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Radically reforming higher education

Quality

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Dubai Cares helps to educate more than one million schoolchildren in India

Quality

11-05-2014

The National

DUBAI // A local charity is aiming to improve education for more than 1 million schoolchildren in India over the next three years.

Dubai Cares has teamed up with Indian NGO Pratham Education Foundation to provide support for pupils in Grades 1 to 5, in 150,000 villages across six states.

“Our partnership with Pratham will ensure quality education for children attending schools in India and will facilitate high levels of literacy and numeracy skills,” said Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares.

“We lay a lot of emphasis on monitoring, evaluation and learning so this programme will also showcase best practice that can be replicated across the country to enhance the educational support system on a national level.”

The charity said that across India, inadequate teacher qualifications, support and motivation, high absenteeism, flawed teaching methods and a lack of diversity in languages spoken by staff led to a lack of incentives for pupils to stay in school.

A key aim of the initiative is to reduce the number of parents who pull their children out of school to help provide for the family.

“The problem is too many kids are going to school but they are not learning,” said Mada Al Suwaidi, from Dubai Cares.

“We sat with parents who have moved their kids out of school because they feel they are not learning and don’t see the importance of school, so then they go to work to support their family. But this does not help them in the long term.”

Through financial aid to Pratham and the Read India III programme, Dubai Cares is helping to provide after-school support for underperforming pupils in Grades 3 to 5.

The youngsters receive extensive tuition in literacy and numeracy for three hours a day, over 22 days.

The tutoring is designed to add to what the children learn in class and boost those who have fallen behind to an acceptable standard.

It will also target students in Grades 1 and 2, and provide year-round classroom support so they will have the best possible chance to excel in later education.

It is hoped that once the programme ends in three years there will be adequate government support in India for it to continue.

“As with all our programmes, we ensure sustainability after we are gone,” said Ms Al Suwaidi. “Pratham will work with the government in India to ensure this continues to reach those in need.”

Dubai Cares has been working with Pratham since September last year.

The programme is part of the charity’s wider goal to support the Global Education First Initiative launched by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in September 2012.

Since its formation in 2007, Dubai Cares has worked in 31 developing countries to support education.

 

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India’s quality of higher education must match enrolment (Comment: Active Voice)

Quality

28-04-2014

Business Standard

India has the third largest education system in the world. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. But the severity of challenges that the system faces is exceedingly high, daunting, and at times looks insurmountable. The challenges confronting the Indian higher education system are also challenging, complex and have different hues.

The education system has seen a scorching growth over the last decade, trebling in size. In 2013, India had 727 universities, over 35,000 colleges and about 13,000 stand alone institutions. If we look at enrolment numbers, the achievement looks stunning, doubling in the last decade to 23.6 million people.

The current state of affairs, however, looks dismal if we dig deeper and try to understand the system better. The most alarming figure is of the average enrolment across universities, colleges and autonomous institutions that stand at 550 students. The distribution is highly skewed and is characterized by small number of extremely large institutions and very large number of very small institutions.

To give a perspective, Nalanda University at its peak had 10,000 students who came from across Asia. The average number of enrolments within the system reflect the scale of problems our educational institutions face today. We have not yet touched upon the idea of dismal global impact of our institutions pertaining to research and enrolments from across the globe.

The issue of enrolments takes the centre stage as India looks at improving the gross enrolment ratio (GER) to 30 percent by 2020 and this would require an additional capacity of about 10 million to be created over the next five years.

India without a doubt has to pursue the goal of improving the share of population that is pursuing higher education. Though increasing GER has to be more than just building universities or institutions as this would be insufficient and untenable solution given the short time frame to create an impact. It would have to be about access and availability. The whole perspective on access and availability could be defined by financial capacity, opportunity costs being rendered, language of teaching etc.

Increasing GER for India is a massive undertaking though using and leveraging existing infrastructure is a possible solution wherein the utilisation of educational assets is dramatically improved. This would as well have to be done keeping in mind the idea of excellence in teaching and research institutions. Excellence here need not be just focused on publications and research though, rather looking at curriculum and the knowledge being imparted to the students.

In India, we have clear evidence that quality is not there and this is reflected in educational institutions where most of the graduates do not end up finding a job. This clearly is a reflection of the state of affairs where the corporates have either shunned graduates or do not attach enough premium to the youth educated through our institutions.

The debate in the Indian context can as well move into the direction of job seekers versus job creators, though this would open a Pandora’s Box on the efficacy of our educations system, the ethos we live by and values we impart in our Universities and colleges. To put it bluntly, we could probably say that quality is simply not there and urgent attention is required to set our house in order.

One simple aspect on quality is further reflected through the process of accreditation of our educational institutions and the seriousness with which it is seen in the country. Improving quality is clearly about accreditations and external reviews that could come from the University Grants Commission (UGC) or external institutions.

This though is not reflected in the conversations one has with vice chancellors, directors or deans who end up making statements that accreditation and ranking processes are biased, not reflective of reality and digress the institutes from path of academic excellence, among other anomalies. One would immediately retort on this that in case an institute was achieving academic excellence then it would be ranked at the global level and receiving accreditation wouldn’t be an issue.

It is important for us as a country to recognize and appreciate that GER and quality education are always related to increase in nations wealth, GDP and prosperity. In India, we seem to be missing the idea. We clearly need to fix this urgently if we wish to continue on the path to achieve the status of being an economic superpower.

(Amit Kapoor is chair, Institute for Competitiveness, and editor of Thinkers. The views expressed are personal. He can be reached at amit.kapoor@competitiveness.in and tweets @kautiliya)

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Sarah Hardjowasito: A student’s view of quality education

Quality

27-04-2014

The Province

The essay below by Sarah Hardjowasito, A Student’s Musings on Education, was one of two winners of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association’s annual essay contest for Burnaby students. The other winner was Marina Gonzalez, a Grade 11 student at Burnaby South secondary school, for her essay, The Shift of Accreditation.

In an age of distractions and shortcuts, it is difficult to get students engaged and caring about learning. They languish in agony, waiting for the bell to free them from the classroom, so that they can return to the comforting blue glow of their phones. This only encourages a future society of self-absorption and obliviousness to the surrounding world.

It is therefore imperative to humanity’s future that an active and enthusiastic school community is developed, and that the education system is not only able to foster a love of learning and equip students with the ability to form deep and thoughtful connections with their knowledge, but also to ensure that every student is able to benefit from the system and come together with many other individuals to create an innovative and active society.

The basis of any education system should be a respect and appreciation of learning and an enthusiasm to come to school. This starts with reversing the stereotypical portrayal of school as being boring, restraining and full of judgmental and vindictive peers.

For students to enjoy and succeed in school, they must feel that they are in a safe environment, free of bullies or social hierarchy. This stigma attached to school is passed down from one generation to the next through the influences of popular culture. Television shows aimed at school-aged children commonly feature school atmospheres tense with social classes and divisions, with quintessential pitfalls and horrors that include, but are not limited to, wedgies, being shoved into lockers, or being drowned in a toilet.

Pop culture also degrades school and the value of education, and defines those who do strive to do well as “nerds” or “losers.” If students come into school with a poor attitude and a predisposition to believing that school is a waste of time and energy, they are more likely to not get the most out of the system that they otherwise could.

If our society builds a positive school environment that actively engages students, they are more likely to look forward to school, rather than dread Monday mornings. Creating a healthy respect and love of learning encourages an appreciation for education as a privilege, rather than as a sour obligation.

To maintain a passion for learning, students should be left room for both self-direction and creativity, and should also be equipped with meaningful skills that are applicable to real life. The constraints of the curriculum often do not allow for a detailed and in-depth approach to every element of the course or subject area, and sometimes an area of study that interests an individual student is quickly glanced over.

Setting aside time for self-directed study on a self-chosen topic would maintain interest in school, and allow the student to gather enough information on said subject that they could create a sufficient knowledge base for critical thinking.

The competitive reality of school, and the demand for high grades to ensure a greater range of opportunities in future paths, fosters a culture of learning for the sake of success rather than learning for the sake of learning.

A fast-paced curriculum allows students to excel in the course by way of memorization and regurgitation of material. Critical thinking skills are sometimes neglected because students have not had enough time, or have not recognized the importance of gaining a deeper understanding of the subject area, and are therefore unable to make informed or deep assessments of the learned material.

This practice of repeating information and not doing more research than otherwise required will have a negative impact on society.

Society’s inability to analyze, think critically and creatively, or problem solve, will be reflected in ignorance.

These are essential skills for innovation and social evolution, but many students graduate without these fundamental skills that allow them to look for more than one solution or point of view, and make informed decisions.

A public education system that is beneficial to individuals and society is one that encourages taking information at more than face value and looking for more than one solution.

This approach is good for allowing time for individual learning, and more adaptability in lessons. Students often have different learning requirements that cannot be encompassed with one style of teaching, which is why smaller class sizes are essential. With smaller classes, teachers become familiar with the needs of each student, and have more time to help them develop deeper and more meaningful knowledge of the subject material using strategies that are relevant to them. In this way, all students have a chance to develop critical and creative thinking skills.

While obtaining relevant life skills to assist them the future is invaluable, students also need opportunities to help them gain experience in applicable situations and to give them a goal to work toward. Extracurricular programs, such as clubs and sports, not only foster a sense of school pride and identity, but also teach students to work and co-operate with others, and to get involved in their community.

Playing a sport with others builds on an individual’s ability to work with others in high stress situations, and helps create enthusiasm within the school itself when they come out victorious. Organizing events through clubs is a hands-on approach to teaching students to become effective leaders.

Clubs can also open students up to possibilities and paths that they may otherwise be unaware of, and aids in their consciousness of the world around them. This creates a strong generation of people who are aware of the events that occur outside of their living room, and helps society evolve as people who care about more than just themselves.

Education is an invaluable gift that is often taken for granted. Ensuring that students utilize it to its full potential starts by stimulating a respect and enthusiasm for learning, and is reinforced with the idea that learning for learning’s sake is not worth less than learning for the sake of advancement.

A one-size-fits-all approach often leads to students falling through the cracks, and not obtaining the life skills that they could have. By being flexible and encouraging creativity and critical thinking, as well as providing students with equal opportunities, a collection of individuals can come together to form a mindful, inclusive, and innovative society that can genuinely say that they had an incredible educational experience.

Sarah Hardjowasito is a Grade 11 student at Burnaby Mountain secondary school.

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A defense of public education against ‘the wolves of Wall Street’

Charter Schools, Outcomes, Quality

20-04-2014

Washington Post

As a lifelong educator who has worked 10 years in a Catholic high school and now 11 years as a public middle school librarian, I am highly invested in the current conversation surrounding public education and reform. Some of you have stopped reading, assuming I’m a union teacher with tenure. Disclaimer: I work in Texas, a right to work state, where we have no tenure or unions with collective bargaining rights. Still, my experience demands that I defend public education, which is often under assault.

I am disturbed when high-flying charter schools, such as Harlem Success Academy, brag about their student standardized test scores, not because I begrudge them but because they seem blithely unaware of selection bias. Just the very fact that a parent takes the initiative to apply to one of these schools makes a huge difference. In addition, both students and their parents have to sign contracts and agree to longer hours and high performance standards. If students do not live up to these standards, they are no longer able to attend. A fair comparison between test scores of high-profile charter students and regular public school children must include only the public school students who attend regularly, do their homework, and, along with their parents, are committed to school. Or compare them to magnet schools, which is what they essentially are.

Editorial pages of many newspapers often bemoan the expense of public schools. Yes, since the 1970s, we are spending more per student. Part of this is due to inflation (try comparing house values in the 1970′s to now), but part is also due to the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This law has enabled so many children to access services, including, when necessary, one-on-one aides, who guide them throughout the school day. These services are absolutely the right thing to do, but they are expensive.

Charter schools have fewer children with disabilities as well as fewer English Language Learners. Studies cite a 3-4 percent gap in special education students at charter vs. regular public schools. But as someone who works in a public school with a Life Skills unit, I wondered: where are the Life Skills units at high profile charter schools? They may have special education students, but do they have middle school students with a mental age of 1 1/2 years old, colostomy bags and diapers, students with multiple and severe disabilities who are served in their own classrooms? No. For example, North Star Academy Charter schools in Newark have 36 percent fewer students with severe (high cost) disabilities than the Newark public schools in general. While in New York City, 41 percent of public school students speak a language other than English at home, only 5 percent do so at Harlem Success Academy.

Furthermore, the greatest expense for public schools is personnel. It seems that some of the recent animosity toward teachers is due to the simple fact that our salaries are paid from tax revenue. As Rupert Murdoch has remarked, public education is a $500 billion business, and some see that public money as a private business opportunity.

People ask: what’s wrong with “choice” and vouchers? First of all, vouchers transfer public money to private institutions. Public schools lose the annual, per dollar amount for each child who leaves and takes the money with her. If choice in the form of charters and vouchers continues to siphon involved families and students from public schools, then public schools will become dumping grounds for our children with the greatest material, physical, language, and emotional needs. We become a nation in which some children win while others lose. While that may be the way of the wolves on Wall Street, we public school teachers will not abandon the lambs in our charge. Rather than working to improve schools for all, market practices make it acceptable to continue leaving children behind.

In closing, great schools have these things in common: a strong principal who is an instructional leader, committed and involved families, adequate funding, and committed, prepared, well-compensated teachers. According to the latest Texas Tribune poll, even 65 percent of Republicans believe teachers should be paid more. Colleges and universities need to make teacher programs more competitive. We must raise the bar on getting a teaching certificate, and we must get rid of fly-by-night, six-week training programs.

We must partner with parents. The secret to success in high-achieving charter schools and private schools is parental commitment to the shared goal of educating children. Amanda Ripley, in her excellent book, The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, cites research demonstrating that if parents do two things, their children will most likely succeed academically: 1) Read to them from a young age. 2) Model reading themselves.

We need to follow the common sense wisdom of Stephen Krashen’s “The Power of Reading.” Give students time to read in school, allow them to self-select their books, and provide them access to these books, and children will read. By reading, they practice and improve their literacy. Not only do readers do well on standardized tests, but according to research cited in “Reading in the Wild” by teacher Donalyn Miller, readers vote more, volunteer more, and are better informed citizens. Sadly, instead, many school districts are cutting librarians and library programs in order to spend more on testing.

We need to better support our children in the United States. Too many children live in poverty: 23 percent. In Texas, 60 percent of our public school students qualify for free or reduced lunch. Teachers will tell you of students living in cars, moving every other month because parents can’t pay the rent, coming to kindergarten not knowing their colors. Universal Pre-K will absolutely make a difference.

There are many things we, as a society, can do to improve our schools, but the current “reform” policies — which stress punitive testing, demonizing teachers as lazy leeches, advocating performance pay, and privatizing public schools — are taking us further from the noble traditions which made us great. Our nation was the first in the world to provide free, compulsory education. This mission is inscribed in most of our state constitutions. Our public schools are the centers of our neighborhoods and communities. They are run by democratically elected school board members. Public education as an institution needs to be nurtured and cherished for the common good.

 

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An agenda for school education

Education, Quality

20-04-2014

Live Mint & The Wall Street Journal

While school education is largely a state government subject, the centre can do a lot to create an enabling environment for government and private entities, ensure accountability and shape flagship programmes.

Access to and enrolment in school education in India have grown significantly in the last two decades, to over 90% now. This should be celebrated. Quality, however, remains a serious challenge. Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 shows 53% of class 5 children in rural India cannot read class 2 text. Two Indian states participating in Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2011 ranked second-last and third-last of 74 countries and states globally. Learning is an issue not only in government schools but also in most private schools (notwithstanding high retention and completion). Lack of training in employable skills during secondary school is another challenge.

As India goes to the polls and political parties visualize the next central government, we suggest a five-point manifesto, focused on school education, with two objectives: significantly improved learning quality (from an average 50 out of 100 to 80 plus on tests of conceptual understanding) and employable skills by the end of schooling.

1. Assess conceptual learning through an independent agency annually and celebrate improvement: Standardized, annual, national assessments are present across the world’s top 20 school systems and increasingly, also in emerging economies such as Brazil and China. India should test a sample of students in classes 3, 5 and 8, across government and private schools, for their understanding of concepts. While these should be low stakes for the student (no pass or fail), they could give the system valuable feedback for improvement, help design initiatives and provide performance transparency. A few state governments are already conducting such assessments through private entities.

The human resource development ministry could understand the needs of each state better and even link part of the funding from programmes such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) to improved learning levels. It could push the top three states to undergo PISA to understand the global competitiveness of our students. India’s National Assessment Survey could perhaps be refined and evolve into the suggested annual assessments. Over time, board exams also need to be reformed towards greater focus on conceptual understanding.

2. Catalyse teacher education reform through: One, centrally manage B.Ed and D.Ed colleges through outcomes. Accredited private agencies could administer an enhanced version of the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) to test subject-specific conceptual understanding and practical classroom skills, during recruiting. While 70-80% of candidates may not pass these assessments currently, institutes producing a greater pass rate should get financial and technical support for quality improvement and scale-up. For example, China has over 100 larger-scale teacher training facilities, compared with 14,000 plus teacher training colleges in India with only 1.1 million seats. Managing through outcomes can also allow more flexibility in programmes and alternative accredited certifications, as in countries such as the US.

Second, set up 20 to 30 national institutes, as public-private partnerships, with independent governing boards and high quality CEOs to run benchmark teacher and school leader development programmes. With a collective high quality annual output of, say, 50,000 teachers and 5,000 headmasters, these could be like the IITs or IIMs of education. Once proven, this model can be used to set up future district institutes of education and training and reform existing ones.

3. Integrate employable skills into schooling: Most countries with high quality vocational systems start skills training in school. Vocational skilling across manufacturing, services and self-employment trades, should start in class 8, with a recognised model for passing classes 10 and 12 with a mix of vocational and academic subjects. High quality private entities should deliver the vocational programmes, with students certified by industry-led sector skill councils.

4. Leverage private expertise to run high quality government schools that can be examples and resources for the system: Incentivize and encourage state governments to run, say, at least 20% of government schools in the next five years in public-private partnership mode, combining government infrastructure with select private management bringing their teachers, principal and methodologies. These private entities can be performance-managed through third party tests of learning.

Experience of charter schools in the US, the UK, South Africa and Pakistan show that quality selection and evaluation norms are critical. Equally important is a financially viable model. In cities, an annual payment of Rs.18,000-20,000 per child at 2012 cost, preferably through vouchers to students, can create competition among private schools, leading to quality.

5. Accelerate the use of technology for education: Technology can play several roles in education—interactive and customized learning models, increased reach of high quality teachers in distance mode, tools for supporting teachers and principals, and administrative tools for efficiency. However, the effectiveness of technology in education is not fully proven. The Union government could set up an Rs.500 crore fund to help seed innovations, evaluate effectiveness and scale up high impact experiments.

This five-point agenda could catalyse a school education system that provides India’s children the best learning opportunities and provides the country a skilled workforce.

Ramya Venkataraman is the leader of McKinsey’s education practice in India.

Shirish Sankhe is a director and senior partner, and leads McKinsey’s public sector and infrastructure practices in India.

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The Indian education system is broken. A few startups want to fix it

Education, Quality

11-04-2014

ZD Net

It is extremely strange that a country that has produced an avalanche of engineers, many of whom have gone on to start some of the leading tech companies in the world, are CEOs of various multinationals, are heads of M&A divisions on Wall Street and have taken over many of the world’s consulting firms can be accused of coming from an educational system that is fundamentally unsound.

And yet, that seems to be the case. A few years ago, the Economist highlighted a study done by Indian firm Aspiring Minds on a large number of Indian engineering graduates. The firm is run by brothers Himanshu and Varun Aggarwal who had previously collectively received engineering degrees from the temples of global engineering (the Indian Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

What the brothers unearthed was shocking at first, but perhaps not so surprising when you actually think about our educational experiences in India. Aspiring Minds essentially concluded that a large number of Indian engineering graduates are unemployable, with 95.8 percent of them not fit to work in a software product firm and only 17.8 percent employable by an IT Services company. These figures were apparently even more bleak than the 25 percent figure of employability presented by McKinsey around ten years ago. (Aspiring Minds’ test was similar to the GRE and gauged students’ analytical, verbal and quantitative skills). A recent study on current work force skills which I wrote about here pretty much said the same thing.

Many who have navigated the Indian education system as students, even at an elite level, will tell you that one of the evils of our system is the emphasis on rote learning.According to this piece, around 70 percent of Indian principals felt that  Indians weren’t given enough opportunity to develop creative thinking abilities and that the existing system today was along the lines of the ‘factory model’ architected in the 18th and 19th centuries in order to feed the engine rooms of the Industrial Revolution.

Of course, rote learning isn’t all bad. As this article points out, “Without spellings, facts and rules… you’re left floundering in a knowledge-free vacuum,” and that “data leads to – proper, considered thought, rooted in knowledge and the logical jumps and inferences that naturally develop from the simple gift of knowing stuff.” Indians are comfortable around numbers precisely because things like multiplication tables and assorted formulas were hammered into us at a very early age.

Even today, I know all of Newton’s equations for motion. I may have eventually gone on to Trollope and Ginsberg and Amitava Ghosh, but thanks to mind-numbing repetition, I still can’t forget that s=ut+1/2 at^2, where ‘a’ is negative in the case of a falling body that plummets to earth at 9.8 m/s^2 under the earth’s gravitational force. I’m not sure that in my case this would have been possible in the absence of the Indian system of rote. (Or ‘rat-ta’ as we like to call it.)

Off course, if only that were bolstered by a healthy degree of conceptual foundations, I may have enjoyed science instead of eventually analyzing the human condition while stopping by woods on a snowy evening. Instead, today, engineering is simply the means to an end for many Indians rather than an end in itself—and this is doubly dangerous in a cloud-computing, plug-and-play world where engineers are being commoditized and upstaged by vocational students and management graduates.

The inadequacies of the Indian system became apparent to me when I went from a high school (11th grade) in India that was a breeding ground for future IIT engineers and did my 12th grade in a public high school in Queens, New York (my mother was transferred there for work) where I enrolled in the Advanced Placement Calculus class. I had already studied a third of the course work in India but suddenly found a whole universe of practicality opened up to me when I realized, for the first time, that an Integration problem was really about calculating the area under a curvy line that could actually represent a garden or a pathway or a wall and not just some abstract concept that focused on getting the right answer. It was a revelation.

The problem with many of India’s engineers (I am told by many who fit that category)—especially those enrolled at India’s best schools like the IITs of the world—is that they focus mainly on getting in. This usually means thousands of hours (and Rupees) spent on ‘tuition’ classes outside of school. Once in, there’s not much intellectual flexing.

The founder of one of India’s leading indigenous consulting firms recently told me that he got a rude shock when he arrived in the US for a graduate degree in Management after a supposedly top notch Indian engineering education because he was simply unable, at least in the first few months, to cope with the style of conceptual, analytical thinking that was taking place. “We were all so used to being force-fed for years that when the feeding wasn’t there, we became paralysed,” he said.

Indian engineers in the country have it worse because the absence of any liberal arts framework means that elite engineering students often have an elevated impression of themselves but tend to know little of the world around them upon graduation.

But it’s not just engineers who find themselves in peril. This article written by an American who spent time at one of India’s elite colleges, St. Stephens, looks at how he found a profound lack of depth amongst the students there. At least engineers have some kind of foundation in Science whereas these ‘Commerce’ and ‘Arts’ graduates, on average, tend to have a foundation in, well, nothing. Which is why many Indians who do their undergraduate in India tend to repeat many of these years in the US.

What’s worse, Indians in general, post-graduation, have a serious lack of knowledge about their own history and culture. This was certainly the case with me when I was in high school. The upper strata of society tend to be the worst off. Having lived in Delhi for the last seven years, I have found that wealthy children from elite urban high schools and privileged boarding schools are in fact the ones that are the most underequipped with critical thinking or sophistication in formulating a world view compared to those coming out of the more ‘average’ institution. Perhaps, the womb of air-conditioned cars that ferry one back and forth and air-conditioned houses to shield you from the elements and half a dozen staff at home, not to mention ski vacations in Switzerland prevent any kind of realistic examination of life around you.

It is not that Indians are not smart. Anything but, people would argue. It is the education system that has failed them. The profusion of successful Indians in the world is despite the odds of a broken system and thanks to the vast population base that allows for attractive numbers. In reality the majority of Indian children, as Pratham, the country’s foremost education NGO will tell you have a 2nd grade level of reading and proficiency in the 7th grade and only 1/3rd of students in the fifth grade can do simple division problems.

So, it must come as a tremendous source of relief for those wringing their hands at ruins of the educational system in India to read that social venture capital Lok Capital as well as seedfund Chennai Angels has invested close to US$1 million in Everest Edusys, a company that weans children away from rote learning to learning by doing. It plans on setting up science laboratories in schools across southern states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala where “students learn concepts such as force, motion, gravity through touch and feel and activity based tools,” he said.

Everest Edusys’ flagship product Quest Explore Discover (QED) is a mobile interactive exhibit center that teaches students in K-12 science principles in a hands-on way through experiments and other activities.

Apparently Everest has come up with tools that have been used at by over 20,000 children in 100 schools out of which 20 percent are government-run—a category that Everest wants to focus more on in the future by bringing the wonders of a science lab to their doorsteps. The idea is to spur critical thinking at a young age so students by using active learning methodologies. According to research, students using their system enjoyed a 47 percent improvement in their performance. Another outfit Flintbox wants to provide activity boxes on a monthly subscription basis for young children to get their conceptual and creative juices flowing at a young age.

Another innovative enterprise, Skyfi Labs, tries to tackle the problem a little higher up the chain by trying to transform ‘textbook geniuses’ into employable engineers by giving them something Indians don’t really get often (how many Indians do you know had to slave away at summer jobs or internships?)—such as access to practical, hands-on training, on- and offline.

The outfit has trained over 25,000 students from more than 150 colleges according to VCCircle by conducting two to three day courses in areas such as robotics, aeromodelling, web and mobile app development and civil engineering according. Apparently, a Skyfi Evaluation Engine takes a close look at the performance of each student and then feeds this to companies looking for capable recruits.

A few more of these novel solutions and we just may have a shot at reaching our potential in what could be a deluge of graduate talent in the country. Till then, the rot will continue.

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Education and India’s Jobs Crisis

Education, Quality

14-04-2014

The Wall Street Journal

In a page-one story Monday, The Wall Street Journal reports that India’s economic slowdown is giving rural Indians fewer incentives to leave their home villages and farms in search of better-paying work. For some who have already left, it means going back to a way of life they thought they’d left behind.

Specifically, the credit-rating firm Crisil predicts that by 2019, 12 million more people will be working in agriculture than in 2012. Compare this to what happened between 2005 and 2012, when the agricultural workforce shrank by 37 million people, and you get some sense of what a turnaround this could represent for India if Crisil’s forecast bears out.

This stalling of urbanization and industrialization touches on many aspects of India’s extraordinary, if rickety, economic rise. As discussed in the story, part of the problem is the country’s undersized manufacturing sector. In Europe and East Asia, factories have helped bring millions of unskilled workers from farm communities into urban life. In this election season in India, the question of whether the government should prioritize economic growth or the needs of the poorest is again at the center of the policy debate.

But it’s important not to undervalue another factor that is also preventing more people in India’s countryside from finding more productive—and hence more remunerative—work.

School education in India is “abysmally poor,” as one report put it last year.More boys and girls are enrolling than before, but quality hasn’t kept up. In some rural schools, teachers skip class as often as their students. The Right to Education Act, enacted in 2009, guarantees free and compulsory elementary education but has been criticized for setting such unrealistically high standards for quality that schools are encouraged to pay bribes in exchange for certifications from government inspectors.

Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel Prize-winning Bengali poet and polymath, issued this diagnosis many decades ago: “In my view the imposing tower of misery which today rests on the heart of India has its sole foundation in the absence of education.”

That rings true in the village of Morkahi, where we met Ram Singh, one of the people profiled in Monday’s story. Mr. Singh and his brother, Lallan, left home without finishing high school to find work in New Delhi. Today, both men can read and write at a basic level, though they regret they didn’t stay in school longer.

Lallan told us he regularly cut classes. During one of our interviews with him, in the gargantuan Delhi produce market where he loads and unloads trucks, we found him flipping through a Hindi newspaper and asked what kind of news he was interested in. He said he liked the photos but couldn’t really understand any of the stories.

Morkahi is in the poor, eastern state of Bihar, which is one of India’s worst performers, education-wise. The state’s overall literacy rate—64% in 2011—was the lowest in India that year. According to a 2010 study, only 40% of 8- to 11-year-old students in government schools in Bihar could read a simple paragraph. Just 43% of them could subtract a two-digit number from another two-digit number.

The truly depressing thing about that last statistic? The nationwide average in India was also 43%.

At Rajya Samposhit High School, just up the road from Morkahi, there are nearly 1,000 9th-grade students and more than 600 10th graders—but only three teachers.

“You can imagine the kind of situation we are in,” Gopal Prasad Dubey, the school’s geography teacher and vice principal, told us. “The futures of these students are not as bright as the government claims them to be.”

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Educating India

Education, Quality

31-03-2014

Newslaundry

We are fond of quoting the fact that India is a young country with young aspirations. It’s no mean fact that India is projected to become the youngest country in the entire world by 2020 . A third of the country is below the age of 18, while another third is in the age group 18-35 and is projected to decide the fate of the nation in the upcoming election by constituting 50% of the total voting population of the country. While issues like wide unemployment and low employability remain keyto this segment, perhaps the wholescale destruction of the Indian education system and the upcoming demographic disaster is not getting as much attention as it deserves.

There are two main programmes for evaluating learning outcomes in Indian schools. The first is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international assessment conducted every three years. India participated in the 2009 round and came last in Science and second last in the world in Reading and Math. Other Asian countries like China and Korea led from the top. Experts estimated that an Indian Class VIII student is at the same level as a South Korean Class III student in math abilities or a Class II student from Shanghai when it comes to Reading skills.

Such abysmal performance should have sent the alarm bells ringing in the Indian education system, but the Indian government did the only thing they seem to know best, refuse to participate anymore in such surveys andsaying “the tests don’t conform to our sensibilities”. No doubt the exposure of the utter failure of the Indian education system while the government is trumpeting acts like Right to Education (RTE) doesn’t appeal to the sensibilities of the United Progressive Alliance. As the popular saying goes, there remains a difference between acts and action.

Thankfully, a second annual survey, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) is available to assess the performance of a school system which seems to be focused on acting like an ostrich burying its head in the sand after sensing upcoming danger.ASER evaluates student performance and its latest 2013 report (released by Montek Singh Ahluwalia), shows that only 54% of Class V rural school kids could even read at a ClassII level in 2010. This number further deteriorated to 47% in 2013. So not only are our kids the last in the world, they are getting worse and rapidly so (perhaps a good time to start an imaginary dilapidated country with which we compare ourselves against and feel better). The numbers are even worse for government schools (50% versus 41% of Class V kids being able to read at theClass II level in 10versus 13 respectively) and only the maintenance of learning outcomes by private schools tempers the utter disaster that is the Indian education system.

The reason behind this disaster is something every Indian can understand easily, the concept of “paisa vasool” or accountability &incentives. In other words, Peter Drucker’s advice of “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” is worth listening to. UPA’s RTE focuses on building and infrastructure standards but misses on one thing the education system is setup for “learning”. In addition, it also forces well performing, low cost private schools to shut if they don’t measure up to infrastructure standards set up by Delhi’sbabus (estimates are upto 18 lakh children will see their private schools closed due to RTE. There is no focus on learning outcomes in an Act which claims to provide education. As WillimaWadhwa, Director, Statistics of ASER Centre puts it, “both incentives and accountability are completely missing from the public school system” .

The contrast is stark when one looks at states like Gujarat which deviated from the RTE Act, and gave 85% weightage to student learning outcomes and only 15% to inputs like facilities and teachers’ qualifications. The impact in terms of outcomes is stark, with the percentage of Class V students reading at the Class II level or above rising from 46% to 51% in four years (as opposed to the reverse trend at the national level). Additionally both government and private schools are improving by laying focus on learning outcomes rather than peripheral infrastructure.

Full Report

It’s important to note that lack of adoption of solutions which focus on outcomes is putting the future of the entire nation at peril. It’s time the middle third of the country (18-35 age group) takes focused action to ensure a future for themselves and the younger third of the country.It’s time to move away from symbolic legislation which proclaims to educate, to a system which puts its money where its mouth is and focuses on schooling not just school buildings.

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School Choice, School Quality and Postsecondary Attainment

Outcomes, Quality, School Choice

David J. Deming, Justine S. Hastings, Thomas J. Kane, Douglas O. Staiger

National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series

Working Paper 17438

September 2011

Abstract: We study the impact of a public school choice lottery in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools on college enrollment and degree completion. We find a significant overall increase in college attainment among lottery winners who attend their first choice school. Using rich administrative data on peers, teachers, course offerings and other inputs, we show that the impacts of choice are strongly predicted by gains on several measures of school quality. Gains in attainment are concentrated among girls. Girls respond to attending a better school with higher grades and increases in college-preparatory course-taking, while boys do not.

The working paper can be accessed here.

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