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Nobel Laureate Prof James J. Heckman on ‘The Value of Investing in Early Childhood Development’

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CCS hosted Nobel Laureate Professor James J Heckman on 28 March 2014. Speaking to an audience of leaders in education policy and practice, Prof. Heckman talked about his research in human development and life-cycle formation, emphasising the importance and economic value of early childhood development.

Prof. Heckman’s research demonstrates that the accident of birth is the principal source of inequality in America and there is a need to invest in kids from disadvantaged backgrounds – with an emphasis on early intervention. His work also explores challenges between cognitive and non-cognitive skills and studies achievement tests,  and shows that success in life depends on more than just test scores – bringing out the role of character. These points, though they may seem obvious, are not part of public policy debate today.

Value of investing in Early Childhood Development

Heckman studied remediation programs and found that they were not having that much success. Job training programs, at least in their current form, were found to have very modest effects and return on job training investment was negative. Once children were out of these programs, the training was seen to have no lasting effects.

Considering what to do about this led Heckman to look at other kinds of initiatives – with focus on programs that were intervening in remediation or training much earlier in life. The Perry Preschool Program and the Abecedarian Program, were two such programs that he references, which were initially launched to combat mental retardation.

The results of these programs were promising. The treatment group children, who were receiving early intervention did much better in terms of employment, reduced involvement in criminal activity, participation in education and other dimensions of social participation. Thinking like an economist, Heckman not only studied this gap between treatment and non-treatment groups but also computed the benefits and rate of return on early intervention till these children reached age 40. He found that the rate of return was at least 7-10% higher with the treatment groups – and this rate of return included only some of the benefits of the program!

Following the fruits of the Abecedarian program, which intervened with children at the age of 8 weeks till they were 8 years old, Heckman found that starting at 8 weeks not only boosted the IQ of the treatment groups when measured at age 21, there were also found to be strong effects on their health, when measured at age 25 through indicators such as number of physician visits, blood pressure, etc.

Yet, it was found that IQ was not demonstrating the effects of these programs. Heckman and his team decided to look at other measures – including non-cognitive traits. These traits, which he described as a ‘broad and crude’ category are still seen as strong predictors of success and failure in adult life. Since the early 1970s, everything was about cognition. Now the realization has come about that there are a whole host of other outcomes of intelligence and that non-cognitive traits matter a great deal. These early intervention programs, almost by accident, are actually targeting these traits.

These non-cognitive traits do have a heritability component, however, as Heckman stressed, environments matter a lot, especially early environments. Thinking of interventions at various stages of the life cycle, we must question when they are most effective. Malleability is greatest at an early age and once a child reaches the age of ten, they are what he called ‘IQ rank stable’, which means that while test scores on IQ tests may vary, relative ranking on fluid intelligence and ability to solve abstract problems is set.

Heckman ended by suggesting that there is an economic value in computing intervention during early years of childhood development and that starvation of stimulation at early years has serious consequences. At a time when we are exploring innovations in education and working to change our education system so that the focus puts the student at the centre of the system, his insights into childhood development and the best stage for intervention are extremely significant and can feed into our education policy so that we may create the best system for our future generations.

You can hear his talk here.

This article was originally posted on Spontaneous Order.

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NCERT makes changes in Hindi textbooks after complaints

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India Today

11-02-2014

National Council for Education Research and Training (NCERT) has come up with some changes in their Hindi textbooks. The amendments have been made as a result of objections received, about its content. A reference regarding the alleged use of derogatory words in Hindi textbooks of Classes I, VI, IX and XI was also received, which has led to this move.

Shashi Tharoor, Human Resource Development (HRD) ministry, informed that the changes had been examined by the Committee headed by Prof Yash Pal and as a result, suitable changes have been made in the textbooks on its recommendations.

In Rajya Sabha, in a written reply he said that the NCERT had informed HRD ministry that sometimes writers express themselves through certain words in the text that are somehow a reflection of the realities of the contemporary society. Such expressions are to be considered in totality and not in isolation.

Recently it had come up in news that NCERT textbooks of Classes I to V still depict some stereotype elements. Some books reflected gender stereotype in the visuals, while some used adjectives that were stereotypical in nature. Thereafter, an analysis had suggested a change in some terms to make them more gender sensitive. It also suggested a reflection of joint ownership of assets.

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NCERT textbooks put to the test on gender bias

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Times of India

01-02-2014

NEW DELHI: Gender analysis of NCERT textbooks from Class I to V has shown that while most of them highlight gender concerns, there are elements of stereotypes in some of them.

Gender review of English, Hindi, mathematics and environmental science textbooks was done by NCERT’s department of women’s studies.

The analysis said environmental studies textbooks, authored by 36 female and two male teachers, addressed gender issues in a substantial manner. However, it said there were some stereotypes reflected in visuals. For instance, a Class III textbook has a visual showing women in the stereotypical role of fetching water. Also, power structures are not reflected properly.

On the positive side, children’s imagination, creativity, dreams have been followed well. Environment studies textbooks also deal with diversity and marginalization, and show both boys and girls in active roles.

Mathematics textbooks, the analysis said, involved both parents and boys and girls equally. In some exercises, boys are shown making patterns out of bangles and girls fixing nails. The analysis also found some atypical features in the textbooks. For instance, women are shown as inheriting property and having equal rights to it.

There are stories where division of wealth is settled by involving females. Girls have been shown as solving problems of their fathers. There is a mention of a family having two daughters, which conveys a subtle message of valuing the girl child.

However, the analysis suggested that some terms could be changed to make it more gender sensitive: ‘policeman’ can become ‘police person’ or ‘milkman’ can be ‘milk person’. Ownership of assets, the analysis said, could be reflected jointly.

In Hindi textbooks, though there was gender sensitivity overall, the analysis found that in a few places, there was subtle bias in treating animals and nature as feminine and masculine. Even adjectives used were stereotypical. For instance, in a poem, only boys are shown flying kites while girls are shown watching.

In English textbooks, though there was thematic consistency, coherence and contextualization, at times more of an urban scenario was mentioned.

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Path-breaking review report on Delhi School Education Act 1973

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Shantanu Gupta

Indian education policy space might not have seen a report as progressive as “The Report of the Review Committee on the Delhi school Education Act and Rules, 1973”, thanks to former Chief Secretary of Delhi, Shailaja Chandra, IAS (retd.), the chairperson of the drafting committee of this three volume report.

The review committee has consulted more than 100 people from education directorate, non-governmental organizations, MCD, DDA, NIC, legal fraternity, parent’s association, SCERT, various principals and teachers of private and government schools, private school associations, and various eminent educationists to compile the report. Though this report reviews Delhi School Education Act, 1973, its commentary on legal cases related to education, references from various national committees on education, use of empirical data on different types of schools and learning outcome data from ASER (Pratham) makes this report very robust and applicable to all the states in India.

I will quote some excerpts from the report to highlight some of the salient feature of the report:

Companies should be allowed to venture into the education sector (page 77, volume I)

“……The Committee feels that prima-facie it would be a good idea to promote an alternative which precludes commercialization but brings in private resources….”

“…Presently many private schools are being run as family conglomerates. Almost all the key posts in the Management are held by family members and a large part of the income from the school goes back to the concerned family. If Companies are allowed to venture into the education sector, the possibility of exploiting employees would be reduced because a company does not serve the interests of a single person/ family………..It would reduce the gap between demand and supply and promote competition…….”

 

Recognition for unrecognized budget performing schools (Page 76, Volume-I)

The report is one of the very few reports which delve on the importance of unrecognized schools in the city, which are also known as budget private schools or affordable private schools. The review report quotes that as per the Association of Unrecognized Schools there are more than 4000 schools in the primary sector which are running without recognition and as per the MCD survey report there are1593 unrecognized schools in Delhi. It further states that, if Delhi master plan 2021 (effective from 07.02.2007) stipulates 800 sq. meters land for a primary school are applied than a mere 16% would qualify for recognition. However, if MCD applies old land norms of 200 sq. meters then 61% of unrecognized schools would qualify for recognition.

“…..The Review Committee is of the opinion that as long as the basic requirements spelt out by RTE ‘09 are met and the norms for teacher’s qualifications are fulfilled maximum number of schools should be considered for recognition. A study done by PRATHAM an NGO in the Education sector has revealed that the educational outcomes of private schools running in one of the most disadvantaged wards of the city Nandnagri were superior to that of the MCD schools and even the Delhi Government schools….”

This is probably one of the only reports in the government domain, which acknowledges that budget private schools are performing better than the government and municipal run schools.

 

Lack of autonomy lead to the decline of Aided schools? (page 35, volume I)

“……..The Delhi School Education Act and Rules 1973 made a distinction between Government Schools and Government-Aided Schools and Unaided Private Schools. As a result of this, the Managing Committees of aided schools lost the autonomy they once enjoyed. This reduced their control over the staff because of a newly-granted “security of service” which devolved on the teachers. …….. This reduced the chances of recruiting specially identified Principals and teachers who could maintain the high standards for which the schools had once received acclaim…….”

 

Remove Essentiality Certificate (page 78, volume I)

The Review Committee examined the provisions of Rule 44 of the DSEAR ‘73. This provision was made initially to enable the Directorate to assess the requirement of schools in a particular zone before opening of the new school as the land was allotted to the societies to run a school through DDA. ……… There is already scarcity of nazulland in Delhi. By restricting the supply of schools in an area, the Directorate restricts the role of the market in assessing the demand for school education. ………. There is no such provision under the RTE ‘09; it stipulates that no school shall run without recognition. Therefore, in the opinion of the Review Committee the provision of Essentiality Certificate contained in Rule 44 may be deleted and it should be left open to the market to decide the requirement of schools in a particular area.

Salary of teachers for low fee schools (page 98, volume I)

 “……The expectation that all schools can uniformly pay government scales to the teachers is being unrealistic. The Review committee recommends that the teachers’ salaries should have some relationship to the school fees in the case of smaller schools. A bench mark could be that 50% of the fee collection would have to go towards teachers’ salaries. 40% teachers may be allowed to be taken on contract basis except for core subjects. Both these measures may bring some realism into what has become a game of charades……”

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Parental Valuation of Charter Schools and Student Performance

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Author: James VanderHoff

Cato Journal

Parental Valuation Model
Charter schools are not allowed to charge tuition or make admission decisions based on entrance exam scores. Consequently, charter schools that have more applications than openings conduct a random admission drawing. Students who are not chosen in the lottery are put on the wait list and are contacted if space becomes available. Because parents incur costs to apply, which may or may not lead to enrolment in the charter school, the number of unsuccessful applications provides a better gauge of parental valuation than responses to survey questions or school changes, some of which are due to employment changes, personal reasons, and other factors unrelated to school quality. Also, by examining wait list data, parents can determine the value of charter schools—a long list means a higher-valued school.
The average wait list for the 42 New Jersey charter schools analyzed in this article is 184 students, and the average number of openings for new students is 40. Thus, on average, the preferences of over 80 percent of parents who desire a particular charter school would not be represented in any survey limited solely to the charter school students. Moreover, one would not expect charter
schools with waiting lists of several hundred students to be similar
to charter schools with no waiting lists. Studies of charter school
students give equal weight to oversubscribed and undersubscribed
charter schools with equal enrolments.
The model used in this article relates school value to factors that affect parental choice: academic effectiveness, school resources, and the characteristics of students and schools—both for charter schools and traditional public schools. The model can be stated as follows:
(1) WAITc,t = f(SCOREc,t, SCOREd,t, STUDENTSc,t, STUDENTSd,t, SCHOOLSc,t),

where

WAITc,t ,the dependent variable, is a proxy for parental valuation of the charter schools, as measured by the number of students wait listed for charter school c at time t;
SCOREc,trepresents the test scores of students at charter school c at time t;
SCOREd,t indicates the grade equivalent test scores of students at the regular public school in the home district;

STUDENTS indicates student characteristics, including race and economic situation;
SCHOOL reflects school characteristics, including resources (measured by per student expenditures), class size, teacher salaries, student-teacher ratios, instructional time, suspensions, number of grades in the school, and two binary variables—one indicating schools that emphasize academic excellence, the other indicating a school located in a low income urban area.
Because the distribution of WAIT, a nonnegative integer, does not conform to requirements for efficient estimation with a standard regression model, a negative binomial regression provides efficient estimates of the model parameters. The statistical model assumes that the distribution of WAIT values depends on the number of openings for new students; OPENINGS is the exposure variable.

Conclusion
This article finds that parents choose charter schools based on academic effectiveness and endorsement of academic goals. It thus supports a basic tenet for the belief that school choice will improve public school academic effectiveness. The New Jersey data illustrate that charter schools are not equally effective (as measured by student test scores), equally preferred (as measured by waiting lists), or equally funded. The analysis indicates that a 10 percent increase in a charter school’s test scores will increase the number of students on its wait list by at least 63 percent. The characteristics of students and schools, both regular and charters, do not generally affect the size of the wait list.

 

To read more: http://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2008/11/cj28n3-6.pdf

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‘Public schools in India only for rich kids’

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Times of India

29-12-2013

INDORE: “Public schools in India are only for the rich and a large population of children are aloof of the quality education,” lamented minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh. He was speaking at the inaugural ceremony of 74th IPSC Heads Conclave at the Daly College on Saturday on topic ‘Education through Creativity’.

Ramesh also inaugurated the  Mukesh Jhaveri Green Centre on the school premises. Citing his own example, Ramesh said that he is an alumnus of Kendra Vidyalaya.

“The rich and poor divide is very deep rooted in our contemporary education system. Schooling in the West is completely public, whereas in India, only rich kids have access to public schools. Condition of government schools is dismal and there is an urgent need to bridge this disparity and Right to Education is one of the ways,” asserted the minister.

He also mentioned that significant investment should be made in education sector. Ramesh also related the problem of rising unemployment with lack of access to school education. He said, “When a large number of children have no access to school education, how are they going to get jobs?”

Citing example of ideal education in Kerala, he said that 60% of the government fund is allocated for community schools and not for government schools and the fund is managed and utilised by churches and private organizations.

Stressing the need for reservation, the economist said it should be there and is justified because for ages the under-privileged have been deprived of rights. It has brought them among the mainstream in the society.

Representatives from 37 eminent schools of the country are taking part in the three-day conclave. Principal of Welham Girl’s School Dehradun Jyotsana Brar was awarded with Life Time Award on Saturday.

On inaugural of the Green centre, Ramesh said that it is a commendable effort of the school to bring together activity of not only Daly College but also other schools and bring awareness at a large platform. The centre has been established with help of Daly College alumni  Abhishek Jhaveri and  Dhruv Bhaskar.

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Graduating from the ‘old school’ of education

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DNA

Anil Gupta
The author is a professor at IIMA

When Jay Prakash Narayan called for a total revolution (sampoorna kranti) in 1974, he meant well.  But, he faltered in not insisting on developing indicators and tools for midcourse correction. I hope we do not repeat history. After all, in real politics, no visionary can ever anticipate all contingencies that might arise, and thus warrant a quick response. Muddling through the mess of contradictory popular aspirations without compromising with basic ideals is possible, and according to me it is the need of the hour. Every political party has to recognise that the foundation of good governance can be laid only by having a balance between creation of private, common and public goods in society. The cost of creating these goods has to be recovered by prudent fiscal responsibility regime. I have always believed that if we have strong institutions, even weak policies will get corrected during implementation but that won’t happen the other way round.

Institution building is the need of the hour.

Promising freebies is easier, and sometimes it is warranted, depending upon the target group and the nature of good. But a person from a humble background would appreciate, if she can be assured of clean drinking water with graduated pricing, so that a minimum quantity can be free and after that, prices may escalate as consumption levels increase.  Similarly, minimum quantity of good quality power (without fluctuations) can be supplied at a low base price depending upon the number of rooms in a house, and then the scale can rise. I will share in the coming weeks, my wish list of issues to be debated in the coming parliamentary elections.

Education Despite reports of various committees, the concept of a neighborhood school could never become reality. When teachers and public servants in education and other departments don’t teach their children in municipality or government rural schools, a trade-off has been made.  A message has been given that the state does not see the right to education in equal light for the poor children and the privileged children.

There are several key principles that should guide search for viable solutions in future: a) Will investment in education at basic level become a fundamental driver of future politics?  Instead of using teachers for political purposes, will we develop their capabilities for providing highest quality of education in every public school (such as in Navodaya Vidyalaya)? Will the creation of open source free multi-media, multi-language, high-quality content for school children become a fulcrum of the national policy?

Will providing (i) laboratories (ii) libraries (iii) play ground (iv) health check-up facilities and (v) nutritious meals in every school in a time bound manner become a non-negotiable plank of every manifesto? Let every party announcing cheap food, free electricity, or water for the non-poor make their intentions clear. The implicit trade-off against the interest of the poor should become easy to discern and debate.

The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) may have resources for thousand other things but will not have resources for documentation, dissemination of, and experimentation on innovations by school teachers. There is no social innovation or risk or venture fund at state and central level to invest in the ideas dealing with making education more joyful, creative and inclusive. Parties must make their plan for promoting inclusive innovations clear. Unless we invest in individual and institutional innovations at grassroots, the whole project is doomed.

The appointment of vice chancellors to majority large universities at state level has been thoroughly politicized, and merit is seldom a consideration. Parties must make their stand clear whether they wish for Indian institutions to remain mediocre and thus compromise with the aspirations of the young people or intend to bring about a change. There is a great rush for privatisation of higher education as well, despite the fact that top five to ten institutions in any field are funded publicly. Maybe there is a need to review the entire education sector and scrutinise it carefully to redefine how India wants to educate its youth and also provide for lifelong education.

When K M Munshi suggested setting up Land Army units in various educational institutions to help the young unemployed youth to serve the society in a disciplined manner, he was ahead of his time. Maybe, the time has come to close down the National Service Scheme (NSS) and develop a new social, ecological and cultural connect between youth and the society as a part of the education system. The entire emphasis on education is to often lure students into tier two and three institutions /towns, with short term strategies. Maybe, voters in these towns and neighbouring villages must decide whether they wish to continue with the current hegemony of metropolitan and mediocrity bias in education.

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Education department to enquire into school transfer certificate with ‘criminal’ remark

Corporate Social Responsibility, Other

NAGPUR: The education department has swung into action and ordered an enquiry after TOI reported a city school described a teenager as a “criminal” on his transfer certificate (TC). Kashmir Vidhya Mandir had issued the TC last year to its std VII student, mentioning his conduct as ‘bad’. What is shocking was that in the remarks section, the school wrote “he is involved in criminal activities”.

The inquiry is being headed by a deputy education officer at the secondary education department, and final report is expected within a month. There was outrage after the gross abuse of power by school authorities came to light.

The issue had not been taken up by anyone, and the student slipped through the cracks in the system after being given the TC. Recently, Shahid Sharif, who runs a private organization called RTE Action Committee, obtained a copy of the TC through RTI, revealing the blatant heavy handedness of the school.

The TC was issued on May 19, 2012, and the reason for issuing the TC has been mentioned “as per parents request”. The student studied at KVM from 2008-2012 and had passed std VII when this TC was issued. As per the date of birth mentioned in school records, the student was 14-year-old when the TC was issued.

Sources in the education department told TOI that the existence of this TC was known to certain education officials for months. It was even discussed at meeting in the last week of October. There had been talk of an enquiry into the matter, however, no one had acted in the two months since.

Some say that certain officials in the secondary department wanted things to remain under wraps, and there was an attempt to bury the incident. However, with the matter being exposed in the media, the department is taking up the issue.

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Ofsted warns over ‘wasted potential’ of poor white pupils

Global news, Other

08-12-2013

The Telegraph

By , Education Editor

Ofsted’s annual report is expected to highlight concerns over results achieved by white British pupils from poor homes, saying that too many are being written off at school.

White children from working-class families are being “written off” by a culture of low expectations in state schools, according to the education watchdog.

In a major report to be published this week, Ofsted will warn that a failure to raise standards among tens of thousands of poor British pupils represents an “unacceptable waste of human potential”, the Telegraph understands.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, will say that improvements have been seen among deprived children from every ethnic group over the last six years but progress has been too slow in schools dominated by working-class white children.

Last year, just a quarter of poor white British boys gained five good GCSEs.

This compared with around four-in-10 deprived boys from black families, half of those from Asian backgrounds and almost two-thirds of poor Chinese teenagers.

The “poverty of expectation” in the white working-class community risks storing up major problems for the nation amid a rise in benefit claimants and crime rates, the watchdog says.

It is among a number of factors preventing English schools climbing major international league tables in the wake of a damning analysis of global education standards last week, it is claimed

The comments will be made as part of the Ofsted annual report – an analysis of more than 21,000 state schools and colleges in England.

Ofsted will also:

• Highlight concerns over the continuing problem of low-level disruption in and out of the classroom, saying too many teachers tolerate pupils who fail to pay attention, show disrespect, flout bans on mobile phones and hurl verbal abuse at adults;

• Say that some teachers are attempting to cram too much into classes in a bid to impress Ofsted inspectors, claiming that a “busy” lesson rarely provides pupils with a good educational experience;

• Criticise the continuing underperformance of some schools in middle-class areas that allow pupils to coast;

• Raise further fears over a “patchwork of provision” in the education system, with particular concerns over standards seen in East Anglia, which now has the worst-performing primary schools in the country;

• Call on the Government to provide more incentives – such as higher pay – to entice the best head teachers to work in less fashionable areas that often struggle to recruit top staff.

The conclusions follow the publication of a study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that showed standards among 15-year-olds in the UK had stagnated, with pupils now up to three years behind those in the Far East for maths.

Sir Michael, the former head teacher of a flagship academy in Hackney, East London, will insist that the watchdog is winning the “battle against mediocrity” in state schools following a controversial toughening up of the Ofsted inspection regime.

Changes made since his appointment two years ago include cutting the amount of notice given to schools before an inspection and rebranding satisfactory schools as “requires improvement”.

The move has had a “galvanising effect” in the classroom, according to Sir Michael, with more schools highly-rated now than at any other time in Ofsted’s 20-year history.

According to figures, almost eight-in-10 schools were ranked as good or outstanding at the end of the last academic year compared with seven-in-10 just 12 months earlier.

Only 19 per cent of schools require improvement and three per cent are inadequate, compared with 31 per cent that fell into the lowest categories under the old system.

But the Ofsted report – published on Wednesday – will warn that a failure to instil the right learning culture in many schools still holds back England’s education system.

White British schoolchildren from poorer backgrounds, in particular, are being “written off far too often”, it will claim.

Figures show that white British pupils account for almost two-thirds of those nationally who are eligible for free school meals – households earning less than £16,000 a year – yet results among these children have improved more slowly than those for other ethnic groups since 2007.

In a previous interview with the Telegraph, Sir Michael said working-class white pupils were suffering because old-fashioned values such as “self-help” and support for education had been eroded in many post-industrial cities or coastal towns with high levels of unemployment.

He said teachers from the best schools in these areas acted as “surrogate parents” – escorting pupils to bus stops, helping with homework, providing meals and giving them advice – in place of families who struggle to support their children”.

“We need to look back as well as forward,” he said.

“By that I mean, working-class communities in the past valued education, with that spirit of working men’s institutes and technical colleges and so on.

“Those communities thought long and hard about the future of their children and supported schools and were very much into self-help. We need to bring that back.”

 

OFSTED CHIEF: PATCHWORK OF PROVISION HOLDING BACK PUPILS

A “patchwork of provision” across the English education system is preventing the country’s schoolchildren catching up their peers in the Far East, Ofsted will warn.

In a report, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, will say that the wide gulf in standards between the best and worst performing parts of the country is acting as a “brake on progress” nationally.

His annual report will reveal that too many schools in traditionally affluent areas are letting children down as teachers allow pupils to coast.

The watchdog will raise particular concerns over the East of England – a region containing Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk – where primary schools now perform worse than those in any other part of the country, despite containing many affluent towns and villages.

He will effectively name and shame the worst areas while heaping praise on those that have made the most progress in the last 12 months – the second year in a row Ofsted has carried out the analysis.

Coventry and Derby languished at the bottom of an Ofsted league table in 2012 but both have made “substantial progress”, it is claimed.

Sir Michael will also highlight improvements made in London, saying the city now has one of the largest concentrations of good and outstanding schools, despite being seen as an “educational basket case” in the 70s and 80s.

The report will say that major regional variation needs to be ironed out to drive England up international league tables.

This includes greater better incentives for top head teachers to work in “less fashionable” parts of the country with the greatest need for improvements.

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How much do we know about Education in India

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Forbes

28-11-213

Everyone has an opinion on education. Start a conversation at a dinner table,  a tea shop, an academic seminar, a global conference, a train, a bus or flight –  everyone you meet will have something to say about it. Often, they will know  precisely how bad it is, how much worse it has become and what needs to be done  to fix the ills. When I say precisely, I don’t mean that – I mean with a great  deal of authority. Very definite and well articulated opinions. And they may  well be right. Because nobody can really answer (most of) the big questions in  education in India with any degree of precision.

Policy: The holy grail here is evidence based policy  making. It would obviously be great if every decision made had a solid basis in  proven hypothesis. If we knew for sure, to take a facetious example, that  children study better in white shirts than blue shirts, and this had been tested  rigorously, then it would be easy to create a policy that tends towards white  shirts as school uniforms. This is also better for policy makers as they have  the evidence to fall back upon and even justify their decisions. In practice of  course evidence is just one part of the policy making puzzle and may even prove  to be inconvenient in some circumstances. Yet, it is what stands closest to fact  in the vast unknown.

Data: The first hurdle of course is the availability of  data. There is some available on the ministry website and some with affiliated  institutions. Some data is gathered in large studies such as those conducted by  the Azim Premji foundation, Pratham, Accountability Initiative etc. and these  answer specific questions each year. The Karnataka Learning Partnership and  Centre for Civil Society are taking the lead on compiling some data that are  available to all while investors and private consulting firms have their own  data sets that are not available in the public domain. Each of these serves a  limited purpose and researchers often find themselves stuck because they have no  credible information sources or good data unless they set up a data collection  process themselves as part of their studies. That is either very expensive and  time consuming or forces them to dramatically reduce the scope of their  work.

Research: There is a wide range of research done on  education in India, only some of it academic. (On a personal note, I wonder if I  should still be surprised when one silo has not even heard of the work done in  another – oh right, I did say silo) Firstly there is academic work that is being  done across schools of education in India and abroad (primarily in the UK and  the USA). The quality and impact of the work differs greatly depending upon the  access and funding they receive. There is some excellent work of limited scope  and reach being published in small journals and post- conference books that gets  lost in the sheer volumes of papers being produced in an uncurated world. Then  there are rigorous investigations by celebrity scholars – my favourites being  Prof. Geeta Kingdom of the Institute of Education and Prof. Karthik  Muralidharan of UC San Diego who have told cogent and critical truths about  teaching and learning in India. Much research is also done in the investor  community – some of it philanthropic, some driven by pure investment principles.  Central Square Foundation, for example, incubates many projects that do much  good in the education sector and curates information and data that forms the  basis of investment (and re-investment) research. Consulting firms with  education arms too co-create interesting and useful research in the field of  education.

Application of Research: Useful research? Did I hear  laughter in the background? For research to be useful, it not only needs to be  rigorous and relevant (and much of it clearly is) but also needs to be  accessible. Over and above that – it needs to address real questions that help  decision makers at all three levels – policy, institution and the classroom. If  education is about benefiting the child (the marginal child as economists would  say), then we need to be able to answer the questions schools and teachers ask  regularly. In the past forty-eight hours, this is the range of questions I have  been asked –

From a school owner – Is there a guide or research that points me to the  characteristics teacher quality? In teacher selection – how do I recruit a  good teacher? (We all know good teachers, we know their qualifications etc.  which is partial knowledge)

From a School trust – What is the right proportion of male and female  teachers that will enhance achievements of boys and girls?  (K. Muralidharan had a paper that partially answered that question)  (Of course, all recruitment has to be regardless of gender – so the question can  only be about the impact of gender skew in the teacher cohort)

From a teacher-leader: Is a multi ability class better than streaming  into ability sections? If I have been told that I must achieve high  performance, and if achievement is my only goal , what are the consequences of  my decision?

From the management of a large school group seeking to expand: Is it  better to raise the grade level (from primary to secondary) or open another  primary school if I want to serve my area better?

From a potential investor: What are the returns to investment to RTE  compliance? -If I invest, is there a case for giving loans to ensure RTE  (Right to Education act) compliance? Will I get my money back with a fair  return?

From the management team of a small Business School: How do I fill seats  in my B-School during this slowdown? Numbers in engineering and business  schools are seen to be falling – is there a forecast that will help me plan  capacity?

The answers are out there. Some have been researched, some await their turn.  Most decisions will also depend upon the context, experience and ability of the  person in charge. But it is better to have some validation based on good data.  There is very little data, and much of it is not very good quality data. And so,  we wait, unable to fully answer these questions and decide the our future  education path.

Read more:  http://forbesindia.com/blog/economy-policy/how-much-do-we-know-about-education-in-india/#ixzz2mxUVfCvj

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