, states are required to test students in math and reading in third through eighth grade and once in high school—and those tests, opposed by many parents, will continue.

The law has been widely criticized for labeling too many schools as failures, narrowing the school curriculum and prodding states to water down standardized tests. At least 13 states already have sought waivers from the Department of Education, including California, Michigan and Tennessee. South Dakota, Montana and Idaho simply told federal officials they would disregard key aspects of the law.

Wall Street Journal, 23 September 2011

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Students Today, Teachers Tomorrow? Identifying constraints on the provision of education

Teacher education and training, Teacher performance

Research: Policy research working paper
Authors: Tahir Andrabi, Jishnu Das Asim Ijaz Khwaja

Abstract

This paper shows that public investments in secondary education facilitate future educational provision by increasing the local pool of potential teachers and therefore decreasing the cost of providing education. In other words, the students of today become the teachers of tomorrow.
There are two steps to the argument. First, the paper shows that the construction of government girls’ secondary schools (GSS) in Pakistan had a large causal impact on the education market: Estimates suggest that villages where such schools were constructed are 27 percentage points, or three times more likely to see private schools emerge in the following years. The focus on private schools is important since the private sector better reflects local market conditions and thus aids in the identification of the teacher supply channel. Secondly, the paper argues that GSS construction impacts private school location because it augments local teacher supply in an environment with low female geographical and occupational mobility.

For full length research paper, click here

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Research: Whether to Hire Local Contract Teachers? Trade-off Between Skills and Preferences in India

Teacher performance, Teacher salary

Authors – Sonja Fagernas & Panu Pelkonen

Abstract

Whether to hire teachers locally on a contract basis, or via competitive examinations as government officials, is a major policy question in developing countries. We use a Discrete Choice Experiment to assess the job preferences of 700 future elementary school teachers in the state of Uttarakhand in India. The students have been selected using either competitive examination or from a pool of locally hired contract teachers. Skills in English, Arithmetic and Vocabulary are also tested. We find a trade-off between skills and preferences, as students hired using competitive examination have higher skills, but prefer posts in less remote regions.

For full length paper, click here.

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Research Paper – Effective Schools: Teacher Hiring, Assignment, Development, and Retention

Teacher education and training, Teacher performance, Teacher salary

Authors: Susanna Loeb, Demetra Kalogrides and Tara Béteille

The literature on effective schools emphasizes the importance of a quality teaching force in improving educational outcomes for students. In this paper, we use value-added methods to examine the relationship between a school’s effectiveness and the recruitment, assignment, development and retention of its teachers. We ask whether effective schools systematically recruit more effective teachers; whether they assign teachers to students more effectively; whether they do a better job of helping their teachers improve; whether they retain more effective teachers; or whether they do a combination of these processes. Our results reveal four key findings. First, we find that more effective schools are able to attract and hire more effective teachers from other schools when vacancies arise. Second, we find that more effective schools assign novice teachers to students in a more equitable fashion. Third, we find that teachers who work in schools that were more effective at raising achievement in a prior period improve more rapidly in a subsequent period than do those in less effective schools. Finally, we find that more effective schools are better able to retain higher-quality teachers, though they are not differentially able to remove ineffective teachers. The results point to the importance of personnel, and perhaps, school personnel practices, for improving student outcomes.

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