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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


Time for a rejig?

Secondary Education

Over the past few years the concept of affiliation of colleges to a university has increasingly fallen out of favour with many in academia. To some it has almost become a dirty word, synonymous with the stifling inertia of a university’s bureaucracy and indeed with almost everything that is wrong with the higher education system.

Many academics have stridently called for the abolishment of this “colonial hangover” in the nation’s universities. Such academics have also mooted the idea of granting autonomy to colleges so that higher education becomes a federal structure of sorts with the university having only a broad, policy role to play.

All the same there are those who have sounded a note of caution; warned that doing away with affiliations at one go may actually further weaken the fabric of higher education. They have posited that what is required is a reshaping of the concept of affiliation so that universities and colleges become partners in a drive for creation of quality knowledge on a level playing field whose boundaries are quality, autonomy and accountability.

A recent study— ‘Affiliation System: A Study of Kerala Experience’ — done by former Vice-Chancellor of the Calicut University A. N. P. Ummerkutty for the Kerala State Higher Education Council offers what could be a conceptual framework for recasting the relationship between universities and colleges in a Kerala context.

Prof. Ummerkutty, in delineating the evolution of the system of affiliation, points out that over the years the academic aspects of affiliation have been crowded out by the overbearing administrative and regulatory aspects of the university system. The one-time affiliation system has generated an overwhelming sense of academic inertia in the colleges. Very little of any accountability — of teachers to students, of students to themselves and to their course of study and of the universities to the society at large — is discernable in the higher education system. For this to change, Prof. Ummerkutty, argues, it is necessary to redraw the contours of the affiliation system.

For starters, affiliation need not be a permanent affair but should be something that the college earns periodically. Affiliated colleges should have the freedom to plan, design, review, monitor, and execute academic programmes. This ‘autonomy’ for colleges would come with a rider; they should ensure that sustained quality education is given to the students. Lapses may invite punitive action including disaffiliation. Affiliating colleges would have to submit annual reports to the universities about their activities and plans. Each affiliated college should have a College Academic Council through which the institution operationalises its autonomy. Chaired by the respective principal, all teachers should be regular members of that body. Non-teaching staff, students, parents, subject experts, and other stakeholders too would find representation in this council. The CAC should create vision and mission statements for that college and should act as a catalyst for academic innovation.

Each CAC would have four committees; the Curricular Development Committee, the Examination Committee, the Financial Committee and the Monitoring Committee. The Curricular Committee would be constantly on the lookout for new courses, restructuring existing programmes and should be in touch with nearby institutions of excellence including research facilities. The CDC should also keep an eye on the labour market at the regional and national levels and should work to introduce “life-related courses” in the college, the study recommends.

The planning, conduct and publication of the results of all internal examinations shall be the mandate of the examination committee. For its part the finance committee mobilise societal support and the money that may be necessary for existing or new programmes in a college. Prof. Ummerkutty’s study lays great emphasis on ensuring the accountability of the individual teacher. The former Vice-Chancellor argues that if accountability is ever to be considered seriously the system of teachers preparing ‘self-appraisal reports(SAR) — a concept embedded in the UGC scheme — should be reintroduced. By allotting marks to various elements of the SAR and by making in mandatory that a teacher earns at least 55 per cent marks for the SAR to enable him to continue in service, a powerful impetus for accountability can be generated, the study argues. The SAR should be supplemented by feedback from the students. The boards of study should be empowered to scrutinise and approve academic proposals from the colleges. Prof. Ummerkutty has recommended a drastic overhaul of the role of university departments which now have very little engagement with affiliated colleges.

Government colleges should be taken away from the bureaucratic control of the Director of College Education. Each government college should be placed under a Local Governing Body to be constituted by the government. The university should deal with the LGB for all matter relating to a college. In fact the study recommends that government colleges should be renamed Public Sector Colleges.

From an administrative and even a practical point of view it is desirable to have a full-time chancellor for each university. Such a chancellor would more or less be like the CEO of a company.

The Chancellor

The chancellor of each university should submit annual reports to the State legislature which would study the same and get back to each university with suggestions and recommendations for course correction. Prof. Ummerkutty also points out in this study that most of his suggestions would need only minor rewording or existing laws while others may need the government or universities to issue individual orders.

In his foreword to the study the vice-chairman of the Higher Education Council K. N. Panikkar points out that reforming the affiliating system has become an urgent need. “In the circumstances prevailing in the State it is neither possible nor desirable to discard the affiliating system in toto. So, a well-conceived alternative policy directed towards the progressive devolution of academic and administrative process is necessary,” he explains.

With professional education having all but elbowed out the arts and science colleges from Kerala’s higher education arena, any delay in rejuvenating the State’s universities would be unpardonable.

The Hindu, September 5, 2011


Four schools upgraded into higher secondary schools

Government run schools, Secondary Education

Four government high schools in rural parts of the district have been upgraded into higher secondary schools, out of the 100 listed by the State government for upgrading this year.

The institutions were at Natham in Musiri educational district, Sirugambur in Lalgudi educational district, and in Amanakampatti near Manapparai and Poongudi near Srirangam in Tiruchi educational district, Chief Educational Officer T. Mohana Kumar said.

Hitherto, students from these high schools had to travel for five to eight km to pursue higher secondary education.

In fact, students from the government high schools in Natham and Sirugambur went to nearest higher secondary schools located in the jurisdiction of Perambalur district.

The school education department considers factors such as the initiative taken by the Parent-Teacher Association, availability of buildings and land, and distance from the nearest higher secondary school before forwarding proposals for upgrading high schools. Last year, six government high schools were upgraded into higher secondary schools. For each of the four new higher secondary schools, nine postgraduate teachers have been sanctioned.

Three groups will be offered with subject combinations of Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Biology; Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Computer Science; and Economics, Commerce and Accountancy.


Till the new teachers took charge, teachers from other schools would be deputed. Adequacy of buildings in the long run would be taken care of by the department with funding by the Nation Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the CEO said. The new higher secondary schools would start functioning from August 20. Animal Husbandry Minister N.R. Sivapathy will inaugurate the higher secondary school at Natham, his native village.


Start of new higher secondary schools months after the date of reopening would not affect the academic schedule since students were only relocated from other schools. All students had already been supplied with textbooks in the schools where they had enrolled themselves for Plus One. Upgrading of schools at this time of the academic year had been made possible since even new admissions were permitted by the State government till August 31, official sources said.

The Hindu, August 19, 2011


The effectiveness of English secondary schools for pupils of different ability levels

Secondary Education

Authors: Lorraine Dearden, John Micklewright and Anna Vignoles
Working Paper

‘League table’ information on school effectiveness in England generally relies on either a comparison of the average outcomes of pupils by school, e.g. mean exam scores, or on estimates of the average value added by each school. These approaches assume that the information parents and policy-makers need most to judge school effectiveness is the average achievement level or gain in a particular school. Yet schools can be differentially effective for children with differing levels of prior attainment. We present evidence on the extent of differential effectiveness in English secondary schools, and find that even the most conservative estimate suggests that around one quarter of schools in England are differentially effective for students of differing prior ability levels. This affects an even larger proportion of children as larger schools are more likely to be differentially effective.

For full length paper click here.


Class 10 certificates to have grades on life skills

MHRD, Secondary Education

NEW DELHI: The new Class 10 certificate to be issued by the Central Board of Secondary Education ( CBSE) this year will show a student’s grades in subjects and also in life skills, Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal said on Thursday.

The certificates will carry grades reflecting their performance in attitude and values and physical and health education, along with grades for subjects like mathematics, science, social sciences and languages.

The new certificates, released by Sibal, will be given to over 10 lakh students who appeared in Class 10 board exams under the new continuous and comprehensive evaluation ( CCE) system, which gives grades instead of marks.

“For the first time in the country, any board will issue a certificate which will show grades in scholastic and co-scholastic areas,” Sibal said.

The Times of India, Jun 10, 2011


Research Paper- Secondary education in india: Universalizing opportunity

Secondary Education

World Bank

The dramatic growth in Indian elementary education enrollment and improvements in retention and transition rates over the past ten years, particularly among more disadvantaged groups, are increasing pressure on the secondary level to absorb new entrants. Given ongoing center and state investments in Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for All), this trend will continue for the next 10 years. At the same time, India’s impressive, sustained economic growth has increased household and labor market demand for secondary and higher education. Secondary education’s contribution to economic growth, demonstrated high social benefits (particularly for girls), and support of democratic citizenship reinforce the need for increased public support at this level, particularly in light of the very large inequalities in access to secondary education, by income, gender, social group and geography. The challenge is to dramatically improve access, equity and quality of secondary education simultaneously.

Click here for more

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States to abolish Class 10 boards: Sibal

Curriculum Development, Secondary Education

Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal Saturday said the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act will pave the way for state education boards replacing the Class 10 board exams with a grading system.

“Under the RTE, elementary education until Class 8 is under comprehensive and continuous evaluation. Once you have that system until class 8, is no point in changing over to an exam system in Class 10,” Sibal said in an interview to the CNN-IBN news channel.

The act pitches for classroom assessment of students instead of an annual exam. The Central Board of Secondary Education introduced a grading system for this year’s Class 10 board exams and will make the exam optional from next year.

“It’s just a matter of time that states will come on board and remove Class 10 exams on their own and move towards the grading system,” Sibal said.

Noting that the states have been cooperative in preparing a roadmap for the act, Sibal said a decision on its implementation will be taken very soon.

“The states have been cooperative in all our decisions and hopefully, in the committee meeting next month, we will take decisions with unanimity,” Sibal said.

The major changes being introduced in school education include a uniform syllabus for all central and state boards from next year. The human resource development ministry is also pitching for a single national-level entrance test for Class 12 students from science and commerce streams applying for undergraduate courses from 2013.

Sounding confident on the uniform curriculum, Sibal said that more discussion was needed before introducing the single national-level test.

“Well again, that (uniform curriculum) is something that has been unanimously decided by Council of Boards of School Education in India (COBSE). Let’s now see if we are able to hold an all-India examination in 2013. That is a matter that will be discussed at length,” he said.

COBSE is the apex body of all central and state education boards. The decision to introduce a uniform curriculum for all education boards was announced by Sibal in February.

Hindustan Times, May 29, 2010


$150m fund for out-of-box innovations

Finances & Budgets, Secondary Education

India is setting up a $150-million corpus using funds from the World Bank, European Union and the UK government’s Department for International Development to hatch innovative strategies to universalise secondary education.

Called the National Innovation Fund, the corpus will provide financial support to out-of-the-box projects for which budgetary funds cannot be used because of the risk of failure, top government officials have told The Telegraph.

“Think of the fund like a means to discover secondary education’s ‘switch hit’,” a senior official said, referring to cricketer Kevin Pietersen’s path-breaking shot where a batsman switches his bat grip at the last minute to outfox the fielding side. “You need the straight drive in cricket but you also need the switch hit.”

On the eve of the Lok Sabha polls last year, the HRD ministry launched a scheme titled the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA) aimed at universalising access and retention in secondary education by 2020. India, at present, has an enrolment ratio of 52 per cent in secondary education. Only 18 per cent of the country’s workforce has received secondary education.

The scheme is the single largest new education project envisaged and launched under the UPA. The right to education law, though implemented by the current government, was first drafted when the NDA was in power.

The ministry will manage the National Innovation Fund and use it to finance projects that meet the overall aims of the RMSA but cannot be funded through money allocated in the budget. It has written to all states asking them for comments on the proposed fund ahead of a meeting organised by the World Bank in Delhi on May 25 where the plan’s contours may be finalised. Several state government representatives are expected to participate in the talks.

The ministry, in a concept note on the fund, has suggested that the corpus be used to finance two kinds of projects: totally new ideas on a pilot basis, and scaling up innovative strategies with established success at the pilot stage.

The states have already suggested a few projects, sources said. These include the possibility of organising state-level competitions in the sciences and math along the lines of the National Olympiads, using parents as volunteers to fill in if there are teacher vacancies, and conditional cash-transfer projects.

The fund can also be used by the ministry to launch a National Innovation Award to recognise successful out-of-the-box strategies in secondary education, the concept note states.

The proposed corpus amount of $150 million works out to about Rs 700 crore. That is almost half the Rs 1,527-crore budgetary allocation for the RMSA in this financial year.

But ministry officials are cautious not to repeat mistakes they admit the government made in primary and tertiary (vocational) education. Funds received from foreign donors and diverted to promote innovation in these sectors over the past decade have not led to any significant successful “innovation” even at the state level.

Aware of apprehensions of a repeat under the secondary education fund, the ministry has outlined — in the concept note itself — plans to protect itself from past failures through a tighter selection and monitoring mechanism.

Charu Sudan Kasturi, The Telegraph, 21 May 2010

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